Inquest Ordered in Missoula Man’s Death

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – An inquest will be conducted into the death of a man who Missoula police say committed suicide when an officer tried to serve an arrest warrant, the Missoula County attorney said.

Fred Van Valkenburg said the inquest will likely start in March and will include a coroner from Powell County because the law requires a coroner from outside Missoula County.

He also said that when someone dies while in custody the law mandates the inquest to determine whether criminal conduct was involved. He said because police were in the process of serving an arrest warrant, he considers that to be in custody.

“We’ll have an inquest and basically try to determine whether there was anything that amounted to criminal conduct in regards to Gary Bassett’s death,” Van Valkenburg said. “I don’t think there was. I think he killed himself. But we’re required to hold an inquest because essentially he died while he was in police custody.”

Police say the 63-year-old Bassett of Missoula died Feb. 4 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head following a standoff with police. A small-caliber handgun was found at the scene.

Van Valkenburg said a felony animal cruelty charge had been filed against Bassett, who was accused of stomping and trying to flush a kitten down the toilet. The kitten was euthanized after vets determined it had a broken spine.

Van Valkenburg said he’s still waiting for autopsy and toxicology reports on Bassett.

He said as part of the inquest he will likely question police officers and a medical examiner about Bassett’s death.

On the day Bassett died, an officer who had gone to Bassett’s home to arrest him reported at about 1:30 p.m. a shot had been fired in the home.

That prompted additional officers and SWAT team members to gather outside the apartment.

The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office conducted the initial investigation into the death and turned the report over to Van Valkenburg.

Van Valkenburg said he did not know whether he would release the sheriff’s findings.

“I’m not sure there is any reason to make the report available,” he told The Missoulian newspaper. “I guess if you’re making some demand for the report then I’ll have to consider that and decide whether it’s public information that can be released.”

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