By Alan Sorensen
A 12-member jury took little more than an hour Friday to rule that Havre police officers were not negligent in the 1991 assault that Debra LaTray claimed left her permanently disabled.
The four-day trial that began Tuesday was the second time a Havre jury heard the case and ruled in favor of the city.
LaTray and her husband, Marlin LaTray, who lost their lawsuit against the city and police department in June 1998, were granted a retrial by the Montana Supreme Court.
According to court documents this time, only eight of the 12 jurors had to find either way to determine a verdict. The jury was released to begin deliberation at 3:37 p.m. and returned with its verdict at 4:51 p.m. The jury was polled and the verdict was unanimous.
By finding that the officers and the city were not negligent, the jury did not have to consider any of the other questions about awards and dollar amounts.
This was 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 claimed 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, the LaTrays sought nearly $600,000 in lost wages, medical expenses and other damages. Last week, that amount was closer to $750,000. Marlin LaTray also sought 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.
Channing J. Hartelius of Great Falls represented the LaTrays, and Havre lawyer Brian Lilletvedt represented the city.
Seventeenth Judicial District Court Judge John McKeon of Malta heard the case last week. Judge Kenneth Neil of Great Falls presided over the case in 1998.