Judge reverses Longsoldier ruling
State panel’s ‘procedural irregularities’ cited
March 18, 2014
The Montana Human Rights Commission ruling that made Hill and Blaine counties liable for the death of A.J. Longsoldier has been thrown out by a District Court judge in Helena.
The commission’s ruling would have required the counties to pay $1.35 million to the Longsoldier estate after the organization found those entities at fault for the 18-year-old’s death in November 2009.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ordered that the $1.35 million not be paid and that the commission be dismissed from the Longsoldier case.
The original decision, made by Hearing Officer Terry Spear, that required Hill and Blaine counties to pay the Longsoldier estate $300,000 was reinstated. That payment was for the suffering that Longsolider endured, not for the death itself.
HRC was found to have been at fault for procedural irregularities and violating Montana’s Open Meetings Law, according to Sherlock’s ruling.
The counties went to court in August 2013 after the HRC awarded Longsoldier’s estate the $1.35 million.
“Both counties sought relief in the form of an order reversing the unlawful orders of the Commission and reinstating the ‘carefully considered and fact-supported initial determination of Hearing Officer Spear … ,’” the ruling says.
The counties amended their initial petitions for judicial review, the ruling says and “seek to add a violation of Montana’s Open Meeting Law, a violation of quorum and notice requirements, and a constitutional violation.”
Longsoldier died from complications brought on by delirium tremens, or alcohol withdrawals, after he was placed in the Hill County Detention Center in 2009. The HRC ruled that Blaine and Hill counties were at fault for not properly treating Longsoldier for his withdrawals.
The original $300,000 fine issued was to pay for emotional distress damages for the suffering Longsoldier experienced for six hours in the detention center following his return from the Northern Montana Hospital emergency room, where he had been sent for his withdrawal symptoms. After the six hours, Longsoldier died.
Longsoldier was arrested by Blaine County Sheriff’s deputies and taken to the detention center because Blaine County does not have a jail.
Longsoldier was well-known for his promising high school basketball playing, but he was diagnosed with alcoholism at an early age.
In August 2013, the HRC upped the amount the counties owed to the Longsoldier estate from the $300,000 fine to $1.35 million.