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More details emerge in ousted police chief’s lawsuit

May 28, 2017 GMT

More details have surfaced in the case of ousted Columbia Falls police chief Dave Perry.

At Perry’s pre-trial hearing on May 10 in Flathead County District Court, the former police chief claimed city manager Susan Nicosia was biased against him before he was fired last year. Perry is suing the city for wrongful discharge.

Perry referred to a complaint filed by Officer Craig McConnell against him in May 2014. McConnell was allegedly upset that Perry didn’t support his promotion, and, in turn, told Nicosia that Perry had photographed or videotaped a female employee of Tien’s Place with his cellphone without her permission.

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Nicosia’s daughter was supposedly a friend of the woman’s sister, and this, Perry contended, was Nicosia’s reason for suspending Perry on an emergency and indefinite basis three years ago.

Additionally, no one told Perry that it was McConnell, and not the woman, who made the complaint, which disregarded his right as a law enforcement officer to be informed about complaints against him.

Nicosia’s investigation into Perry’s involvement with the woman turned into a full-blown character and management investigation, Perry claimed, and destroyed his authority in the police department. Perry asserted at the hearing that a third-party investigation of his personal phone proved that the allegations about his involvement with the woman were unfounded.

Perry is not married.

But the city contended that Perry did actually engage in inappropriate and unprofessional conduct with the woman, and that they gave him a letter of warning in June 2014.

Perry also claimed that his wrongful discharge in 2016 ruined his career, and since then he has been unable to find a law enforcement job.

He was fired July 1, 2016 after an over 25-year career with the police department. His termination occurred after an inmate escaped from the department under his watch.

At about noon on May 12, 2016, Christopher Calf Looking, 36, of East Glacier was arrested on Wildcat Drive for assaulting his girlfriend. The holding cell at the Columbia Falls Police Department was experiencing electrical problems, so the arresting officer put Calf Looking in a shower stall.

At about 2:30 p.m., Perry relieved the arresting officer, only to have Calf Looking start yelling loudly, saying he saw a brown recluse spider in the toilet and that his religious beliefs did not allow him to kill the spider.

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Perry unlocked the door and ordered the suspect to stand against a wall while he looked for the spider. Finding none, Perry walked out to see the exit door closing, with no sign of Calf Looking.

A manhunt ensued.

The Columbia Falls Police, Flathead County Sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Border Patrol, Montana Highway Patrol, and the Two Bear Air rescue helicopter chased Calf Looking for more than an hour before he was apprehended by the border patrol near the Flathead River.

At the time, Perry came under intense criticism for not notifying schools and parents of Calf Looking’s escape, particularly since police thought the man might have returned to the scene of the crime on Wildcat Drive, adjacent to Ruder Elementary School.

The city also noted in their case against Perry that he searched for Calf Looking in his personal vehicle, without law enforcement equipment, which violated acceptable procedures.

When Nicosia terminated his employment, Perry filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit against the City of Columbia Falls, stating Nicosia had a personal vendetta against him.

Perry’s suit maintains that he had a positive performance review by Nicosia in 2012, prior to the inappropriate conduct investigation, and should have had a chance to correct his actions regarding Calf Looking.

Earlier this year, the city submitted a motion for summary judgment, suggesting Perry did not follow city procedures to grieve or appeal his termination. Flathead County courts denied the motion, on the basis that Perry wasn’t provided with the necessary paperwork nor informed of his right to appeal his discharge.

A resolution to the whole matter should be coming soon.

The case is scheduled for trial June 19 in front of District Court Judge Dan Wilson. Perry is seeking lost wages and benefits, attorney fees and other unspecified damages.

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