BILLINGS — Five days after a fatal shooting at the North Star Amusement Carnival at Berry's Cherries Auto, Billings police announced they have 60 persons of interest and a larger search perimeter, which is why they need the public's help.
“While we work through this homicide investigation that took place over the weekend, it’s important to remind people that these investigations take a lot of time and resources. And guaranteed, we are putting forth every resource we have available and all of the extra time we have to work on it," said Lt. Matt Lennick with the Billings Police Department on Thursday. "But these things are not solved like they’re solved on television, right? We very rarely are able to solve something like this within an hour block with commercial breaks in the middle. It takes much more to put something like this together."
The victim has been identified as 20-year-old Kian Banderas, who was a husband and father of two.
Search perimeters for evidence and information have been expanded to North Park, and police are asking area residents to check their cameras.
"We have established that some individuals of interest fled into the residence area of North Park via Sixth Avenue North. And so we are going to be asking the public that either own property or residences along that route, we’ll put out a map that I have marked off," Lennick said. "If you have video surveillance, if you would review it for the night of the shooting. If you have anybody or anything suspicious, that you reach out to us and let us know."
Here's the map of the expanded area:
On top of checking surveillance video, Lennick asked anyone with photos or videos from the carnival on Friday or Saturday to send them in.
“We’re also aware that a lot of these individuals were in and out of the carnival both Friday and Saturday. So we’re going to ask the public that were there at anytime during those two days, if you have photos or video that you took, not necessarily of the incident but just in general," Lennick said. "If you’re willing to share those with us, we’re hoping to go through them and maybe piece together other parties who were at the carnival that might just be in the background of your photos. Detective (Annalisa) Jones is going to be the contact."
Lennick said around 60 persons of interest have been identified in the investigation so far.
“My last contact with detectives said that they’re looking right now at a list somewhere near 60 individuals that they’ve identified that they either have done interviews with or still need to go do interviews with,” Lennick said. "When we have somebody that we’ve named as a person of interest, like in this case, some information came into patrol as they were responding that this person was involved. That information gives us reasonable suspicion that that person was involved or is involved somehow."
But reasonable suspicion isn't enough.
"Reasonable suspicion only allows us as officers to detain somebody, to do an interview, maybe start the investigation onto search warrants and stuff like that. But that does not allow us the ability to incarcerate or charge. That takes probable cause," Lennick said. "You move from reasonable suspicion to probable cause when you start obtaining hard evidence. Videos, positive identifications, something that is going to be able to hold up in a court of law, that this individual did in fact commit this crime to the state’s knowledge."
Lennick said there are mountains of evidence to sift through.
“It takes a lot of time for the lab results to come back. Unfortunately, we have to send stuff to a state lab. We don’t have a privately owned lab, it has to be sent off. They’re backlogged,” Lennick said. “When you’re doing search warrants, not necessarily on residences or cars, but if you’re trying to serve search warrants on social media or cellphones, those have to be sent off. And they can take a month to get back, and then you get anywhere between 300 and 500 pages of documents someone has to look through."
To put things into perspective, the investigation into last year's fatal shooting of 15-year-old Khoen Parker near Castle Rock Park in the Billings Heights had far fewer persons of interest and took months to complete. Five people were charged in September 2022 in connection with the shooting.
"It, unfortunately, sometimes takes a long time to sort through everything. Especially in a case that big. You know, that case had somewhere around 30 individuals," Lennick said referring to Parker's case. "I already told you that we’re not even a full week in and we’re at 60. And we know we don’t have everybody. So, it’s very similar in that aspect."
Lennick said while the investigation will take time, the division has four of its detectives on the case—which is almost a quarter of the division.
“After that initial deployment, and once the scene was processed and broke down, it’s now been assigned to four detectives within our division. Now keep in mind, currently our active division is 13 detectives," Lennick said. "So you have about a quarter of your division who have dropped everything that they were doing previous to focus solely on this. And these guys have been working nonstop all week on this case."
To contact Jones with tips, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Billings Police Department.
“It’s important to identify a suspect, to gain the evidence that you need to properly prosecute suspects. But it’s also important to gain the evidence that exonerates other individuals that were either named or there or involved if you don’t have it. So while you want to hold the person accountable, you also don’t want to make a mistake and put the wrong person in jail," Lennick said. “We recognize the threat to the public, the justice for the victims and the families and stuff like that. All of that is recognizable and we don’t discount any of it. But it’s very important that we do it right."
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