A seemingly routine traffic stop escalated into a tense confrontation between MSU University Police Department (UPD) officer Angela Roundtree and Bozeman citizen Krystel Saatjian on January 8, 2020. An investigation was opened and, on February 14, 2020, the MSU police department released a full, detailed report of their findings on the incident. The report included claims that Roundtree, “never attempted to de-escalate the situation, instead elected to intentionally engage in conduct that was unprofessional, discourteous, and antagonistic in a manner that escalated the situation placing all parties involved in increased danger” and “demonstrated poor officer safety by placing herself in a position of increased risk.” The report did not directly claim that Roundtree’s statements demonstrated a racial bias.
The statements in question are: “You must not be from around here, huh?” and “This isn’t where you came from.” Saatjian, who claims to have lived in Bozeman for 10 years, took offense to the comments and believed them to be racially motivated, as Saatjian is black. Roundtree stated that she felt defensive because of the implication that she and her colleague were racist. “Montana officers are not racist,” Roundtree said. Though there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the claim of racial bias, that does not mean Roundtree has been exonerated.
Roundtree was handed a 40-hour suspension, which will equate to a 25% pay decrease for the month, as well as extra training. Prior to this, Roundtree had been only performing administrative duties since the incident. The UPD hopes that the punishment is a sign that they do not condone the kind of behavior exhibited by Roundtree.
MSU’s chief of police, Frank Parrish, expressed how saddened he was by his officer’s behavior. “I’m disappointed that Roundtree didn’t use this as an opportunity to show compassion to another human being.” Parrish wants to make it clear that their role as a police organization is to protect and serve the public. He stressed the importance of positive interactions between the department and community. “We are not against them (the community) but instead we’re here for them.”
True to his word, Parrish invited Saatjian into the department to talk about the incident. The meeting went well as they found common ground in their Christian beliefs. Parrish and Saatjian hope that the department can use this incident as an opportunity to improve its training, practices and empathy for other people. As Parrish says, “We need to show compassion, show understanding, show love.”