Chief: Officer followed protocol in shooting; no weapon found in suspect car

2014-04-16T12:00:00Z 2015-01-07T09:24:08Z Chief: Officer followed protocol in shooting; no weapon found in suspect carBy CHRIS CIOFFI The Billings Gazette

The Billings police officer involved in the shooting of Richard Ramirez, 38, on Monday night followed protocol, Chief Rich St. John said at a press briefing Wednesday.

A search of the vehicle did not turn up a weapon, St. John said. The search did produce drug paraphernalia, including syringes and baggies, but no significant residue. Tests will be conducted at the crime lab to identify what drugs were involved and who touched them last, he said. 

The name of the officer involved has not been released because of threats against law enforcement that were posted on social media. St. John described the threats as very general but concerning. 

"Am I overreacting? I don't know, maybe," St. John said. 

Ramirez has two brothers, Jason and Daniel, who have outstanding warrants for felony charges including drug possession, robbery and failure to register as a violent offender.

"Those are the ones that are giving me pause," he said. 

During the press briefing, St. John provided details of the traffic stop leading up to the shooting. 

The officer, who had responded to a robbery at 2207 Central Ave., on Sunday, recognized Ramirez as a back-seat passenger in a red vehicle near Fifth Avenue South and South 33rd Street at about 11 p.m. Monday.

A 61-year-old man was shot in the arm during the Sunday robbery. He had identified Ramirez as the shooter. 

The officer followed the vehicle for several blocks — 54 seconds — before the vehicle pulled into an alley near Fifth Avenue South and State Avenue, St. John said. 

It was 32 seconds from the time the officer exited the patrol car until fired the first shot.

The officer had called for backup before approaching the vehicle, but because the traffic stop was initiated by the suspect vehicle, the officer activated his top lights and approached the right rear door.

The officer instructed Ramirez to put his hands up seven times, St. John said. Ramirez raised and lowered his hands six times while the officer was giving orders. The sixth time, Ramirez reached down and the officer shot him three times in the torso. 

There were three shots fired at Ramirez. He was taken to Billings Clinic, where he died. 

The officer involved has been on the force five years and has previously discharged his weapon in the line of duty, St. John said. No details of that previous incident have been released, but St. John promised to provide more information, including the police video, after security concerns have been resolved.

Ramirez's death marks the fifth officer-involved fatal shooting in the Billings area in less than two years. 

A coroner's inquest determined Wednesday that a Yellowstone County sheriff's deputy had acted appropriately when he shot an escaped inmate in a stolen car near Wal-Mart last July.

The other prior police shootings have been ruled as justified by coroner's juries.

St. John said the incidents were partly to blame on intoxicated or belligerent suspects not respecting officers' authority. 

"The criminals out here are forcing us to take action," he said. "We're not forcing action on them."

Acknowledging the pain and suffering of a family who lost a son, St. John requested empathy for the officer. 

"You need to understand that the officer is a victim as well," he said. "They didn't sign up to get shot at or get killed."

The officer has been placed on administrative leave until the matter is resolved, and is required to meet with and be cleared by a mental health professional before returning to work. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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