Recently found footage from a Montana Highway Patrol vehicle considered key in a lawsuit filed against the department has been made public.
The lawsuit, filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court by Mitchel Burgess in 2019, alleges the Wyoming high school principal was injured after a trooper made an illegal U-turn onto Highway 59, forcing Burgess to veer into the ditch at 70 mph.
The incident occurred in 2017 near Miles City. Burgess' injuries include a concussion and a spinal injury, according to the lawsuit.
The video filed with the court begins as Trooper Michael Howell amid a traffic stop on the right side of the highway; there's no audio with the video file, so the reason for the traffic stop is unclear. After the traffic stop ends, the pickup in front of Howell's patrol car pulls back onto the highway and proceeds down the road.
A pickup is seen driving down the highway in the oncoming traffic lane as Howell pulls off the shoulder toward the same lane. Howell's vehicle stops in the middle of the road, nearly perpendicular with the highway, as Burgess' pickup flies past the front end of the patrol car.
By the time Howell finishes the turn and gets behind Burgess' vehicle, the pickup is swerving from the ditch back onto the highway, never having come to a complete stop. Burgess then stops at the next turnoff and Howell pulls in behind him. After Burgess steps out of his pickup, appearing somewhat bewildered, and checks his vehicle, the two men talk at Burgess' tailgate. After a few minutes they shake hands and part ways.
Mike McLean, the Helena attorney representing Burgess, declined to comment while the case was ongoing. The video's recent emergence late last month was the first time he or Burgess had seen it, as MHP said during the discovery process at the onset of the case that it had been lost. District Court Judge Kathy Seeley sanctioned the agency in December for mishandling the video, which is supposed to be preserved for five years.
But MHP, in a brief filed late last month, said the video had been recently found in a desk at the department's Miles City district office. Along with filing the video, state attorneys for MHP — who also declined to comment for this story — asked Seely to roll back the sanctions she imposed due to the lost video.
Seeley's order on sanctions prohibited certain testimony based on the video, including that of two expert witnesses who would have testified at trial that the incident was unlikely to cause the injuries Burgess claims in the lawsuit. MHP told the Montana State News Bureau in February it spent $38,618 on the two witnesses before Seeley barred them from speaking at trial.
Seeley has not yet ruled on MHP's request to reverse the sanctions. On Monday, attorneys for MHP requested a hearing on the matter.
The trial is set for Aug. 9.