Michaelynn Hawk 308

Billings, Montana residents call on the DOJ to investigate the Billings Police Department

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The Billings Police Department, under the leadership of Chief of Police Richard St. John, continues to engage in excessive shootings and violence, particularly against persons of color. Continually, officers appear to inflict injury out of anger at the individuals rather than the need to protect public safety. Distrust of the police, especially amongst Communities of Color, grows as a result, and it becomes harder for the Billings Police Department to do its job of keeping all Billings resident safe.


Most recently, Cole Stump was shot multple times by Billings Police Officers in a residential neighborhood. This shooting was one in a long line of police shootings:

  • February 3, 2018 Roderick Little Bear, 37, Shot at Lazy KT. As of October 11, 2018, Little Bear plead not guilty. Still under investigation.
  • November 4, 2018, Desmond Rowland, shot in the face. He had no weapon. Shooting ruled justified
  • November 18, 2017 Preston David Bell, 24, five police officers fired 74 shots in six seconds and killed Mr. Bell after he led police on a chase that reached 60 miles per hour on residential streets and backed his vehicle into a police blockade. Shooting ruled justified.
  • November 4, 2017 Frank Joey Half Jr., 30 of Crow Agency shot and killed after barricading himself inside Big Bear Sports Center. Eight Officers Fired 116 shot during the 10-hour standoff at the Big Bear Center in Billings. Shooting ruled justified.
  • April 14, 2014 Richard Ramirez, 38, shot three times and kill by the same Billings police who killed a man in 2013. Officer Grant Morrison later testified he feared for his life when Ramirez reached for his waistband during a traffic stop in a high-crime area of the city, Shooting ruled justified.

Indian People's Action and the undersigned believe that these incidents justify an independent investigation of the Billings Police Department by the United States Department of Justice.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42U.S.C.14141(“Section 14141”), authorizes the United States Attorney General to conduct investigations to eliminate a “pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers…that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” The DOJ’s website explains that the statute “prohibits law enforcement agencies from regularly violating existing constitutional protections against police misconduct, such as excessive force, false arrests, unreasonable searches or seizures, and intentional racial or ethnic discrimination.”

The investigation should determine why the Billings Police Department initiated or escalated the confrontations; whether and why the officers perceived a threat from certain individuals; whether officers view the use of force differently when they are confronting a person of color; why the officers chose not to use de-escalation tactics in responding to perceived law violations in order to avoid the use of violence; whether BPD employees who witness excessive force promptly reported it; whether the BPD supervisors promptly and properly gathered the evidence and fully investigated the allegation of use of force; and what caused contradictions between the initial statements of the officer involved and other evidence.

Indian People's Action works in urban areas to reach out and empower Native Americans to address the social, economic, environmental and racial inequities that shape their lives. Learn more at indianpeoplesaction.org

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