City cops targeted in excessive force lawsuit

By KEVIN KNAPEK/Montana State News

Bozeman police officers may soon be heading back to court to face an excessive force lawsuit.

In 2007, officers were called for a welfare check. When Sgt. Greg Megargel and Officer Marek Ziegler arrived at Soheil J. Verdi’s home, Verdi answered the door naked, intoxicated and “stumbling around,” according to the lawsuit.

Officers then claim Verdi attacked them. Ziegler decided to taze Verdi, which caused him to fall face down hitting his head and causing injuries to his skull. According to his attorneys Thomas D. Shea and Ryan K. Jackson, Verdi has had three brain surgeries to remove excess blood on his brain.

The lawsuit, filed by Verdi in 2009, names the Police Department, the city of Bozeman, Megargel, Ziegler, former Police Chief Mark Tymrak and former Deputy Chief Martin Kent. The suit alleges excessive use of force, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, false imprisonment, evidence spoliation and conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge Richard Anderson, who initially presided over the suit, found the officers guilty of intentionally erasing audio recordings that were critical to the case.

Ziegler had said he would turn his body recorder on and off whenever he responded to a call as he saw fit. He also stated, normally deletes audio recordings at the scene of an incident as he transfers them to a computer, if he decides they are not relevant.

It was this recording that picked up the conversation between Ziegler and Megargel during the ambulance ride, which was used in court.

Megargel:  Now what the (expletive)?

Ziegler:  Yeah, what am I going to clear this as? (Expletive), public assistance with a tasing?

Megargel:  (Expletive) in-a-baby, 10-8 medical.

Ziegler:  10-8 what?

Megargel:  Medical.

Ziegler:  He didn’t commit a crime.

Megargel:  No, but he could of.

While listening to the recorded conversations in one of the court hearings, it was evident that audio had been deleted at certain periods of time. According to the Bozeman Chronicle, in a ruling issued last month, Anderson found the erased audio relevant, and the fact that it was intentionally erased was “extremely suspicious.”

Chief of Police Ron Price was unable to comment on the pending case. City Attorney Greg Sullivan could not be reached for comments.

– Edited by Melinda Pierce

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