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Lodge Grass

An officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs shot a man dead at this Lodge Grass home at South George Street and Hester Avenue in April of 2018. 

The U.S. Department of Justice will not prosecute a Bureau of Indian Affairs police officer who in April 2018 fatally shot a man holding a knife in Lodge Grass.

Ruben Stewart, 36, was shot and killed the night of April 15, after the officer responded to a reported disturbance at the residence. Federal authorities have not previously commented on the incident.

In response to inquiries from The Billings Gazette, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme released a statement Friday afternoon saying federal prosecutors had reviewed the FBI’s investigation into the incident and determined they could not prove that the officer committed a crime when he opened fire.

“The shooting occurred when the BIA officer responded to a disturbance call and encountered Mr. Stewart, who was armed with at least one knife and threatening the officer,” Alme said. “When Mr. Stewart disregarded orders to drop the knife, the officer responded with deadly force.”

Alme’s statement continued, “As in all cases under its consideration, the responsibility of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is to determine whether it can prove all elements of a federal crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, we cannot prove any crime was committed when the BIA officer used deadly force when threatened by Mr. Stewart.”

Clair Johnson Howard, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana, declined Friday to comment or provide details beyond the information contained in the statement. A BIA spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

The BIA previously declined to name the officer involved or release any details of the incident, referring media inquiries to the FBI, which would not confirm the investigation's existence.

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Multiple witnesses to the shooting, including Stewart’s mother, told The Gazette the day after the shooting that while Stewart had been holding a knife at the time, he was standing on his porch, a significant distance from the officer.

His mother, LaVerne Williamson Big Hair, said at the time her son had been drinking during the evening, and she had been the one to call police after he began acting belligerent. She said she hoped they would take him to jail where he could “sleep it off.”

“I just wanted (the police) to take him to jail. I didn’t say to come over and kill him,” Big Hair said.

Other neighborhood residents who witnessed the shooting described an encounter in which Stewart was standing on his porch, 10 to 20 feet from the officer, who ordered him to drop the knife multiple times.

Stewart, according to witnesses, had been standing at or near the threshold of an enclosed porch at the home on South George Street when the officer opened fire. The next day, a pool of dried blood was visible on the floor of the porch, where Big Hair said Stewart collapsed after he was shot.

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