Another case of Billings-area law enforcement officers having sex on the job has surfaced as part of a Billings Gazette investigation.
During 2012 and 2013, a Billings police officer and a Yellowstone County sheriff’s deputy had sex repeatedly while on duty, used a police vehicle while intoxicated and engaged in a fight at a West End bar and later at a home. The police officer was fired, and the deputy resigned.
The Gazette learned of the case after Billings Police Chief Rich St. John reported in April that three officers were suspended recently for having sex either on the job or on city property. One of those incidents also took place in 2013. The names of those three officers have not been released.
Three Billings Police Department officers were ordered suspended without pay for having sex on city property, Billings Police Chief Rich St. J…
While the three unnamed officers who admitted to having sex either while on duty or on city property have received varying punishments, ranging from one to two weeks without pay, former Billings Police Officer Chad Philippi was fired by the department, and former Yellowstone County Sheriff's Deputy Merrideth Von Holdt resigned before disciplinary action could be taken, said Sheriff Mike Linder. Von Holdt also surrendered her Peace Officer certificate, and Philippi's was revoked by the Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council.
This brings the number of peace officers known to be disciplined for on-the-job sexual conduct to five in Yellowstone County in the past five years.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John declined to be interviewed for this story.
Documents obtained from the state show Philippi was fired from the Police Department on Oct. 11, 2013, for having "an inappropriate relationship and on-duty activities with another officer" as well as drinking and driving on duty.
The relationship between the two officers began when Von Holdt was assigned to the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force.
"I was the only female on the task force and the other members of the task force made it very clear they did not want to work with a woman," Von Holdt recounted in her report to the state's POST board.
She mentioned that only her supervisor, who is unnamed in the report, was supportive.
"The last officer to accept me was the Billings Police Officer Chad Philippi," Von Holdt said.
In March 2012, Von Holdt agreed to meet with Philippi at the Red Door (bar and restaurant) to "bury the hatchet." After that, the two went to the Rock Pile to meet her friends, but only after Philippi had "several red beers and a Jim Beam with water."
Von Holdt said Philippi drove his work vehicle to another bar with her, where they drank more. After drinking, they both mooned each other at the bar — a subject brought up by the POST review board for conduct "which tends to significantly undermine public confidence."
In her report to the POST board, Von Holdt says she and Philippi continued flirting, ultimately leading to the affair, having sex at least eight times while on duty, and sending nude photos of each other through text messages, many from his police-issued cellphone.
The relationship was discovered, according to Von Holdt's testimony, when Philippi's wife put a recording device in his work vehicle. In May 2013, Philippi's wife also installed an app on his cellphone that forwarded all incoming and outgoing text messages.
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According to Von Holdt, Philippi's wife confronted him about the affair, and she and Von Holdt started communicating via text, agreeing to meet on May 11. During the night, the two women decided to go to a bar to drink and simultaneously text message Philippi.
According to the reports, Philippi decided as a response to the texts to call Von Holdt's husband to tell him about the affair, allegedly replying via text, "How's your glass house now?"
Shortly thereafter, Philippi arrived at the bar to confront the women. He tried to get his wife to leave with him, but she refused, and Von Holdt intervened, and a fight broke out among the three.
Von Holdt reported punching him several times while he grabbed her by the throat and slammed her into a door.
Later that night, according to Von Holdt, Philippi called their supervisor at the marshals task force to report the affair and fight.
Shortly after, the Billings Police Department launched an investigation.
In July 2013, the incident was reported by The Billings Gazette, naming Philippi, who was on suspension because of a joint investigation by both the police and sheriff's office.
At the time, while Linder and St. John acknowledged the affair, neither reported that the incidents took place on duty, and there was no mention of fights or driving a police vehicle while intoxicated.
For an unknown period, both were on paid administrative leave from their respective agencies.
Philippi was fired from the department and had his certification revoked from POST, but never participated in any disciplinary proceedings against him at the state level. The Gazette, as part of its investigation, has asked the city and the county for internal investigatory documents from both the county and the city.
While the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office has not disputed the documents may be public, Von Holdt raised privacy concerns about their release, so the county declined the request until the issue could be resolved by a judge.
The documents requested from the city by The Gazette are pending a review from the city's legal department.
On Thursday, Linder told The Gazette he couldn't say whether the affair caused the deputy to miss any calls or impede public safety.
"I don't know because we don't know the specific times and days, so I couldn't say," Linder said.
He also said Thursday that when he was interviewed about the story in July 2013, he didn't know the specifics of the investigation, so he couldn't have mentioned the on-duty affair.
Linder said he didn't follow up with the public on the incident because Von Holdt resigned before he could take action. He said he had been moving toward termination.