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McLeod trial in final throes

by Phil Johnson
| September 17, 2013 12:31 PM

The uncertain future of Robert McLeod as Troy’s police chief will soon be decided.

The state board overseeing public safety officer training has heard closing arguments in the case stemming from a complaint filed against McLeod for using a Taser to subdue a handcuffed man in the back of his squad car in November 2007.

A ruling is expected within a week.

The Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council, or POST, held hearings in Kalispell on Sept. 4 and 5 to determine whether McLeod followed appropriate protocol when he stunned Alfred John (A.J.) Haflich after arresting him on charges of felony DUI and misdemeanor theft. It is also being determined if McLeod falsified his report when he wrote that Haflich motioned to kick him. Haflich was driving after stealing beer from the Town Pump.

Haflich won a $100,000 out-of-court settlement in 2009 after accusing McLeod of excessive use of force.

McLeod said he stunned Haflich when, after opening the cruiser’s rear door, Haflich moved to kick him. Haflich says he was punished for cursing loudly while McLeod spoke on his radio.

Closing arguments took place in Helena on Thursday. The judge in the hearing will pen a recommendation to the Montana POST council on whether he believes it appropriate to suspend or revoke McLeod’s certification to work as a police officer. POST will issue ultimate judgment either at its October council meeting or at an earlier special meeting.

“I am comfortable with how things have gone,” McLeod said. “This has been so stressful,  and I look forward to a resolution.”

McLeod is represented by Pat Flaherty and stated he has personally spent several thousands of dollars on the case.

The controversial case became even more divisive when Troy City Attorney Heather McDougall and Councilwoman Fran McCully were called as rebuttal character witnesses by Prosecuting Attorney Sarah Hart.

“I am here to discuss my interactions with Chief McLeod as the city attorney and also on a personal basis,” McDougall said on Sept. 5.

Speaking personally, McDougall spoke on McLeod’s reputation.

“The criminals seem to have no respect for him, and so, they just pretty much do what they want. They don’t feel like they are going to get cited, and so that’s something that I don’t really appreciate.”

Stating she feared reprisal for her testimony from “a circle of (McLeod’s) friends,” Councilwoman McCully said she has lots of questions about McLeod’s ability as a police chief and believes McLeod’s actions could bring discredit to law enforcement in Troy.

“I realize people make mistakes,” McCully said. “I believe the strength of a person’s character is how you handle a mistake. He made a mistake Tasering Haflich, and he has handled confronting that mistake poorly.”

McCully and McDougall’s testimony ruffled feathers in Troy, with some wondering whether the duo have an ax to grind with McLeod. A concerned citizen voiced his opinion at the end of last week’s city council meeting with choice words.

McCully said she has followed the case closely and originally believed McLeod had acted appropriately. However, her opinion changed after she saw the video.

“It was unjustifiable action,” McCully said. “The time between opening the door and the Tasering was too short.”

Fellow Councilman Joe Arts said McLeod acted appropriately. “I would have done the same,” Arts said. “He got a five-second blast when he said he would not keep quiet.”

Arts also expressed concerns with McCully and McDougall’s testimony.

“I thought Heather (McDougall) was supposed to defend the people of Troy,” Arts said.

At Thursday’s City Council meeting Mayor Tony Brown said McDougall and McCully were contacted by Hart and told they could testify or be subpoenaed.

Court records indicate Hart was allowed only two rebuttal character witnesses.

Brown and City Attorney McDougall did not respond to requests for comment.