MISSOULA — A jury has returned a not guilty plea in the coroner's inquest into the fatal shooting of Johnny Lee Perry II by a Missoula County Sheriff's deputy.
The shooting happened on August 29, 2021, when Sheriff's deputies responded to a report of a disturbance in the Southside Road area west of Missoula, involving a man swinging a machete and making threats.
According to the Missoula County Sheriff's Office at the time, deputies tried to communicate with the suspect, identified as Perry.
After numerous non-lethal attempts to de-escalate the situation, deputies shot Perry and he was injured. He later died at a hospital.
During Thursday's coroner's inquest, the jury was shown body-cam and dash-cam video of the incident.
Deputies could be heard on a video played for the jury calling to Perry, asking him to drop the machete that he had brandished.
A deputy said that Perry made "threatening gestures," which the deputy said heightened the situation.
The deputy said Perry was hit with three "less lethal" rounds at close range and then swung the machete.
"He appeared to be running with a purpose," the deputy said. "At that point less lethal didn't work so I called out lethal."
The deputy further stated law enforcement was afraid of what was in a trailer that Lee was heading toward.
Missoula County Sheriff's Office Deputy Sean Evans — who is a Taser instructor — explained why Lee was not Tased by officers. He explained that deputies believed the machete would be used to cut through the wires.
Evans also noted that baggy clothes worn by Perry would have made a Taser less effective.
Evans also described to the jury how he approached the scene and stressed the number of times that deputies tried to talk to Perry.
"A look of pure rage went across his face. It was absolute anger," Evans said when describing Perry after he was hit with less-lethal rounds.
Troy Rexin with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office — who was the most senior officer at the scene — next took the stand.
"Everybody was doing a perfect job," Rexin said, adding that all deputies were following their training.
Although Rexin was the senior officer in charge, he deferred tactics to a deputy who had more SWAT training.
Ryan Eamon with the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation took the stand and showed the remains of a less-lethal foam round that was fired at Perry.
The round was described by a deputy as being hit by a major league fastball, designed to incapacitate an aggressive subject. The medical examiner found two wounds on Perry that resemble being hit by these rounds.
Dr. Suniel Kumal Pradhar, a medical examiner for the State of Montana and who performed the autopsy on Perry, also took the stand.
"He bled out almost two liters of blood," Pradhar explained.
He said that Perry died of a gunshot in the right upper back near the right shoulder due to internal bleeding. Pradhar said the bullet went through the back, broke two ribs, and then exited near the right collar bone. The ribs punctured the lung, which made Perry bleed to death.
When questioned about the toxicology report, Dr. Prashar said meth and marijuana were in Perry's body. "The 3400 nanograms per milliliter is in a range that would be lethal for some people. For more habitual users, that may not be a cause of death," Dr. Prashar explained.
The jury began deliberations at 3:49 p.m., and returned the not guilty verdict at 4:33 p.m.
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