Flashlight fight

A Kalispell man has filed a lawsuit alleging a Montana Highway Patrol trooper unnecessarily used deadly force against him two years ago when the trooper hit him on the head several times with a large flashlight.

"He certainly didn't have any weapons, or give any indication that he was dangerous," says Johnna Baffa, a Missoula attorney representing plaintiff Marc Hardesty. Their suit was filed in July.

On April 22, 2009, Hardesty pulled out of the Town Pump near Kalispell and began heading east on U.S. Highway 2. Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Glen Barcus pulled Hardesty over after observing that Hardesty's right front turn signal appeared to be missing. The driver also unlawfully crossed the first lane and entered the center lane. According to law enforcement records cited in the lawsuit, Hardesty's speech was difficult to understand and his responses were delayed. Hardesty admitted to Barcus that his driver's license was likely suspended for unpaid traffic fines.

When Barcus asked Hardesty to get out of the car, the suspect fled. The ensuing pursuit extended across the four-lane highway and into a mobile home dealership. "He was afraid he would be put in jail," Baffa says of her client.

The lawsuit alleges that during the ensuing pursuit and physical altercation, Barcus hit Hardesty between two and four times on the head with his Maglite, a heavy-duty flashlight frequently used by law enforcement. The case further alleges that Barcus's decision to hit Hardesty on the head violated MHP policies governing when it's appropriate to use deadly force. Those policies state that troopers can only use such force when law enforcement or the public is in imminent danger.

Citing policies surrounding pending litigation, the Montana Department of Justice, which oversees the Highway Patrol, declined to comment on the suit.

Hardesty was eventually taken into custody and transported by ambulance to Kalispell Regional Medical Center. According to the suit, he suffered a seizure three days after the arrest. Healthcare providers at Regional Medical Center attributed the seizure to alcohol withdrawal. His attorney, however, argues the seizure was the direct result of traumatic brain injury from Barcus's blows.

Boffa says Hardesty now experiences frequent and debilitating headaches coupled with nausea. He's asking for a jury trial, punitive damages and attorney's fees.

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