Jury says Billings police officer was justified in fatal shooting

2013-08-14T12:30:00Z 2014-06-19T17:24:20Z Jury says Billings police officer was justified in fatal shootingBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A coroner's inquest jury said Wednesday that Billings Police Department Officer Grant Morrison was justified when he fatally shot a man in a Billings neighborhood in February.

On the second and final day of the inquest, which is required by law any time an officer or law enforcement is involved in a death, it took the seven-member jury less than 10 minutes of deliberation to declare the death of Jason James Shaw a noncriminal, justifiable homicide.

Before the verdict, the jury heard from Detective Scott Chartier, who is a BPD firearms instructor and the officer who interviewed Morrison after the Feb. 11 shooting, and Morrison himself.

Morrison, Chartier and Deputy County Attorney Ed Zink all told the jury that Morrison acted properly after Shaw refused to comply and reached for a gun, which turned out to be a BB gun replica of Walther P99 handgun.

"He didn't have a choice when Shaw acted as he did," Zink said during his summary statement.

Morrison told the jury that early Feb. 11, he was on patrol when he swung by a home at 23 Custer Ave., which he'd been keeping an eye on for several weeks. He was aware of the house because a woman he'd tried to arrest earlier had been staying there and was later arrested with what he described as "a large amount of methamphetamine."

He noticed a car in front of the home that matched one whose registered owner had warrants out for her arrest and circled around the block, pulling up behind the car and calling Sgt. Shawn Finnegan for backup.

When Finnegan arrived, Morrison approached the car and saw a man quickly head from it into the home, along with two women and a man inside the car.

While speaking to a woman in the car, he said he saw a man in the back seat later identified as Shaw quickly reach for the door handle and then noticed the butt of a gun sticking out of the man's pocket.

"I'm now dealing with somebody armed and, again, I don't know what his intentions are," he said.

When the man began to get out of the car, Morrison ran around to the passenger side and drew his handgun before pointing it at Shaw, ordering him to turn around and telling him he knew he had a gun.

Morrison said that Shaw kept his hands up but did not comply. At that point, he felt safe enough to holster his gun and pull out his Taser, which he fired at Shaw.

The Taser didn't subdue Shaw, and Morrison said he saw Shaw reach both hands into his jacket toward the gun.

"I drew my duty gun, and I shot him," Morrison said.

An autopsy revealed Shaw, 32, died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. It wasn't until after the shooting that officers, including Morrison, learned Shaw's gun was a BB gun.

Chartier, who is a certified firearms instructor with the BPD and interviewed Morrison as part of the department's investigation, said Morrison acted exactly as he should have in the situation and, in trying the Taser first, took extra steps to avoid harming Shaw.

"He was at the point he had to shoot," Chartier said. "It was not optional."

During the first day of the hearing, a forensic pathologist also told the jury that Shaw had a near-fatal amount of methamphetamine in his system when he died.

Morrison, Chartier and Zink all said that Shaw's actions dictated the events of that morning.

"Mr. Shaw's choices lead to a terrible end," Zink said.

Morrison was calm as Big Horn County Coroner Terry Bullis, who presided over the inquest, read the jury's decision.

Afterward, he thanked jurors as they left and shook hands with and hugged other BPD officers in the room.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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