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Before Billings cop resigned, disciplinary citations stacked up against him

Before Billings cop resigned, disciplinary citations stacked up against him

From the Complete coverage: 3 Billings cops disciplined for sex, and the public records battle that followed series

Before resigning and coming forward on Tuesday as one of the three Billings police officers recently disciplined for sexual trysts on city property, Paul LaMantia had been the subject of several complaints. 

Last year he prompted the unraveling of the city's domestic violence case against another police officer. In 2010, he handcuffed and questioned a woman without reading her Miranda rights. In 2012, he discouraged an on-duty officer from investigating another cop's bar fight when they were off duty, trying to remove the responding officer's microphone and slapping the officer when he continued to do his job.

LaMantia was first disciplined by the Billings Police Department in 2009, roughly five months after he began working there. He’d failed to write up an incident report from a burglary call. The department handled the policy violation through “informal counseling,” and no warning was issued.

During the course of the next eight years, the officer’s disciplinary citations stacked up. The Billings Gazette requested LaMantia's disciplinary file in October. 

In 2012 the department gave him a “last-chance agreement” after he drove out of his assigned patrol area, picked up two people who were drunk and reportedly trespassing, and dropped them off outside of town one night in 20-degree weather. 

The agreement stipulated any disciplinary action against LaMantia during the next two years would trigger his firing. It was signed on May 18, 2012. 

It took 17 weeks total for the police department to investigate the incident and for the city and the police union to finalize LaMantia’s agreement.

Billings Police Chief Rich St. John told The Gazette in 2012 that the resolution of the police department’s internal affairs investigation was delayed because the incident was reviewed for possible criminal charges by the Montana Attorney General’s office.

State prosecutors notified the city on May 1, 2012, that no charges would be filed.

Amid the investigation and eleven weeks before the last chance agreement was finalized, LaMantia was involved in another incident. 

On March 2, 2012, LaMantia repeatedly discouraged responding officers from filing paperwork on a bar fight between his friend, fellow officer Shawn Wichman, and another person at the Club 90 bar on Grand Avenue, identified only as "Travis." Wichman had been knocked unconscious and “Travis” had left the bar.

LaMantia, Wichman, Jared Lausch and other off-duty officers from the Billings Police Department and the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office were present. 

Lausch turned off one responding officer’s microphone, and either Lausch or LaMantia turned off the microphone of the other responding officer. They repeatedly told the on-duty officers the incident was medical in nature and no paperwork was needed.

One of the responding officers later described being surrounded by off-duty officers who appeared drunk and were slurring their speech, leaving him temporarily unable to get to the other responding officer to see if he needed backup.

Lausch and Harley Cagle insisted the bar fight was "no big deal" and asked one of the responding officers what he knew.

At one point, LaMantia approached one of the responding officers and “slapped me in the right ear using his left hand and stated to me, ‘This is just a 4 Delta.’ No paper.” The account is recorded in a report the officer was required to complete as part of the department's investigation into the incident. 

LaMantia later hailed the unnamed officer again, reiterating that it was a “4 delta” and no paperwork was needed. "Four delta" is the code for incidents requiring a medical response.

Wichman was placed on leave without pay for 20 hours. Other officers were placed on leave with pay while the department investigated. LaMantia was given a written warning for the code of ethics and private-life policy violations.

It took the department two weeks to investigate LaMantia’s role in that incident and issue the reprimand.

St. John was in negotiations for police labor contracts on Tuesday and was not immediately available for questions.

St. John has defended LaMantia in recent statements, saying he and the other officers disciplined for on-city-property or on-the-job sex, incidents that were made public in April, are “good officers who do good work,” and “good officers who made very, very poor decisions.”

Other incidents

LaMantia’s disciplinary file contains only those incidents the Billings Police Department investigated and determined as warranting discipline. It doesn't capture everything. 

One night in 2012, LaMantia tackled a bystander, mistaking him for a suspect, leaving the man with a torn rotator cuff that required surgery. The Montana Supreme Court recently ruled on a legal question related to the case, clearing the way for the bystander’s lawsuit against LaMantia and the city to proceed.

In 2015, LaMantia got in a fist fight with former Laurel cop Jim Huertas, leaving Huertas with a broken nose and two black eyes. A sergeant and partrolman from the Billings Police Department responded to the incident and took photos of and statements from both Huertas and LaMantia.

Huertas requested that the officers arrest LaMantia, but the officers declined to do so, according to a court filing by Huertas. 

An ambulance took Huertas to the St. Vincent Healthcare emergency department for treatment. The Billings City Attorney’s Office declined to file charges.

LaMantia and Huertas had been friends and had co-owned Prohibition Clothiers, a downtown business.

In 2017, LaMantia prompted the unraveling of a domestic violence case against another police officer.

In that case, Huertas, the same Laurel cop LaMantia got in a fist fight with, had been charged with misdemeanor partner or family member assault. The judge declared a mistrial after the city learned that LaMantia had potentially tampered with a witness the night before, while serving her a subpoena.

In that instance, LaMantia and another officer lingered for 43 minutes during the course of the subpoena delivery, according to audio of the interaction obtained by The Billings Gazette. They spoke at length with the victim’s friend, and also with the victim, who testified the next day that LaMantia had told her she needed to be at trial so that Huertas would be “punished for everything that he has done.”

When speaking with the victim, LaMantia came into the house and sat down on the couch, court documents state. 

“I got to tell you honestly, (inaudible) Jim has skated through a lot of (expletive) in his life,” LaMantia said at one point. After a brief inaudible sentence, he added, “He’s done a lot of people a lot of wrong.”

In an interview Tuesday, Ben Halverson, the deputy city attorney prosecuting Huertas, said subpoena service should be quick. 

"Service is: hand them the paper, sign off on it, and you’re done," he said. 

But when the city learned about the incident the next day at trial, it did not have audio of the interaction and said it would need to investigate further. The city moved for a mistrial, the case was reset for trial, and Huertas made an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court to dismiss the charges, arguing to reset the case for trial would violate his right to be free from double jeopardy.

The Montana Supreme Court later ruled in Huertas’ favor.

LaMantia was never charged with witness tampering. After BPD reviewed audio of the subpoena service captured on the officers' microphones, it determined there was no wrongdoing, said Halverson, the prosecutor.

Witness tampering includes urging the victim to testify falsely, withhold information or not show up to court.

The prosecutor did file a complaint about LaMantia's subpoena service with the Billings Police Department to learn more about how the officer was assigned the subpoena. He said LaMantia should not have "inserted himself" into the matter considering his history with Huertas, the defendant in the case. 

Halverson said he wanted to make clear the city takes a hard stance on domestic violence and takes seriously the job of prosecuting abusers, including law enforcement. 

The city had investigated Huertas four years prior to the case in question but declined to file charges, Halverson said. Prosecuting Huertas in the subsequent case was important, he added, and to have uncertainties regarding the subpoena service hamstring the case was disappointing.

"I definitely expected better at that time" from the Billings Police Department, Halverson said. "And I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation."

The Billings Gazette contacted Lyndon Scheveck, the attorney representing LaMantia, to offer LaMantia a chance to comment on his disciplinary history but had not received a return call from LaMantia as of press time. 


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