By Alan Sorensen
The jury trial that ended with a Havre man being found guilty of felony assault on a police officer took less than three hours to complete Wednesday.
Joseph John Bear, 34, Fort Belknap, was found guilty in 12th Judicial District Court of felony assault for striking off-duty Havre police sergeant Stan Martin at Albertsons in January.
According to court documents, Martin was in the store at about 10 p.m. on Jan. 18, 1999, when store employees confronted Bear on suspicion of shoplifting two 18-packs of beer. Martin said that he stepped in to help calm down the situation because he knew Bear.
While Martin and the employees were ushering Bear back into the store to await police, Bear reportedly struck Martin. Martin then took Bear to the ground and Bear pulled off Martins glasses and broke them. Martins watch also was broken during the encounter and he sustained bruising.
Martin still had Bear subdued when responding officers arrived. They and other witnesses reported hearing Bear threaten to kill Martin the next time Martin goes to Hays alone and unarmed.
Assault against a police officer is automatically a felony under Montana law. But Bears lawyer argued that Bear struck Martin while Martin was in civilian clothes and was therefore not a police officer at the time.
The prosecution argued, however, that state and local laws require police officers to carry their weapons at all times and to be on 24-hour call. Havre Police Department policy adopted in August 1998 states that: Members shall be considered to be on duty at all times and be prepared to act when circumstances indicate a need for police action.
The prosecution argued that when Martin stepped into the situation at Albertsons, he did so as a police officer.
Bears motion to have the case dismissed was rejected by District Court Judge John Warner.
Opening arguments began at about 1:20 p.m., according to court documents, and the jury returned with its verdict shortly after 4 p.m.
Warner ordered Bear to undergo a presentencing investigation. He set sentencing for 10:30 a.m. June 4 and remanded Bear to Hill County Sheriff Tim Solomons custody.