Attorneys for a woman raped and impregnated by an on-duty police officer told a judge during a damages hearing Wednesday that his ruling “will send a loud and clear message one way or the other.”
If the award is sufficient, said attorney John Heenan, sexual assault victims may feel validated and be encouraged to seek justice.
If the amount is insufficient, Heenan said, Indian Country and law enforcement will get the message “that this reprehensible conduct is somehow condoned.”
Former Bureau of Indian Affairs Officer Dana Bullcoming is serving a three-year prison term for showing up at a woman’s home in 2015 and threatening her with arrest if she did not have sex with him. The rape resulted in a pregnancy, and the woman is raising the child, now 3.
The hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Billings was largely symbolic. Bullcoming has paid no child support, and Heenan has said any judgment his client secures against Bullcoming would be “worth no more than the paper it’s printed on.”
Still, Heenan is asking for a damages award between $7 million and $15 million.
Costs for raising the child and providing her weekly counseling sessions and educational tutoring until age 18 are estimated at $272,906, as calculated by Rocky Mountain College economics professor Ann Adair.
Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan has asked for a memo breaking down each category of damages being requested.
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Heenan was the only attorney at Wednesday’s hearing. Bullcoming had no attorney representing him, and none of the assistant U.S. attorneys defending the government in the original complaint were present.
After any damages against Bullcoming are settled in U.S. District Court, plaintiffs will resume their appeal at the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The plaintiff wants the appellate court to reverse an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Watters that Bullcoming’s employer — the federal government — cannot be sued for the on-duty rape.
The lower court ruled that only the individual officer may be made to pay damages to the woman and her child.
The woman told the court Wednesday that Bullcoming got a three-year prison sentence, while “I got a life sentence.” The Billings Gazette does not typically name victims of sexual assault.
“I can’t stand him for what he did to me,” she said.
The woman testified by video, alongside her 3-year-old daughter whom she called “my little blessing.” But she told the court she suffers from daily reminders of the rape.
“Here she is,” the woman said, looking down at the toddler in her lap. “I see her. She looks like him.”