Snowslip Inn Shooter Will Not Be Prosecuted

Citing a self-defense statute, Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner chose not to charge the shooter who allegedly killed 36-year-old Jeremy McKenzie last April

By Maggie Dresser
Snow Slip Motel, Bar and Grill near Essex on, June 28, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Almost a year after an April 2022 shooting at the Snowslip Inn in Essex that left 36-year-old Jeremy McKenzie dead in the parking lot, Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner has chosen not to charge the shooter following an investigation that raised “issues of self-defense.”

“We didn’t think it would be a successful prosecution based on self-defense,” Ahner told the Beacon.

Following an investigation by the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Ahner said information from search warrants, subpoenas, witness accounts and a physical exam of the scene indicated prosecutors would not likely win the case.

“One thing to note is the witnesses stayed present, they called 911 and they rendered aid,” Ahner said. “They cooperated fully with the investigation in terms of answering questions and submitting to requests.”

Ahner said his office wanted to make sure all the information in the case, including cell phone records, and crime lab results, were reviewed before he made a decision.

Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino concurred with the county attorney’s decision and said the “complexities” in the case would have made it difficult to prosecute, while statutes associated with self-defense presented additional challenges.

“With the county attorney’s office, we had to evaluate what we could prove in a court of law,” Heino said. “I rely on the county attorney’s judgment.”

The county attorney’s office referred to Montana Code Annotated 2021 Chapter 3, which explains laws surrounding Justifiable Use of Force. According to code 45-3-102, “A person is justified in the use of force or threat to use force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that the conduct is necessary for self-defense.”

According to initial reports, McKenzie was shot and killed after a brief altercation in the parking lot of the Snowslip Inn in Essex just before 11 p.m. on April 16, 2022. Several people were at the scene attempting to render medical aid to the victim, who was later pronounced dead.

Joseph Pino was identified as the shooter, who was interviewed and released.

Ahner said Pino’s wife called 911 after the shooting and the couple attempted rendering aid. There were two weapons at the scene, which the couple secured and later told law enforcement where they were located. They also submitted to interviews, Ahner said.

“The sheriff’s office did a very thorough investigation and used a lot of resources,” Ahner said. “I appreciate the time and energy that went into it and our condolences go out to the family who lost a loved one.”

McKenzie had reportedly purchased the Snowslip Inn prior to the shooting. The building has since been torn down.

Ahner said the victim’s family could pursue a civil case or reach out to the Attorney General’s office to review the case.