Three Billings police officers who admitted having sex on city property with a civilian employee of the department were given either one- or two-week suspensions without pay, Police Chief Rich St. John said Wednesday.
St. John did not release the names of the three patrol officers, all of them males with roughly eight to 10 years on the force, but he said the woman they had sexual relations with was Rawlyn Strizich, who was fired in February after confessing that she stole oxycodone pills and other prescription painkillers from the department’s evidence locker.
Strizich was working as a clerk in the department’s downtown City Hall offices at the time of the incidents with the police officers, St. John said. She started working in City Hall in 2013 and transferred to the evidence locker, at 4845 Midland Road, in 2016.
After he was asked by Last Best News to confirm reports of the suspensions, St. John said he spoke with Deputy City Attorney Thomas Pardy, who is researching state law to determine whether the city is obligated or has the discretion to identify the officers. There was no clear, immediate answer, Pardy said, because the incidents for which they were punished were policy violations, not criminal offenses.
“We’re talking really good officers who made a bad decision — a really, really bad decision,” St. John said.
Pardy said he hoped to make a determination on releasing the officer’s names no later than the end of the work day on Thursday.
St. John said two of the officers were suspended for two weeks without pay because they had sex with Strizich while on duty and on city property — in the basement of City Hall, which is used for records storage.
The third officer was suspended without pay for one week because he was off duty but on city property at the time. St. John said that officer had sexual relations with Strizich in a police patrol car — “or close to or around it.”
Each officer was accused of and admitted to having one sexual encounter with Strizich, and no other officers were involved, St. John said.
Because the department is shorthanded, St. John said, he gave the commanders who supervise the officers discretion on when to allow the suspensions to be served, but the suspensions have to be served all at once, not one or two days at a time. St. John said he ordered the suspensions three weeks ago, adding, “I don’t know if they served their time yet.”
St. John said he decided on the discipline himself and it was approved by Karla Stanton, the city’s human resources director. City policy requires the HR director to sign off on any suspensions of more than one day, St. John said.
City Administrator Bruce McCandless said he was told of the incidents immediately after the officers were disciplined, but as of Wednesday afternoon he hadn’t yet told the mayor and City Council about the incidents.
St. John said the one- and two-week suspensions were serious punishment for serious violations. Some police departments would have fired the officers, he said, “because it’s such an affront to integrity and ethics.”
St. John said the revelations about the officers’ activities arose out of the investigation of thefts at the evidence locker. Strizich told her supervisor on Jan. 20 — a few days before an audit of the evidence locker was to begin — that she had been stealing oxycodone and other opioids.
Strizich was initially suspended and then fired on Feb. 6, after the audit was completed. She has not yet been charged with a crime, St. John said, but police investigators will probably submit their evidence to the county attorney’s office soon, and attorneys there will decide whether to pursue charges against her.
In the course of investigating the evidence locker thefts, St. John said, “there were some rumors flying around” about officers having had sexual relations with Strizich, and when asked, she identified the three officers.
All three officers waived due-process hearings and admitted to the policy violations, St. John said, and he met separately with all three of them on the same day, telling them of their suspensions without pay.
“That took place several weeks ago and that matter is closed,” St. John said, adding that what the officers did “was an ancillary policy violation … that didn’t have anything to do with the theft of drugs.” He later described the incidents as “purely policy violations — no criminal action whatsoever.”
St. John said he handed down the suspensions for two reasons.
“The point for me is to correct behavior and to tell the rest of the department that this sort of behavior is unacceptable,” he said.
St. John said he also warned the officers, when he told them of their suspensions, that there was a chance that what they had done might be made public, and it was possible that they would be publicly identified.
“It’s obviously a sensitive area for all involved,” he said.