Inquest finds officers justified in killing Montana man

BILLINGS (AP) — Officers were justified in shooting and killing a Montana man who was high on methamphetamine when he barricaded himself inside a sporting goods store with a cache of weapons and shot at officers, jurors said Thursday following a coroner’s inquest into the fatal confrontation.

The six jurors found no evidence of criminal conduct on behalf of the police officers who killed Frank Joey Half, Jr. last November. Eight officers fired 116 shots during the 10-hour standoff at Big Bear Sports Center in Billings, authorities said.

Half’s death was among a string of fatal shootings by police in Montana’s largest city that authorities have linked to a worsening methamphetamine problem.

“The vast majority of these officer-involved shootings involved methamphetamine, and that’s a tragedy,” Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said after the verdict was read.

The suspect’s mother, sister and uncle said police could have done more to defuse the situation. But officers said Half was unwilling to surrender during a 10-hour standoff.

Police Sgt. Nate West testified that at one point in the standoff, from outside the store, he told Half to put his weapons down and raise his hands in surrender.

“He said ‘F-you, why don’t you come out where I can get you?’ ” West said. “He would listen and then he wouldn’t. He’d put the gun down then he’d pick it back up.”

Half fired about 28 shots during the encounter from four different weapons, according to testimony from Detective Brad Tucker. In at least one case, he fired directly at officers, hitting an armored vehicle they were in.

Officers said they treated Half as an “active shooter,” meaning they were authorized to shoot him on sight because of his refusal to surrender, the shots he fired and the vast arsenal of rifles, handguns, shotguns and other weapons potentially at his disposal inside the store.

Inquests are required under Montana law whenever law enforcement officers are involved in a fatal shooting or someone dies in law enforcement custody.

Medical examiner Robert Kurtzman testified that Half was shot seven times, including in the chest, jaw, thigh and arm. Seven officers fired shots that potentially could have hit Half, Twito said.

Twito planned to review the case again before making a final determination on whether to file charges in the case. He said Thursday’s verdict “seems reasonable,” suggesting that charges against the officers are unlikely.