By Alan Sorensen
The retrial of Debra LaTray vs. the City of Havre entered what both sides said should be its final day this morning.
LaTray and her husband, Marlin, who lost their lawsuit against the city and police department in June 1998, were granted a retrial by the Montana Supreme Court. The trial began Tuesday in 12th Judicial District Court here.
Channing J. Hartelius, representing the LaTrays, and Brian Lilletvedt, representing the city, agreed before court convened this morning that the case would be presented to the 12-member jury before the end of the day.
Seventeenth Judicial District Court Judge John McKeon of Malta is hearing the case. Judge Kenneth Neil of Great Falls presided over the case in 1998.
This is actually the third time around for the LaTrays. Their first suit, filed on June 22, 1994, was thrown out without prejudice on May 31, 1995.
LaTray is claiming that she has been unable to work since April 1, 1992 as the result of an assault on June 25, 1991.
In the 1998 suit, LaTray and her husband, Marlin LaTray were seeking nearly $600,000 in lost wages, medical expenses and other damages. This week, that amount was closer to $750,000. Marlin LaTray also is seeking an undisclosed amount for the loss of Debra's company, affection and service due to the attack.
The LaTrays charged that police officers were negligent in allowing a woman who accompanied them to the hospital to strike LaTray once in the face. The blow may or may not have knocked LaTray all the way to the ground.
LaTray insisted that the police should have had the woman restrained. Police argued that the woman was not under arrest and had committed no crime.
LaTray was a nurse at the hospital at the time of the assault.
The incident arose after Sgt. Mike Ritz and Lt. Gene Harada, both since retired, responded to a complaint of sisters fighting on West Second Street at about 8 a.m. June 25, 1991. They arrived to find one sister restraining the other.
The officers arrested the woman being restrained. They handcuffed her and put her in a patrol car for transport to hospital. The other sister insisted on joining her in the patrol car.
Ritz drove the young women to the hospital in his patrol car and Harada followed in his.
According to testimony in the first trial, LaTray, who was assigned to a different floor at the hospital, saw the cars outside the emergency room. She testified at that time, that she volunteered to help clear the area for an ambulance she thought was on the way.
LaTray said during the first trial, that she went out and met Ritz and the suspect as they approached the hospital. She said she didn't notice the suspect's sister at the time. When she grabbed the handcuffed woman's arm to check her injuries and help usher her into the emergency room area, LaTray said, the woman's sister came forward and struck her in the face.
LaTray said she finished out her shift at the hospital and then awoke the next day to extreme back pain.
District Court Judge John Warner of Havre is conducting 12th Judicial District Court business in the Havre City Council Chambers, which also serve as the city's courtroom.