WEST FARGO — A Cass County woman has sued the West Fargo VFW after then-employees helped wheel her up in a chair to the apartment of a man who sexually assaulted her when she was intoxicated to the point of being incapacitated.

The woman filed a lawsuit in early August alleging the bar was negligent in its responsibility to provide reasonable care for the customer when she was at the VFW in early August 2019. The lawsuit also names 59-year-old Bruce Clayton McCartney, who admitted to raping the woman in his apartment, which is in the same building as the bar at 444 Sheyenne St.

Scott Kaufman, the commander of the West Fargo VFW, declined to comment when contacted by The Forum Thursday, Oct. 20. Craig Johnson, the attorney representing the VFW, said everyone at the bar feels horrible about what happened to the woman, but the VFW feels it is not responsible for what occurred.

The woman’s attorney, Erin Conroy of Bottineau, North Dakota, said in court documents that the VFW is liable for what happened.

Bruce McCartney, left, confers with defense attorney Richard Edinger at his sentencing for a sexual assault on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Cass County Court.  David Samson / The Forum
Bruce McCartney, left, confers with defense attorney Richard Edinger at his sentencing for a sexual assault on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Cass County Court. David Samson / The Forum

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The woman arrived at the VFW around 10:35 p.m. Aug. 8, 2019, and sat next to McCartney, a man she had never met before that night, according to the civil complaint. Criminal documents detailing charges against McCartney said the woman had two shots before she went to the bar, and VFW staff served “3.5 double UV Vodka drinks in 30 to 45 minutes.”

Video obtained by The Forum shows the woman standing around 11:12 p.m. before stumbling and falling to the ground. The Forum has chosen not to publish the video to protect the victim's identity.

For several minutes, McCartney and bar staff attempted to get her to stand, according to court documents.

During a sentencing hearing for McCartney in December, then-Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney Tanya Martinez said bar staff discussed what to do with the woman without involving the police. One employee later told police that the thoughts of staff were, “We have to get her off the property. Um, what happens after that, you know, is what happens,” the civil complaint said.

One suggested putting the woman in the back of an employee’s van and dropping her off at home, but “they realized that might be too much liability,” Martinez said.

McCartney, a regular at the bar who lives in an apartment in the same building as the VFW, either offered or was asked to take her up to his room, prosecutors said. One employee told police she thought McCartney and the woman were friends, based on how they interacted with each other at the bar, according to police reports obtained by The Forum.

Employees helped the woman into a rolling chair, video shows. McCartney can be seen rolling her toward his apartment’s elevator.

An employee is seen in apartment surveillance footage helping McCartney push the woman, who is slouched in the chair, out of the elevator to McCartney’s apartment door. The employee then helps McCartney carry her into the apartment before leaving, the video shows.

That employee told police the woman was sleeping as she was moved to McCartney's apartment, adding there was no way the woman could consent to anything that would have happened in the apartment unless it happened several hours later, one report said.

Sometime between 11:22 p.m. Aug. 8, 2019, and 12:32 a.m. Aug. 9, 2019, McCartney raped the woman. The woman crawled out of McCartney’s apartment to the elevator, court documents said.

She was found by police shortly after 1 a.m. on the main floor, the civil complaint said. One officer noted in a police report that the woman was “highly intoxicated and very distraught,” and she didn’t remember what happened.

McCartney faced up to life in prison if convicted on gross sexual imposition, but he was sentenced Dec. 7 in Cass County District to three years in prison after pleading guilty to the lesser charge of sexual assault. The gross sexual imposition charge was dismissed.

McCartney is serving his time at the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck.

The lawsuit seeks at least $50,000 each from the VFW and McCartney.

In an answer to the complaint, the VFW denied any wrongdoing in the case and asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. The business claimed it had “no control” over McCartney’s conduct, and the woman’s actions and negligence contributed to the situation.

The bar also said employees helping McCartney to get the woman to his apartment was “outside the course and scope of their employment” and “not done on behalf of the West Fargo VFW.”

In a 2019 statement to The Forum, then-general manager Eric Jorgenson said the VFW was saddened by the news of the sexual assault, but “unfortunately due to outside circumstances beyond the VFW and poor individual decision-making by former staff, we have been more involved in this story than we would like to be.”

"Staff members did genuinely believe they were safely assisting a patron home with a friend," the statement said. "Staff was also unaware of the drinking that occurred immediately before the individuals involved entered the VFW."

During McCartney's sentencing hearing, Cass County Judge Susan Bailey questioned whether the woman was overserved and why bartenders did not call police. Martinez also said during the hearing anyone who has seen the video would realize how unconscious and vulnerable the woman was.

Judge Wade Webb has been assigned the case.

The Forum reached out to Conroy in September and spoke with her about connecting with her client. Requests for an interview were not fulfilled as of Tuesday. The newspaper does not typically identify victims of sexual assault.

An attorney was not listed for McCartney as of Tuesday.