A 24-year-old man was killed by police after a Saturday morning clash with officers on the Billings South Side.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John described the man as a Native American with addresses both in Billings and Hardin, but declined to identify him until family could be notified. The man is known to police and has a criminal history, police said.
During a Saturday morning press conference at City Hall, St. John said the man rammed two police cruisers and a civilian's minivan and then disregarded numerous officer commands to get out of his truck, a large flatbed Ford F-350.
At one point, an officer sprayed pepper spray into the cab of the truck where the man was sitting. But the pepper spray seemed to have no effect, police said.
The shooting occurred on the 400 block of Bunting Street, where the man’s mother lives, police said.
Detectives were still investigating the scene early Saturday morning, where a body had been covered by a sheet and was still on the scene around 7 a.m.
St. John said that just before midnight the man led police on a chase that at times reached 60 miles per hour. Officers attempted to set up spike strips to puncture the truck's tires and stop the man, but were unsuccessful.
At about 12:10 a.m., police, who had arranged their cruisers in a defensive configuration to protect themselves and others, saw the man reaching into the glove box of the truck, which was stopped facing away from the officers.
The man then suddenly drove the truck backward into the blockade. “Unexpectedly and rapidly, he struck a patrol car,” St. John said, sending the cruiser spinning. He then struck the civilian's minivan, sending it onto a sidewalk, and then struck a second patrol car, pushing the cruiser into another vehicle.
At that point, St. John said, “officers had to jump and scatter.”
At 12:13 a.m., five officers opened fire, striking the man several times. Police did not know as of Saturday morning how many shots were fired or whether the suspect was armed.
Police rendered first aid until medical personnel arrived and determined the man was dead.
No officers were injured. One of the two patrol cars that were rammed was heavily damaged.
Five officers have been placed on routine paid administrative leave following the shooting. St. John identified them as Tyler Bishop, who has been with the Billings Police Department for four years; Jeremiah Adams, also four years; Cory Kirkpatrick, seven years; Jeff Stovall, four years; and Trey Malcolm, an officer still in training but whom St. John said had experience in another police department.
Officers shot the suspect because he was ramming patrol cars and other vehicles, “putting them in great jeopardy," the chief said. "He had a propensity to resist and flee, and officers were at that point protecting themselves and others from serious injury and possibly death.”
The number of recent officer-involved shootings — including a long standoff at Big Bear Sports Center, the Lazy K-T Motel and one on the Rims west of the airport — “have stretched department resources to the max,” St. John said. And, detectives are still investigating a corpse found earlier this week near 32nd Street West south of King Avenue West.
The eight officers who were placed on paid administrative leave following the Big Bear shooting have all returned to duty, St. John said.
“Four open officer-involved shooting cases — that has never happened before,” St. John said. “We are stretched very thin.”
“Anytime we have one of these scenes, the protocol is to saturate it with as much manpower as we can” to gain every piece of evidence and interview every witness possible, St. John said. “The homicide scene on 32nd West is outdoors, and that is a different dynamic,” because of the elements and animals wandering into the crime scene, he said.
Day-shift officers were called in to supplement their nighttime colleagues Saturday as police were simultaneously investigating a Saturday morning shooting at Bones Arcade and a Saturday morning robbery at the Red Lion Inn.
Yellowstone County sheriff’s deputies and Montana Highway Patrol troopers “sent their officers to help us with calls for service,” St. John said. “Everybody responded magnificently, but (BPD officers and detectives) are getting tired. They’re worn out.”
Although police don’t yet know whether drug use was involved in either the Big Bear or the most recent shooting, meth use “is the common denominator that almost always rises to the top. In almost all violent crimes and all officer-involved shootings, meth is the common denominator,” St. John said. “It is a total scourge on this community.”
“In general, Billings is a wonderful place to live and raise your children,” St. John said. “It is safe, but people involved in drug activity — selling and using — that is what causes the problem.”