Wife Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Montana City, Police

January 8, 2015

A Billings, Mont., woman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and a police officer who authorities said fatally shot her husband after he slipped out of restraints at a crime scene and knocked down the officer while trying to drive away in a patrol car.

The lawsuit filed by Heather Brawley on Dec. 31 claims Daniel Brawley wasn’t a threat to anyone else and it would have been less dangerous to let him drive away, The Billings Gazette reported.

The actions of Officer David Punt two years ago were found to be justified by a jury that heard the details at a coroner’s inquest. Punt testified that he fired at Brawley in part because he was driving away with at least two guns and a police radio in the car.

Billings City Administrator Tina Volek declined comment on Monday to the newspaper because neither she nor the city attorney had seen the lawsuit that also alleges civil rights violations. Volek was out of the office Tuesday and City Attorney Brent Brooks did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Heather and Daniel Brawley had surrendered and were arrested on Jan. 6, 2013, after a standoff that began when a house-sitter found them in the residence of a person who was out of town.

Daniel Brawley was cuffed with plastic ties and placed in the back of Punt’s idling patrol car. Brawley crawled through the partition into the front seat and drove toward Punt, hitting him with the car and knocking him down, authorities said.

The lawsuit said Punt opened fire even though no one was then in danger of being struck by the car. He shot through the back window when it “was obvious the car was not aimed at any person and killing the driver was much more dangerous than allowing the vehicle to leave,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit also claims the city “has a practice of allowing the use of deadly force on fleeing or unarmed people without fear of termination, referral for prosecution or even discipline of offending officers.”

Testimony during the inquest indicated Daniel Brawley had a significant amount of methamphetamine in his system.

Heather Brawley pleaded guilty to burglary for her role in the break-in and was sentenced in April to five years in the custody of the Department of Corrections with two years suspended as long as she participated in a treatment program. The judge ordered her to pay $27,000 in restitution.

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