Credit: Adobe stock. May not be republished without license.

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.

latest stories

Interior Secretary signs CSKT water compact

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally executed the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact Friday, finalizing a long-running effort to negotiate an agreement that reconciles the tribes’ historic treaty rights with Montana’s modern water rights doctrine.

Montana hospitals in ‘dire’ straits as COVID rages

This week, hospitals from Billings to Missoula are instituting or preparing to institute a “crisis standard of care” under which medical services and supplies are rationed. While case numbers are still slightly lower than they were last winter during the virus’ previous peak, hospitals are being overwhelmed with COVID patients.

Mara covers Montana’s social welfare, criminal justice and legal systems. She also tracks policy and social issues that affect LGBTQ+ people. Prior to joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked at Slate and WNYC, where she focused on radio and podcasts. She got her start in audio journalism as an intern at Montana Public Radio. Contact Mara at msilvers@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 3, and follow her on Twitter.