Firing Upheld

Columbus Police Commission upholds 2015 firing of officer
By: 
Alastair Baker
Thursday, August 22, 2019
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The Columbus Police Commission has upheld the city’s firing of ex-police officer Paul Caraway in 2015.

The commission met last month and in a lengthy meeting, heard testimony from Caraway, former Columbus Police Chief Bill Pronovost, Mayor Gary Woltermann and former police dispatcher/current Columbus City Court Clerk Patty Rozema.

Rozema testified on behalf of Caraway and is not the dispatcher who filed a sexual assault claim against him. That sexual assault allegation prompted a criminal investigation in which multiple issues surfaced, some of which played a role in Caraway’s termination.

The 3-person police commission presented its “Legal Conclusions” in a document dated Aug. 12 and determined “There was sufficient cause to terminate Caraway’s employment.”

“Now therefore, the Columbus Police Commission hereby sustains the mayor’s Nov. 20, 2015, disciplinary order terminating Paul Caraway’s employment,” the commission stated.

Visiting Judge Jim Seykora presided over the hearing to provide the commission with any procedural or evidentiary matters that may have arisen.

Caraway was fired in November 2015 following a three-month investigation into a sexual assault allegation filed by a dispatcher. The Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) conducted the criminal investigation at the request of then Chief Pronovost. The DOJ declined to file charges due to what it called credibility issues with both the dispatcher and Caraway, according to a letter from the Montana Attorney General’s Office.

Upon completion of the criminal investigation, an internal investigation was conducted. The results of that internal investigation led Woltermann to fire Caraway for misconduct and dereliction of duty.

Two of seven specific factors listed in a pre-termination letter given to Caraway included sexually inappropriate conversations and comments to a female dispatcher at work, as well as unauthorized meetings with another woman while on duty.

In its ruling, the Columbus Police Commission listed those seven reasons for upholding the termination:

1. Caraway’s attacks on Pronovost in his Nov. 11, 2015, letter would have made “it impossible” for Caraway to effectively continue as a police officer and in particular, Caraway(‘s) “credibility no longer exists,” according to the document.

2. Caraway’s admitted participation in sexual conversations with his sexual assault accuser were “unbecoming a police officer” and “cause for dismissal, especially in light of Pronovost’s prior warnings and direction on Caraway’s conduct around women.

Further, Caraway’s admitted comments to another female that she was “hot” and needed a “spanking” was unprofessional and unacceptable — regardless of what the female thought of the comment.

3. Caraway’s admitted meetings with a married female at a public park while on duty were inappropriate, as Pronovost had testified that such meetings need to take place at the department.

4. Caraway failed to inform a female of the reason for a traffic stop, in violation of Montana law. This woman later accused Caraway of stalking and/or harassing her and obtained a temporary restraining order that was subsequently dissolved.

5. Caraway was non-compliant with Pronovost’s orders by spending 30 to 40 minutes in dispatch for “b…s…sessions” despite prior instructions to limit time in dispatch and to cease sexual comments to dispatchers immediately.

6. Caraway’s admitted failure to submit a report following his accuser’s report of underage drinking (and) was the second time in one-year Caraway failed to file a report.

7. The letters submitted by the Billings Stillwater Clinic, the Stillwater County Sheriff, and the Montana Attorney General Office speak for themselves and were not solicited in any way by the city.

Number seven refers to the following:

•A letter sent to Pronovost from the director of the Stillwater Billings Clinic by “requesting Caraway be barred from her place of employment to protect her employees “from harm and from fear.”

•A letter from the Montana Attorney General’s Office following the criminal investigation that stated Caraway “has acted inappropriately in office settings ... While [he] may want to characterize his actions as playful and that others willfully participated; his actions were not appropriate in any government office setting,” according to the DOJ report.

•A letter from the Stillwater County sheriff

barring Caraway from being in the dispatch center.

Also noted in the Police Commission’s ruling is Pronovost receiving a message that at least two females from a local casino expressed concerns about Caraway conducting a robbery class because “they felt uncomfortable around” him. Pronovost called the manager of the casino who had not spoken with the employees but “felt another officer would be better suited to give the talk. She explained that (Caraway) made her feel inferior and that (he was) ‘God’s gift to females.’”

The Police Commission did rule that some “evidence presented at the hearing on July 22, 2019 did·in fact rebut in part certain allegations in this termination letter; however, not sufficiently to effect this commissions’ findings.”

For example, Rozema testified that she never complained about Caraway being sexually inappropriate.

The Police Commission also noted that Caraway first filed a federal lawsuit against the city, Woltermann and Pronovost and did not ask for a Police Commission hearing until he had lost that case and an appeal of that case.

Caraway can appeal the Police Commission’s decision to state district court.

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