Court rules BPD officer names should be released

UPDATE: Yellowstone County Judge Donald Harris has ruled the identities of the three Billings Police Officers who motioned to have their names blocked from documents following a sex scandal, will be released.

"It's this courts opinion that for police officers to lawfully exercise this power we've entrusted to them," Harris said. "That they have to exercise sound judgment which requires honesty, integrity, empathy and a sound moral compass." 

Local media companies filed a case arguing it is the public's right to know the names of the officers involved. 

"Why was her name released and not the police officers? Why did they receive this discipline when a few years earlier officers lost their job over this type of behavior? So the public's right to know extends not just to the conduct involved but to the discipline imposed." 

The plaintiff's attorney says the public has an interest in determining if the police officer is running in a professional manner.

Judge Harris said, for this reason, he believes the names should be released. 

"Right now this pall hangs over the entire department when in fact, as we know, most of our police officers are wonderful. They do a great and heroic job all the time for us. But we've got three who simply have failed the standard. And it's not fair that the whole department should suffer under this pall." 

Although Harris did rule to release the name, however, he has stayed the decision for 48 hours, after the officer's, represented by Scheveck and Salimen Law Firm, requested a written appeal to the Montana Supreme Court."

During a court hearing, Monday, Judge Donald Harris denied a request by three Billings Police Officers to have their names withheld from the public.

But, the temporary restraining order will remain in place for another 48 hours.

Judge Harris stated that the City had decided these names should be disclosed which means a great deal to the court.

Harris added the moral integrity of all of the officers who do an outstanding job should not be jeopardized by the action of three offices.

Harris also stated that the public is not going to expect an expectation of privacy when officers decide to have sex in public property.

Harris concluded that keeping the names secret will undo the trust the department has with the public.

In April, Police Chief Rich St. John announced that three officers had been identified and disciplined after having sex with on city property with a city employee.

Two officers were suspended for two weeks without pay because they were on duty at the time. A third was suspended for a week without pay because the act happened while he was off duty.

The incidents became known to the Chief during an unrelated investigation earlier this year.

Related story: Billings officer involved in sex scandal identifies himself, resigns

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