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Missoula County Settles Medical Treatment Denial Suit for $5,000

In September 2009, a retired physician settled the part of his lawsuit that alleged denial of medical care while in the Missoula County Detention Facility (MCDF) for $5,000. The remaining claims in the suit were not settled.

Dr. Walt Peschel, 68, a frail, retired physician with a history of severe heart problems and diabetes, was mowing the lawn complex he owns when one of his tenants approached him and asked for assistance with another tenant who was armed and suicidal. Peschel went to Ms. Julie Huguet, who was standing by her car with a gun. Huguet got into her car, but talked with Peschel, telling him she had taken an overdose of medication, intending to end her life.

Peschel told the other tenant to call the police, but ask them to approach without sirens to avoid further aggravating Huguet. Instead, the police arrived with lights and sirens and immediately drew their weapons.

The police repeatedly ordered Peschel away from Huguet's car, but each time she told him if he left she would shoot herself, placing the gun in her mouth or to chest. Peschel remained until Huguet went into a drug-induced coma, then walked away from the car while telling the police that it was safe to approach. Peschel asked the police to search Huguet's apartment to identify the drug she had taken. Instead, they tackled him from behind, then tasered him while he was handcuffed on the ground.

The police placed Peschel in the back of a patrol car with windows up in the midday heat. Later, they transported him to MCDF. During transport and at MCDF, Peschel complained of chest pain and difficulty breathing. This was ignored. Peschel was later released from MCDF without having received any medical treatment. He was forced to walk over a mile to a hospital emergency room. There he was hospitalized for three days.

A jury acquitted Peschel of obstruction of justice. The police had destroyed a video of the incident and Peschel's arrest. They claimed it was accidental. Peschel filed a civil rights suit in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The suit alleged excessive use of force, denial of medical care, malicious prosecution and other state torts. The county settled the medical care claim against it for $5,000 and offered to discuss changes in MCDF medical policies with Peschel. The claims against Missoula police department officials remain.
See: Peschel v. City of Missoula, U.S.D.C.-D.Mont., No. CV-08-79-DWM-JCL

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Related legal case

Peschel v. City of Missoula