Thirteen Billings police officers are on administrative leave in the wake of two officer-involved shootings, though some are expected to return this week.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said on Saturday that the absences are stretching the department's resources "to the max" amid an unprecedented number of open officer-involved shooting cases.
St. John's comments came on Saturday, hours after officers shot and killed 24-year-old Preston David Bell. Reports said Bell led police on a pursuit and rammed department cruisers.
As a result, five officers went on "routine" paid administrative leave, according to Billings Police Department Lt. Neil Lawrence. They are:
- Tyler Bishop.
- Jeremiah Adams.
- Coy Kirkpatrick.
- Jeff Stovall.
- Trey Malcolm.
They have a collective 19 years of experience with the Billings department, including Malcolm, who is in training.
The department expects eight officers to return from leave that came after a Nov. 4 standoff at Big Bear, which ended in Frank Joey Half Jr.'s death. An autopsy determined that officers shot and killed him.
- Sgt. Harley Cagle.
- Sgt. Brandon Wooley.
- Sgt. Nate West.
- Steve Swanson.
- Tanner Buechler.
- Daren Haider.
- Michael Yarina.
- Ryan Kramer.
Their combined experience with the department is 83 years.
Lawrence said Monday the department expects those officers to return to duty sometime this week.
Two patrol officers have already returned to work after their involvement in a shooting at the Lazy K-T Motel on Oct. 18. Officers reported that the man, who was reported to be in critical condition, pointed a shotgun at them. The officers shot the man.
Those officers, Matthew Edwards and Jeremiah Adams, reported for duty on Nov. 15, Lawrence said.
The fourth open officer-involved shooting case took place on May 12, when an hourlong standoff on Highway 3 ended after officers shot and killed an armed man. Police reported that he pointed a handgun at officers and fired at least once before he was killed.
The department placed the following officers on leave:
- Sgt. Clyde Reid.
- Steve Swanson.
- Philip Tanis.
- Michael Freeman.
They returned to work on June 7.
The Billings Police Department has 150 sworn officers on staff at full force. Officer-involved homicides are subject to coroner's inquests, which determine whether the officers' actions were justified.