Robert Nightengale found at fault for stalking Museum Director

By Jim Eshleman
Big Horn County News

In District Court on Dec. 4, Judge Blair Jones issued a life time order of protection for Chris Kortlander stemming from incidents that repeatedly occurred since 2002.

Robert Nightengale, found guilty of civil contempt, was fined $350. Judge Jones also ordered attorney fees be determined and made the 2003 restraining order permanent.

This stems from action taken by the Big Horn County Attorney’s Office last June when Robert Nightengale was arraigned in Big Horn County District Court for felony stalking charges filed against him in August 2006 by then County Attorney Calvin Wilson.

Court documents allege that on five separate occasions Nightengale stalked Kortlander, owner of the Battlefield Museum in Garryowen. Nightengale, one of the owners of Garryowen's Fort Custer building, turned himself over to authorities after receiving a letter from the county attorney's office stating he had violated an order of protection filed against him by Kortlander. He was released without bond after appearing in court and pleading not guilty to the charges.

Bad blood between the two men began around 2000 when Nightengale worked as a volunteer at Custer Battlefield Museum. According to Kortlander, Nightengale's behavior at the museum had become detrimental to customers and fellow employees.

About a year after Nightengale began volunteering at the museum, Kortlander fired him because of his conduct. Nightengale has denied any misconduct while volunteering at the museum.

After being dismissed, Kortlander said in court testimony, Nightengale began to harass and threaten him. Meanwhile, a publicity war erupted between the two business owners.

In a flyer distributed by Nightengale during the 2002 Big Horn County Sheriff’s race in which Kortlander was a candidate, negative allegations were made against Kortlander. However, in testimony, Nightengale stated he had no documentation to support his allegations.

Shortly after the November election, which Kortlander lost, Nightengale became physically aggressive toward him when he asked Nightengale to leave the Garryowen Convenience Store, which Kortlander also owns. In court testimony, Nightengale admitted “personal contact” took place between him and Kortlander. Court documents also state Nightengale told Kortlander he would have to get a court order to keep him away.In March 2003, Kortlander got just that, when the court concluded Nightengale’s conduct warranted the order of protection.

Judge Blair Jones voiced concern about the serious and demeaning nature of the allegations and the willingness to assail the character of Kortlander in a public forum without any documentation supporting its accuracy. Subsequently, in his decision Judge Blair Jones awarded Kortlander the order of protection.

The order of protection states Nightengale is restrained from assaulting, threatening, abusing and harassing Kortlander.

Nightengale must not harass do anything to Kortlander's employees either directly or indirectly nor threaten to commit acts of violence against Kortlander and stay away from Kortlander's residence at the Garryowen Complex. He must stay at least 500 feet away from Kortlander and avoid contact at public locations. Nightengale must not communicate directly or indirectly through a third party and must refrain from defaming Kortlander and his reputation. In spite of the order of protection, Kortlander alleges five incidents of stalking occurred between August 2004 through September 2005. Kortlander contends these incidents included defamatory remarks published in The Billings Gazette demeaning his reputation, violating the 500 feet restriction, and suffering harassment and threats by Nightengale on two occasions.
Prompted by evidence supplied by Kortlander, Big Horn County Attorney Calvin Wilson filed felony stalking charges against Nightengale in District Court.

After being arraigned in Big Horn County District Court June 25 on the charges, Nightengale's partner Janice Smith filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court naming Kortlander, Harold and Stanton and his wife, Ron Nichols, Jim Court and his wife, Rich Solberg a journalist for the Big Sky Briefs and Chip and Sandy Watts. Except for Solberg, all are members of the Custer Battle Preservation Committee. Nightengale is also a member of the Custer Battlefield Preservation Committee.

The lawsuit contends Smith's civil rights have been deprived, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seeks an injunction against the defendants from continuing to harass or deprive her of her civil rights. The lawsuit also seeks a court order requiring the preservation committee void a 10 year lease with Kortlander. The lease is for a sign on preservation committee property advertising Kortlander's Garryowen restaurant. The lawsuit also contended grave sites on the property be maintained and Congress accept ownership of the preservation property. Big Sky Brief journalist Rich Solberg is included in the lawsuit for a series of articles he wrote regarding the property dispute deemed misleading by Smith.

This June 25 lawsuit is still pending in U.S. District Court.

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