On Jan. 15, former Missoula County Detention Center Officer Warren Soss filed suit against the county alleging wrongful discharge. Soss was fired in November, days after a video camera captured him hitting an inmate approximately 14 times in the head and torso.
In December, Soss pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault charges filed as a result of the incident. He was sentenced to a six-month deferred sentence.
According to the lawsuit filed this month on Soss' behalf by Missoula law firm Tipp & Buley, Soss' termination "was without good cause, and was not for any legitimate business reason." The lawsuit seeks compensation for lost wages and benefits, court costs and "further relief as may be determined just and equitable by this court."
Soss had worked for the detention center for roughly 10 years when, on the morning of Nov. 13, he and another officer, Andrew Gaylord, entered inmate Jade Gunhammer's jail cell. According to court documents, an agitated Gunhammer tried to prevent Soss from removing garbage in his cell and then tried to push past Gaylord. There was a struggle at the cell door before Soss threw Gunhammer back. Gunhammer got up quickly and came at the officers.
"Officer Soss then punched Gunhammer with his right fist," court documents say. Soss hit Gunhammer 10 times on the head and, as Gunhammer covered his face, four times in the torso.
Missoula Deputy Sheriff Detective David Conway investigated the incident. He found that Soss used excessive force, court documents say. "Based on their experience in law enforcement, Deputy Conway and others in the Sheriff's Office, do not believe that the amount of force used by Soss was justified ..."
In response to the lawsuit, Missoula County Chief Operating Officer Steve Johnson says that based on the evidence against Soss, it's clear to him that the Detention Center was justified in its decision to fire him.
"Certainly we think there were grounds to terminate his employment," Johnson says. "Missoula County will be defending its actions and will be arguing that there is no merit."