Police Chief Rich St. John has identified a man who died Sunday after a Billings police officer shot him as he fled in a stolen police car.
The cause of death for Daniel August Brawley, 29, of Billings, hasn't been determined, but St. John confirmed that the man had been struck once in the torso by a bullet. An autopsy was completed Monday morning. The Yellowstone County coroner is awaiting toxicology results.
St. John identified the woman who was arrested with Brawley as his wife, 25-year-old Heather Brawley.
The Brawleys were arrested Sunday afternoon on suspicion of burglary after a three-hour standoff at a home at 807 Miles Ave.
A focus of the investigation is how Brawley, who had been placed in the back Officer Dave Punt's patrol car with his hands cuffed behind him, managed to slip free of the cuffs and get into the front seat.
"This is obviously one that is going to be heavily looked at and scrutinized," St. John said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Slipped the cuffs
Members of the SWAT team arrested Brawley and used two Flex Cuffs — a type of disposable plastic restraint that resembles heavy-duty zip ties — to secure his hands behind him, St. John said.
Brawley managed to slip free of the cuff on his left hand, with the two cuffs still on his right wrist, St. John said. He said he doesn't yet know exactly how that happened and that it is under investigation.
Photos taken by a Billings Gazette photographer appear to show Brawley working to free his left hand from the cuff as an officer leads him to a patrol car.
After freeing his left hand, Brawley climbed into the driver's seat through a Plexiglas partition separating it from the back seat. The middle third of that partition has a window that can be lowered or raised to separate the officer from people in the back seat. After the incident, investigators saw the middle section was down.
St. John said investigators do not yet know how Brawley climbed through the window, and it isn't yet known if the window was down, up and unlocked or locked when he was placed in the patrol car.
"What took place in the car is the big question right now," he said.
The situation began when officers went to the home on Miles Avenue after an acquaintance of the resident, who was out of town, checked on the house and found an unknown man inside.
Police who entered the home spotted a rifle and ammo and learned that a shotgun and other weapons were also present. Fearing a possible ambush, they left the home and called in the SWAT team and a negotiator, who persuaded the couple to give up after about three hours.
Punt put Brawley in the back of his patrol car.
After Brawley freed himself, he tried to drive away and struck Punt with the patrol car as he backed up, St. John said. Punt got up and fired nine shots at the back of the car as it traveled west on Miles, St. John said.
The patrol car hit a pair of parked vehicles before stopping less than a block away.
Brawley died a short time later.
Punt was placed on paid administrative leave and has begun receiving mental-health services as mandated by BPD policy.
The incident remains under investigation by the Police Department. Its internal-affairs division will look at the incident, as will a shooting review board, which is made up of the deputy chief, a representative from the department's Office of Professional Standards, its head of firearms training and two officers below the rank of sergeant.
A coroner's inquest, which is required when a person dies in law enforcement custody, will be held later to determine if Punt's actions were justified.
Policy on deadly force
According to the Police Department's policy manual, approved by St. John in 2008, use of deadly force by an officer is justified "only if the officer reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
It also says officers can use deadly force to stop a "fleeing felon" who they believe poses a threat of serious harm to officers or others. It goes on to say that they may also fire at or from a moving vehicle if necessary and says that a police vehicle is a law enforcement tool capable of inflicting death or serious injury and "should be considered in the same light as any use of deadly force."
St. John said Monday that it's not yet known how Punt made the decision to fire at the car. The chief said numerous times that he wouldn't speculate on Punt's actions. An official interview with the officer has not been scheduled.
"I'm not going to make any conclusions until the investigation's done," St. John said.
He did say that in such situations, officers must make a decision involving several factors — whether or not people are in harm's way, if the officer is threatened, if there's a threat to the public — in a matter of seconds.
"We are trained to take all of these things into consideration," he said.
As to why Brawley tried to flee, St. John said police probably will never know for sure, but that it may have been linked to his criminal history.
"There's a great probability that he didn't want to go back to jail," he said.
Brawley was convicted in Yellowstone County in 2005 of four counts of burglary, and a judge sentenced him to 10 years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, with seven years suspended.
In October 2012, while still on probation, Brawley was arrested on suspicion of crashing a car into a South Side home and running away before authorities arrived. He pleaded guilty to those charges later in the year.
After the incident, Brawley's probation officer recommended that the court revoke the suspended sentence and give him seven years, with four suspended, with the DOC. He failed to appear Dec. 31 for a disposition hearing, which was rescheduled for later this month, according to District Court records.
"More and more people are using violence against police officers, and a big portion are convicted felons that don't want to go back to jail," St. John said.
Heather Brawley was being held Monday at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility on suspicion of burglary.