Last week’s deadly shootout involving a deputy with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and a 59-year-old homicide suspect is the second officer-involved shooting in less than three weeks, sending complex reverberations through a department that had previously not taken a suspect’s life in more than a decade.
The fallout has left the sheriff’s office both short-staffed and slightly traumatized. While the two fatal incidents occurred in vastly different circumstances and each involved additional officers from other local agencies, the end result was the same, and one Sheriff Brian Heino called “our worst nightmare.”
“We always say you’re fortunate in a career if you never have to be involved in a shooting,” Heino, who was elected sheriff in 2018, said. “None of us want to take a life. We train to stop the individual from hurting someone else or themselves, but we do it because we have to.”
The first shooting came on Sunday, May 24, when a SWAT team standoff in Kila ended with two members of the FCSO — Sgt. Logan Shawback and Sgt. Travis Smith — and Sgt. Jordan Venezio of the Kalispell Police Department opening fire and killing 52-year-old Anthony Grove. Sixteen days later, on Tuesday, June 9, Richard L. Mason was killed after leading deputies down Highway 35 and exchanging gunfire with officers after his vehicle ran over spike strips. FCSO Deputy Matthew Vander Ark and Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Jerry Ren were involved in that incident.
The two shooting deaths are the first involving the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office since March 2007.
Heino was emotional when talking about the two encounters. The three deputies who fired shots are currently on paid administrative leave as the investigations into both shootings continue, and from a practical standpoint, his department has managed to fill in the gaps in service by working overtime hours. But the psychological impact on the department has been just as challenging.
“Our job is always to provide the best training for them, to get them the emotional help that they need, and they get whatever they need to get through this,” Heino said. “It’s a long process. There’s a lot that is going through their heads right now.”
“We’re a community and so a lot of people reach out and check on individuals when they go through traumatic things,” he continued. “Making sure we’re watching each other is a huge part of that.”
Because both shootings involved law enforcement, the investigations are being led by outside agencies. The Montana Division of Criminal Investigation is in the early stages of its investigation into the Mason case, while the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office is looking into the Grove shooting.
The MCSO has not provided any additional details or status updates on its case, but the victim’s wife, Dawn Grove, has lingering questions about the encounter.
Heino said he could not comment on the ongoing investigation. Initial reports from the FCSO indicated that deputies were called to the house after a report was made that Anthony Grove had threatened someone with a gun and that SWAT was dispatched only after Grove was confrontational toward deputies while holding a weapon. Grove also allegedly shot at a law enforcement drone and opened fire on officers before he was killed.
Mason’s death on June 9 developed much more quickly. The sheriff’s office was called to a home at 135 Cobbler Village, west of Kalispell, where they discovered 62-year-old Maxine L. Heil dead from a gunshot wound. Less than three hours later, a vehicle connected to a suspect, Mason, was located near Bigfork. A brief pursuit ensued and gunshots were exchanged just south of Woods Bay. Photos from the scene show a sheriff’s department vehicle riddled with apparent bullet holes.
Heino said he’s fielded plenty of calls and letters from members in the community in recent days, most of them supportive, and that’s given him and his department a bit of a boost. Still, he’s hopeful the next time he has to answer questions about a shooting involving one of his deputies is many years away.
“It’s been a long time (since the last one),” he said. “And you want it to be a long time, of course.”