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A 21-year-old man died in the early hours of Thursday morning after a shooting involving a Missoula Police Department officer, according to a statement from the department released at approximately 10 a.m. the same day.

Neither the officer nor the victim has been publicly identified. The Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) within the Montana Department of Justice is investigating the incident and will eventually release its findings to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office for review.

In its initial description of the event, the Missoula Police Department said an officer pursued the man in a vehicle after he drove away from a traffic stop. A public information officer for the department, Lydia Arnold, later said the stop took place in the 2300 block of Great Northern Avenue just after midnight.

The department’s release said the man was “suspected of driving under the influence.” Arnold declined to say whether the officer who initiated the stop administered a breathalyzer test to evaluate intoxication.

Arnold said the vehicle pursuit traversed downtown Missoula and stopped on Stephens Avenue north of Beckwith Street at approximately 1 a.m., after which the department said the man “produced a handgun and fired.” The responding officer then returned fire. Officers at the scene reportedly “provided medical aid and called for EMS” to transport the man to the hospital. The police department’s statement said he was taken to St. Patrick Hospital, where he later died.

Arnold declined to say whether any officers were injured during the incident. She confirmed that the officer who fired his weapon has been placed on paid administrative leave, per department policy. 

Arnold and a representative of Missoula Emergency Services declined to say what time EMS was called, what time medical staff arrived at the scene, and what time the patient was transported to the hospital, citing medical confidentiality and the ongoing investigation. 

St. Patrick Hospital and the Missoula Police Department also declined to say when the man was declared deceased or state the cause of his death. A spokeswoman for the Missoula County coroner’s office was unable to immediately comment on the matter.

Details on the process and length of DCI’s investigation were not immediately available.

Arnold declined to say when the officer’s administrative leave status will be re-examined, but confirmed that the officer could return to duty prior to the conclusion of the DCI investigation and the county attorney’s review.

The department’s manual on “officer-involved critical incidents” instructs that officers involved in a shooting should be evaluated by a mental health professional “in order to determine the officer’s fitness to return to duty.” The protocol also says that an officer directly involved in a shooting must “re-qualify with a temporary duty weapon as soon as practical,” and that another requalification must take place “upon the return of the involved officer’s assigned weapon.”

“This was a tragic event for everyone involved,” the department’s initial release said. “The Missoula Police Department extends our condolences to the family of the subject involved.”

Correction: This story was updated Aug. 13, 2021, to accurately reflect the Missoula Police Department’s statement. The article previously said that an officer fatally shot a 21-year-old man in the early hours of Thursday morning, and inaccurately attributed that to the Missoula Police Department’s statement. The article has also been updated to reflect that the cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

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Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016.