BILLINGS — A coroner’s jury heard evidence Wednesday as it considers whether Billings police officers were justified in shooting and killing a man who sparked a 10-hour standoff by breaking into a sporting goods store and threatening officers with guns.
Officers testified that Frank Joey Half Jr. appeared to be trying to bait officers into coming into the store and fired 28 shots during the Nov. 4 standoff, including one that hit the bulletproof window of an armored police vehicle with an officer inside.
Jurors also visited Big Bear Sports Center, which has since closed.
Officer Daren Haider said Half had a weapon that he kept picking up and putting down.
At one point, Half waved a white shirt, possibly indicating he wanted to surrender, but officers didn’t know enough about the setup of the store or where weapons might be located to send anyone in.
Officer Timothy Doll told Half to put his hands up, but he would only put one hand up and keep the other out of sight, the Billings Gazette reported. Doll said Half later pointed a handgun at the officers in the armored vehicle, including Doll.
Doll said he called out: “Gun, gun, gun” and heard other officers fire shots. A bullet allegedly fired by Half hit the passenger-side window.
Eventually, officers could see Half had a bloodstain on his white shirt.
Doll said he tried to get Half to surrender in exchange for medical treatment, food and even a cold beer but was unsuccessful.
Officer Ben Milam testified the standoff ended when Half opened a side door and put his hands up then retreated inside before sticking a rifle out the door. Officers fired at Half, killing him.
Inquests are required under Montana law whenever law enforcement officers are involved in a fatal shooting or someone dies in law enforcement custody.
Family members told The Associated Press that the suspect’s life could have been spared if authorities had worked harder to defuse the situation.
Anita Little Head said Half, a Crow Indian, might have given himself up if police had brought in a relative to reason with him in the Crow language.
“I begged and pleaded to give me an opportunity to speak with him on the phone,” Little Head said. “They said the best thing I could do was wait.”
Half’s uncle, Ben Cloud, said he was en route to the scene of the standoff last November when Half was killed.
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