MISSOULA — Missoula has seen two fatal officer-involved shootings over the last month. The first was on Aug. 12 and the most recent was on Aug. 29.
These cases, where someone dies in police presence, can take years to resolve. When law enforcement is involved in a shooting, the case is often passed along to an outside organization in the state for investigation.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Montana Department of Justice said they are investigating the two recent cases out of Missoula County. They also say they're seeing more in-custody deaths across Montana.
Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Administrator Bryan Lockerby said, "these are very complicated cases, they require a tremendous amount of resources and investigative work."
The Missoula County Sheriff's Office reports a man died on Aug. 29 after swinging around a machete and making threats.
He was shot by a deputy near the Deep Creek Fishing Access on southside road, after multiple non-lethal attempts to de-escalate the situation, according to law enforcement.
On Aug. 12, 21-year-old Brendon Galbreath died after an encounter with the Missoula Police Department that ended near Stephens Avenue after a high-speed pursuit. MPD says the officer involved is still on administrative leave as of Wednesday morning.
The Division of Criminal Investigation said these two critical incidents are part of an alarming national trend. "I have seen statistically rising levels of these happening," Lockerby said.
DCI tracks all in custody events, including officer-involved shootings, and suicides in front of an officer. Instances are going up; there were four statewide in 2012, up to 21 in 2020, and 18 so far this year.
"I certainly hope that we don't have any more ever, but the reality says that I m wrong," said Lockerby.
DCI investigates officer-involved shootings like any other criminal case.
"Even once the report is completed, let s say that took six months to get everything together, toxicology alone takes some time, we turn in that report to the prosecutor's office. By the time they can get around to scheduling a coroner s inquest, it can take more time."
Missoula Deputy County Attorney Matt Jennings says they completed two coroner's inquests this spring. "The next inquests that we're going to do are a little bit old, and it's time that we get them done and let the public know what occurred.
Jennings said Missoula County has six more to do, adding hopes the Missoula County Attorney's Office will do a couple more this fall, but finding the time can be a challenge.
"For a law enforcement involved shooting in Missoula, we need to hire a coroner from another county, that s a civilian coroner, to come to Missoula and conduct them. There's only a couple in the whole state, and some of that s often dependent on their schedules as well."
Jennings told MTN News he hopes to turn these cases around faster in the future. He said one open case dates back to 2017, and that there is also a backlog due to COVID-19.
"We hope that for these most recent shootings, that we can turn these around in a short period of time, though we understand that for the public it may not feel like a short period of time."
All the information obtained in the inquests is public information that can be found at the Missoula County District Court Office.