Subscribe for 17¢ / day
Columbus

Columbus 

The Columbus Police Department and the Stillwater County Sheriff's office have been cleared of mishandling discrimination allegations following an investigation by the Montana Human Rights Bureau.

Bureau investigator Jennifer Conwell determined, "There is no reasonable cause to believe unlawful discrimination occurred."

Conwell's report focuses on the response of the two law enforcement agencies after a sheriff's dispatcher's alleged that former police Sgt. Paul Caraway exhibited a pattern of harassment that culminated in Caraway forcing her to touch his penis.

The dispatcher "has shown, by a preponderance of the evidence, the elements necessary to establish she was subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace," Conwell said. "Because the conduct was committed by a co-worker or a nonemployee and not a supervisor, (she) must also show that county respondents knew or should have known about the harassment."

While Columbus Police Chief Bill Pronovost was aware that Caraway in the past had exhibited "womanizer" behavior, the dispatcher "has not shown that the county either knew or should have known of Caraway's offensive behavior" prior to the woman's complaint in July 2015.

"I find that the county respondents have shown by a preponderance of the evidence that they took immediate and appropriate corrective action," Conwell said in her report.

Pronovost fired Caraway in September because of policy violations.

After being called in July to investigate a complaint of sexual assault at the Columbus Police Department, the state Division of Criminal Investigation Agent Len Knutson began an investigation.

Billings Attorney Jay Lansing, who represented Caraway during the DCI investigation, said he had no comment regarding the investigation.

Contacted Tuesday, Pronovost said he'd be contacting his attorneys to determine whether or not he could comment. He had not responded by press time.  

The woman's character

Knutson spoke with Pronovost, who described the woman dispatcher as someone "known to use strong language" and who "parties a bit." The chief said the woman had reported being raped once in the past.

Stillwater County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Woody Claunch said that during the rape investigation, the dispatcher’s credibility became an issue. Prosecutors declined to move forward with the case.

Patricia Rozema-Hopsiter, the Columbus city court clerk, called the woman "a liar and the worst dispatcher she'd ever seen," Knutson reported.

Stillwater County Sheriff's Deputy Randy Smith said the dispatcher was "opinionated and cursed a lot."

A second dispatcher, Katherine Jess, said the woman "regularly acted and verbalized suggestively and sexually to the officers they worked with and she was verbally descriptive of sex acts in the presence of others."

Caraway's character

Pronovost also described Caraway to Knutson when they met in July. The chief described Caraway as someone with a "reputation of being a womanizer" and that Caraway might have a disciplinary letter in his file for "some form" of harassment.

During his 10 years as an officer, Caraway had been the subject of a number of complaints.

Stillwater County Sheriff's Sgt. Gary Timm said an animal control officer reported Caraway had grabbed her breast while the two had worked together. When Knutson contacted the animal control officer, he said she became emotional.

The animal control officer "believed everyone knew what had happened to her when it happened and they did nothing," Knutson wrote in his report. The incident between Caraway and the woman was reported to Pronovost when Caraway was hired.

The dispatcher who filed the original complaint reported Caraway had pulled out his penis through his pants zipper in the kitchen of the dispatch center in May 2015 and asked the woman if she thought it was "good sized." The two were whispering, the woman said. The woman said she left the kitchen right away.

Fellow police dispatcher April Svenson confirmed she'd seen Caraway follow the dispatcher into the kitchen area and shut the door. Svenson told Knutson she found it strange the door was closed. She also confirmed the woman left the kitchen area first. She said the two were whispering and she couldn't hear what was being said.

A former female patrol officer was interviewed by Knutson and reported Caraway had once shown up unannounced at her house and gotten into bed with her. She woke up and began to scream obscenities at him and ordered him out of her house. The woman said Caraway had made comments about her nice "ass" in the past. 

When Knutson asked her why she hadn't come forward before, the woman told him she wasn't sure how a report like that coming from a female officer would be received. She said decided to just deal with it on her own. 

During his interview, Caraway denied the incident and said he had no idea why the former female patrol officer would report something like this. 

A former Stillwater County deputy and Great Falls police detective, Jesse Slaughter told Knutson part of the reason Caraway was demoted from sergeant to deputy at the Sheriff's office was because he made up a story about Slaughter getting into a fight. Witnesses reported Slaughter had stopped to break up the fight.

Another woman filed an order of protection against Caraway after he pulled her over for 45 minutes and made her feel uncomfortable. The woman later dropped the order, but made it clear there was no reason for Caraway to have done what he did.

Caraway reported to his superiors the woman was depressed.

A Stillwater County Victim Witness Advocate said Caraway had come into her office and said "not to take it as sexual harassment but that I was hot, and in the same meeting time also said I needed to be taken over somebody's knee and given a spanking."

Another woman reported coming home and finding Caraway standing in her garage with no explanation.

Caraway interviewed

Caraway was interviewed on Aug. 25, about a month after the woman dispatcher's second interview. He brought his lawyer with him. Knutson asked Caraway why the dispatcher would have reported him assaulting her.

Caraway blamed the woman for crossing the line, and referring to the DCI investigator by his first name, said "I guess, Len, because if you know the gal, she's not right in the head."

He reported the woman had lots of boyfriends in the past. He said the woman must have seen his penis when she ran into the bathroom once while he was in there. This was never corroborated.

Following the completion of the DCI investigation, Assistant Attorney General Brant Light declined to prosecute Caraway for sexual assault.

One of the woman's attorneys, Missoula lawyer Nate S. McConnell, said the people of Columbus should fear their law enforcers after what happened to his client. 

"The Town of Columbus hired a known predator, gave him a badge and a gun, and set him loose. Stillwater County has long known about this same predator’s behavior," McConnell said in an email Wednesday. "The Montana Department of Justice conducted an investigation into the matter. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Division of Criminal Investigation chose to protect the criminal and blame the victim."

McConnell said the Human Rights Bureau, DCI and the local law enforcement agencies in Stillwater County have made one thing clear to his client. She is on her own, McConnell said. 

"We will continue to fight for (our client) and victims like her because sexual assault in the State of Montana must finally end," McConnell said.

0
0
0
0
0