Court: BIA owes damages for officer impregnating woman

Aug 17, 2022, 12:29 PM | Updated: 12:38 pm

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs can be held responsible for damages awarded to a Montana woman who became pregnant after an on-duty BIA officer used the threat of criminal charges to coerce her into having sex, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled.

The woman, identified by the initials L.B. in court documents, sued former BIA officer Dana Bullcoming and his employer for the October 2015 sexual assault on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation that resulted in the birth of a child, who is now 7, said her attorney, John Heenan.

“This is a woman that had the courage to report a federal law enforcement officer for sexually assaulting her and then had the courage to go through the entire process, including agents there to collect DNA when the child was born,” Heenan said Wednesday. She pursued the case on behalf of people living on reservations to show “that they should have the same rights as Montanans do on this issue.”

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters of Billings awarded the woman $1.6 million in damages in May 2020, but had ruled earlier that the BIA could not be held responsible for paying them because under federal law, the coercion and sex were outside the scope of Bullcoming’s duties.

The woman appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in turn asked the Montana Supreme Court to determine whether the federal agency could be held accountable under state law.

Since a 2009 court ruling, Montana law has held that an employer is responsible for the action of employees when they have a duty to provide protection, Heenan said.

On Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the facts in the case establish that “Officer Bullcoming was not, as a matter of law, acting outside the scope of his employment when he sexually assaulted L.B.,” Justice Laurie McKinnon wrote.

The conduct at issue here, the court wrote, “is the BIA officer’s abuse of his official authority by expressly or implicitly threatening L.B. with arrest and criminal prosecution with the intent and purpose to coerce her into engaging in sexual intercourse with him.”

The BIA did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Heenan said he expected the case to be returned to Watters’ court for an order holding the BIA financially liable.

“It’s a great day for Native women in Montana,” April Youpee-Roll, an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Tribes and an attorney who represented some Montana tribes who filed briefs in support of L.B., said in a statement. “The Montana Supreme Court closed the gap and provided us the same remedy for on-duty sexual assault by law enforcement as Montana already afforded our neighbors.”

In this case, L.B. called dispatchers to report that her mother was driving while intoxicated after they returned from a bar off the reservation. After finding the woman’s mother was OK, Bullcoming went to the woman’s house in Lame Deer and asked her if she had been drinking. She was home with her two children.

He then took her to his patrol car and performed a breath test, which revealed she was legally intoxicated and thus in violation of a tribal law that prohibits intoxication on the southeastern Montana reservation, court records said.

She asked Bullcoming not to arrest her or call tribal social services out of fear of losing custody of her children and her job. Bullcoming responded that “something has to be done,” according to court records.

The woman asked if that meant sex and Bullcoming said it did, court records said. The woman got pregnant.

After a DNA test confirmed Bullcoming was the father of the child, he pleaded guilty to depriving the woman of her rights using the power and authority granted to him by the BIA. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

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

AP

Associated Press

Today in History: October 6, the launch of Instagram

Today in History Today is Thursday, Oct. 6, the 279th day of 2022. There are 86 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Oct. 6, 1973, war erupted in the Middle East as Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel during the Yom Kippur holiday. (Israel, initially caught off guard, […]
21 hours ago
The ski slopes are almost devoid of snow at the Tūroa ski field, on Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand on Se...
Associated Press

Missing snow puts famed New Zealand ski areas on precipice

TUROA SKI AREA, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s Turoa ski area is usually a white wonderland at this time of year, its deep snowpack supporting its famed spring skiing. This season, it’s largely a barren moonscape, with tiny patches of snow poking out between vast fields of jagged volcanic boulders. The ski area was […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

Former Uber security chief guilty of data breach coverup

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The former chief security officer for Uber was convicted Wednesday of trying to cover up a 2016 data breach in which hackers accessed tens of millions of customer records from the ride-hailing service. A federal jury in San Francisco convicted Joseph Sullivan of obstructing justice and concealing knowledge that a federal […]
21 hours ago
FILE - Herschel Walker, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate for Georgia, speaks at a primary watch...
Associated Press

Report: Mom of Walker’s child says he paid for her abortion

ATLANTA (AP) — A woman who said Herschel Walker paid for her 2009 abortion is the mother of one of his children, according to a new report Wednesday, undercutting the Georgia Republican Senate candidate’s claims that he didn’t know who she was. The Daily Beast, which first reported Monday on the abortion, said it had […]
21 hours ago
A protester is hit by Los Angeles Rams defensive end Takkarist McKinley, middle left, and linebacke...
Associated Press

Protester subdued by Rams’ Wagner files police report

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — A protester who ran onto the field during the San Francisco 49ers’ Monday night home game against the Rams has filed a police report after being subdued by Los Angeles linebacker Bobby Wagner. Santa Clara Police Department Lt. Cuong Phan confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that the department […]
21 hours ago
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice-chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack o...
Associated Press

Liz Cheney says Arizona GOP candidates threaten democracy

PHOENIX (AP) — Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney on Wednesday said the Republican candidates for Arizona governor and secretary of state pose a huge risk for democracy because both say they will refuse to certify election results if they don’t like the results. Cheney, a prominent critic of former President Donald Trump and one of just […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Court: BIA owes damages for officer impregnating woman