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High court upholds convictions in Miles City woman's fight with police

High court upholds convictions in Miles City woman's fight with police

HELENA — Lynn Marie Pittman yelled, kicked and fought with Miles City police officers after her arrest. She spit in the face of one, broke another's finger and tried to bite the arm of a third officer.

The jury had plenty of evidence with which to convict her of assault and obstructing police officers, the Montana Supreme Court said in a unanimous decision Tuesday.

The five-judge panel also said the judge was right not to move her trial out of Miles City and to let jurors see a videotape chronicling her melee with the police.

The ruling leaves in place Pittman's convictions and 17-year prison sentence.

Pittman, now 27, was arrested in January 2002 for disorderly conduct after being involved in a brawl with another woman outside a Miles City bar. Once at the police station, Pittman became combative and began shouting obscenities at the police, the court said.

She threw a chair at one officer, breaking his finger. He tried to subdue Pittman, but needed help from two other officers to finally handcuff her. She refused to put on regulation orange jail pants, so the officers did it for her, the record showed.

Pittman spit in the face of the police chief and attempted to bite another officer's arm. The court said officers eventually carried her to her cell, after one of them used a video camera to capture much of the confrontation.

Pittman was charged with six crimes related to the incident and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors. She was convicted after a trial of assault, attempted assault, assault with a bodily fluid and obstructing a police officer.

Before her trial, she accused a jail officer of having sex with her while she was locked up. The local newspaper carried a story about the allegation and her criminal record.

On appeal, Pittman argued that the judge was wrong not to move the trial after the story was published. The high court said nothing in the news article was untrue, biased or inflammatory, so Pittman had no basis for claiming it prevented her from getting a fair trial.

The justices refused to rule on Pittman's assertion she was denied a fair trial because all he witnesses against her were law officers, since she failed to raise that issue in the lower court.

The videotape shown the jury was appropriate evidence of Pittman's crimes, Chief Justice Karla Gray said for the court. "It presented the jury with the best evidence of whether Pittman committed three of the offenses with which the state charged her."

Also, the tape allowed jurors to determine if the police officers were telling the truth about Pittman's behavior, the court said.

The judge did nothing wrong in sentencing Pittman to prison instead of a mental health treatment facility, the court said. Although a psychologist working for the defense found her to be mentally ill and unable to obey the law, the state's psychiatrist said most of Pittman's behavior problems were related to drug and alcohol use, Gray noted.

The judge had sufficient evidence to believe the state's expert, she said.

Copyright © 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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