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Inquest jury rules five Billings police officers justified in November 2017 shooting

BILLINGS- A coroner’s inquest jury determined Thursday that five Billings police officers were justified in using lethal force last November against a man who was ramming patrol cars in a stolen pickup truck.

Testimony presented during the two-day inquest indicated the five officers shot 74 times at the subject in a span of just six seconds.

Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Ed Zink told Q2 Thursday it took the seven-member inquest jury 15 minutes to reach its decision.

The jury ruled the shooting of 24-year old Preston David Bell was a case of justifiable homicide with non-criminal means. By Montana law, a coroner’s inquest jury is called in any officer-involved shooting to determine if it was justified.

The county’s attorney then considers the inquest jury determination to decide whether to file criminal charges.

The shooting occurred on Nov. 18, 2017, when Billings police officers surrounded the pickup truck Bell was driving in a South Side cul-de sac outside his mother’s home.

Testimony during the two-day inquest detailed the fatal encounter with police that started when Bell crashed the stolen pickup into his former girlfriend’s vehicle outside her Billings West End apartment.

Bell then led police on a cross-town pursuit, ending at the cul-de-sac on Bunting Street on the city’s South Side.

Officers told the jury that when one officer deployed pepper spray in an open window of the pickup, Bell started to ram the patrol cars.

Zink said before the inquest, the case was reviewed by the Department of Criminal Investigations of the Montana Department of Justice.

Mike McCarthy, an instructor with the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, also testified regarding the officer’s use of lethal force.

The five officers were all placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting but were later cleared to return to duty.

Bell was the fourth person killed in an officer-involved shooting in Billings last year.

Jay Kohn

Jay Kohn

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