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A District Court judge granted a temporary restraining order Monday barring the city of Billings from releasing the name of three police officers disciplined for having sex with a civilian employee on city property.
The city was set to release the names, along with other documents related to the case, at 3 p.m. Monday. Late Monday morning, however, Yellowstone County District Judge Michael Moses issued the restraining order at the request of lawyers representing the three patrolmen.
Moses, who set a hearing for May 3 on whether the injunction should be permanent, said the order itself is confidential, since it includes the names of the three officers who admitted having sex — two of them while on duty — with a police department clerk.
The injunction prohibited the city from releasing the names and other information requested by Last Best News and other news organizations.
Deputy City Attorney Thomas Pardy said on Thursday that he had determined that the information was public and would be released at 3 p.m. on Monday.
The information was not immediately released, he said, because as with any such release, he would have had to redact protected information like Social Security numbers, phone numbers and the names of third parties.
Public information requests generally take 10 days to two weeks to process, he said, and in this case he would have been scrambling on Friday and part of Monday to get the redactions done.
“Two days would have been a pretty fast turnaround,” he said.
Pardy said the three officers were represented by the Scheveck Law Firm, of Billings.
Billings Gazette editor Darrell Ehrlick said he spoke briefly with KTVQ news director Jon Stepanek about the possibility of jointly intervening in the case to argue for the release of what should be public information.
As for the request for a permanent injunction barring release of the officers’ names, Erhlick said, “we definitely are going to try to challenge that in whatever way we can.”
The suspensions without pay for the three officers came to light last week, but only after Last Best News asked Police Chief Rich St. John to confirm rumors to that effect. St. John said two of the officers were suspended for two weeks without pay because they had sex with the female clerk while on duty and on city property — in the basement of Billings City Hall, which is used for records storage.
The third officer was suspended without pay for one week because he was off duty but on city property at the time. St. John said that officer had sexual relations with the clerk in a police patrol car — “or close to or around it.”
However, St. John later told the Gazette that the officer accused of having sex in the patrol car was on duty and that the encounter took place in a private lot. That officer was suspended for two weeks, he told the Gazette.
He further told the Gazette that of the two officers who had a sexual encounter in the basement of City Hall, one was on-duty, which is why he was suspended for two weeks, while the other was off-duty and was suspended for one week. St. John could not be reached Monday to explain the discrepancies.
Ed Kemmick is the founding editor of Last Best News, an independent online newspaper in Billings, where this story originally appeared.