BILLINGS – A police officer shot and killed a 32-year-old Wyoming man in a hotel in Montana’s largest city early Thursday after he allegedly turned on officers while holding a handgun, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said.
It was the seventh fatal shooting by law enforcement officers since 2012 in Billings, which has about 110,000 people.
All the prior shootings were ruled justified following coroner’s inquests. In five cases, autopsies found methamphetamine in the victims’ bodies. The sixth person shot by police had escaped from the Montana State Prison days before.
In Thursday’s shooting, the unidentified suspect who had been staying at the Day’s Inn reportedly entered the hotel’s lobby before dawn and threatened a female clerk.
He pointed a handgun at his own head, said he planned to start shooting and refused to drop the weapon during negotiations that lasted about 25 minutes, St. John said.
The unidentified suspect was shot three times in the chest by Officer David Raschkow as the suspect turned toward officers in the lobby with his gun still in his hand, St. John said. The clerk had fled by that time. The suspect died of his wounds several hours later.
“You have the suspect with the handgun turning to face the officer. He may have been attempting to shoot, he may not have. We will not know that,” St. John said. “The officer believed that his fellow officers in this case were at risk.”
No one else was injured. Raschkow is a Marine Corps veteran who has been with the Billings police for seven years. He was placed on paid administrative leave while the shooting is investigated.
In May 2012, Raschkow was placed on paid leave following an internal complaint that he had used excessive force, according to Billings Police Capt. Kevin Iffland. The case was closed and Raschkow was taken off leave that August, after an investigation found his actions did not violate department policies.
Other previous complaints against Raschkow were found to be legitimate but none involved excessive force, Iffland said. He declined to release details about those cases.
The clerk had called police at about 4 a.m. to report an armed man was at the Days Inn acting strangely and making irrational statements.
When officers arrived minutes later, the man was in the in the hotel office just off the lobby, where he could see security camera monitors showing that eight or nine officers had positioned themselves outside, St. John said. The man then threatened to start shooting.
The man was erratic, uncooperative and said things that did not make sense, making it difficult for officers to negotiate with him, St. John said.
Officers in the lobby could see the man in the office through an opening to the office behind the reception counter, authorities said.
The man stood up and was turning toward them with the gun in his hand when he was shot by Raschkow with a .223 caliber patrol rifle, St. John said.
After the shooting, officers performed CPR and the man was taken to the hospital, where he later died. His name and hometown were not immediately released.
St. John said it was not clear how long the man had been staying at the hotel or if he was staying there alone or with someone else. Authorities did not identify him because they were still notifying relatives about his death, said Yellowstone County Deputy Coroner Cliff Mahoney.
The investigation into Thursday’s shooting will be led by the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, with Billings police in a supportive role, the chief said. A coroner’s inquest also will be scheduled.
Coroner’s inquests are legal proceedings required under Montana law whenever law enforcement is involved in a fatal shooting or someone dies in law enforcement custody.
The process involves a citizen jury that recommends whether criminal charges should be filed. A final decision is up to prosecutors.
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