Man Charged with Negligent Homicide After July Incident Outside Whitefish Bar

Steven Speer died of 'blunt force injuries to the head' after being knocked to the ground in alley near VFW Bar and Grill on July 30

By Andy Viano
A Whitefish Police Department car is parked at the City of Whitefish Emergency Services Center on August 19, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A 22-year-old California man has been charged with negligent homicide more than three months after he allegedly slapped a Whitefish man behind the VFW Bar and Grill on Baker Avenue, knocking him to the ground and eventually causing his death.

Xavier J. Chenault was not in custody as of Nov. 23, although a warrant has been issued for his arrest. The warrant lists Chenault’s hometown as Sacramento, California and stipulates that his bail be set at $100,000 when he is arrested. Negligent homicide is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Chenault is charged with killing Steven Speer in the early morning hours of July 30 in an alley behind the bar near downtown Whitefish. Officers from the Whitefish Police Department discovered a man with “obvious head injuries” when they arrived at the scene and transported Speer to the hospital. He died on Aug. 2.

According to charging documents filed in Flathead County District Court, Chenault was at the scene when police arrived and he and other witnesses told officers that Speer, who was intoxicated, had fallen to the ground. Subsequent interviews and a review of security footage, however, revealed that the two men were arguing before Chenault struck Speer in the head with an “open-handed slap” and Speer’s head hit the ground. Witnesses said Speer did not attempt to physically engage Chenault.

Chenault apparently texted with a witness after the incident, admitting to striking Speer but writing that he “was out before he hit the ground.” Chenault later texted the same witness, “he hit me and I just reacted and he really did hit his head though I barely touched him.”

Flathead County prosecutors were waiting on the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula to complete its investigation before filing any charges. A recent autopsy at the lab indicated that Speer “died as a result of blunt force injuries to the head” and that his blood-alcohol content at the time of his initial treatment was .268.

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