A motorcyclist who claims he was illegally roughed up after a road rage incident last year is suing the city of Red Lodge, its police department and an officer alleging civil rights violations.
In a lawsuit filed June 29 in U.S. District Court in Billings, the plaintiff, Dwight Ratcliff, who was 70 at the time, said Officer Al Stuber “physically and emotionally brutalized” him, assaulted him and subjected him to excessive force.
There was no probable cause to believe that Ratcliff had committed an offense, and the officer’s detention of Ratcliff violated his rights to due process and to be free from unlawful restraint, the complaint said.
The defendants, the complaint continued, were negligent in failing to use “reasonable care by detaining and arresting Dwight without probable cause.”
Further, the lawsuit alleges that Stuber’s conduct was “sanctioned and promoted by” the policy of the city of Red Lodge and the Police Department. Ratcliff’s treatment was part of a “pattern of abuse,” the complaint said.
Ratcliff’s attorney, Garth McCarty of Glenwood Springs, Colo., declined immediate comment on the case.
Billings attorney Sam Painter, who represents the city of Red Lodge, did not return a call seeking comment.
Police Chief Richard Pringle also declined to comment but said the initial report was for a road rage incident at the Rocking J parking lot involving two men on motorcycle and a family in a vehicle. The report said Ratcliff was from Billings, Pringle said.
The complaint said that Ratcliff and his son-in-law, Kent Faulkner, were riding motorcycles on July 2, 2011, from Bear Creek to Red Lodge on Highway 308. As they approached the Highway 212 intersection, Faulkner passed a Ford Explorer, which swerved as if to hit him, the complaint said.
Ratcliff also passed the Ford, waiting until he had a legal passing zone. As Ratcliff passed, the driver of the Ford threw a large cup of ice at him, the complaint said.
When Ratcliff and Faulkner reached a stop sign at the south end of Red Lodge at Highway 212, Faulkner “exchanged words” with a passenger in the Ford, the complaint said. Faulkner headed south, but Ratcliff, hearing a police siren approaching, pulled into a parking lot. He wanted to report the actions by the Ford’s occupants and stood by his motorcycle, hoping the officer would stop.
Stuber arrived in a police cruiser, with lights flashing and siren on, and Ratcliff removed his helmet to talk to the officer. The complaint said Stuber jumped out of his car, began screaming at Ratcliff and told him to turn round or else he would shoot.
Stuber “pointed a Taser at Dwight’s face from about 10 feet away” and ordered Ratcliff to get to his motorcycle, the complaint said. Ratcliff complied. The officer grabbed Ratcliff’s helmet, threw it to the ground and broke it, the complaint continued.
“Officer Stuber then physically and emotionally brutalized Dwight, assaulted him, threw him over his motorcycle, handcuffed him and injured Dwight’s neck, head, arm and wrist. Officer Stuber then forcefully pushed Dwight over to a rock pile and ordered Dwight to sit on the rocks,” the complaint said.
As Stuber went to talk to the occupants of the Ford, another officer, Danielle Barnes, saw that Ratcliff was bleeding from his wrist, moved his handcuffs to the front and placed him in the back seat of Stuber’s cruiser with the windows rolled up in the heat, the complaint said.
Stuber released the Ford’s occupants without issuing tickets and then let Ratcliff go before leaving the scene “without explanation for his brutality and unlawful detention,” the complaint said. Ratcliff was not charged with any crime.
The suit alleges that other employees of the city and police department were aware of Stuber’s “activities and offenses” against Ratcliff as well as Stuber’s “propensity to commit such acts” but did nothing.
Ratcliff required medical treatment and physical therapy for injuries caused by Stuber and continues to have physical pain and emotional distress, the complaint said.
The suit seeks a jury trial along with $50,000 in punitive damages and other damages, including loss of property, pain and suffering.
The case has been assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull.