BILLINGS - It’s the second fatal shooting by Billings police officers in the course of a week—a trend taking a large toll on law enforcement and the community.
“I’m very, very fortunate that we are not burying an officer right now," Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said in a news conference Tuesday morning.
The incident happened late Monday night after officers tried to stop a vehicle during a routine traffic stop.
Police say the car fled. Officers didn’t follow, but a short time later, an officer saw the vehicle turn into an alleyway on the 1900 block of Burnstead Drive on the north side, and the officer attempted to block the east end of the alley way with spike strips.
Police say that’s when the driver fired a gun through his windshield into the police officer’s car. The officer ducked and was grazed by a bullet in the shoulder.
St. John said this is the first time an officer has been shot in the line of duty in recent memory.
“This would be the first time, at least in my time," he said.
The officer fired back and was able to ram his car into the suspect’s vehicle--stopping him from exiting the alley.
Other officers arrived and took position.
“Officers ordered the suspect to throw down the gun and surrender but were met with refusals and profanity,” says St. John.
After approximately three to four minutes of giving commands, officers heard the slide of a gun being cycled and saw the suspect sign himself with the cross and point to the sky.
“Shortly thereafter, the suspect got out of the car and started firing multiple rounds at the officers behind him," St. John said.
Chief St. John says when the 19-year-old suspect fired again, 13 officers fired back, killing the man. Police say he was known to law enforcement.
“I heard pops, walked upstairs, and saw the exchange of gunfire,” says Adam Flagor, a resident on Burnstead who saw the shooting from his home.
Flagor and others say the shooting is another sign that crime is rising in the neighborhood.
“I have seen it progressively getting worse, now my question is ‘what’s next?’” he said.
The Billings police sergeant who was shot has been on the force for several years, according to St. John.
He and the 12 other officers who fired their weapons are all now on administrative leave, leaving an already-short-staffed police department even more depleted.
“I’ve got 13 police officers who are victims of violent crime,” St. John said. “They were assaulted, and their lives were threatened. They reacted appropriately and according.”
The incident remains under investigation.