BILLINGS, MONTANA – Two Billings police officers face an uncertain future after one was arrested for urinating in public during a concert at MetraPark and another crashed his car, possibly while drunk. Both incidents took place over the weekend.
Police Chief Rich St. John said Tuesday morning that Officer Curtis Eckhardt is on paid administrative leave after he was arrested Friday night by Yellowstone County sheriff’s deputies for urinating in public in the arena at MetraPark. Eckhardt, 51, was attending a concert by Styx, Foreigner and Kansas.
According to a sheriff’s report, Eckhardt was detained by MetraPark security after ushers saw him with his genitalia exposed and “urinating among the crowd in the arena area.” Sheriff’s deputies arrived at about 11:05 p.m. and took Eckhardt into custody.
He was taken to the Yellowstone County Detention Facility and was released after receiving a citation for disorderly conduct.
St. John said Eckhardt was intoxicated but cooperative with sheriff’s deputies. St. John said someone complained to ushers about Eckhardt’s behavior, and the ushers then called security and the sheriff’s office.
“He is on administrative leave pending the disposition of this and the internal affairs investigation,” St. John said. “There is no indication that he caused any problems for the deputies.”
St. John said Deputy Police Chief Tim O’Connell will investigate the incident. Eckhardt has been with the department for almost 22 years and works as a patrolman.
Just before 11 p.m. Saturday night, Officer Steve Swanson crashed his personal car in the 3100 block of Hillcrest Road. According to information from St. John, Swanson was heading south on the road and going around a bend when his right tires went off the road. Swanson overcorrected, crossed the road and went into the ditch on the other side. The car hit the ditch hard and went end over end before it rolled on its side, eventually landing on the passenger side.
Swanson wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and both speed and alcohol were factors in the crash, St. John said. Swanson was taken to the hospital with serious injuries and is still in the hospital with broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a damaged spleen, St. John said.
“He’s extremely fortunate to not have been ejected and not seriously injured or killed,” St. John said.
The Montana Highway Patrol responded to the crash and is investigating. The MHP took a blood sample from Swanson but haven’t issued any citations yet, St. John said. The Police Department has begun an investigation but won’t take any action against Swanson until his condition improves and the MHP can determine what happened in the crash, St. John said.
Swanson is a 13-year veteran currently assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service Violent Offender Fugitive Task Force. He has served on the city’s SWAT team.
St. John said he was extremely disappointed in the behavior of both officers.
“We work very hard to gain the public’s trust and this knocks us backward,” he said. “To have our officers involved in such shameful activity is not only a violation of the public’s trust but a complete dishonor to this department and the officers who uphold the integrity and honor that goes along with the badge.”