(GREAT FALLS) A coroner’s inquest ruled Great Falls Police officers were not at fault for the death of 67-year-old Charles Marcotte after he was shot and killed during an incident in 2018.
On August 19, 2018, the Great Falls Police Department responded to the Highwoods Mobile Home Park on the northeast side of Great Falls for a reported disturbance involving Marcotte.
According to GFPD, Marcotte brandished a gun, which prompted them to exchange gunfire.
During the inquest, jurors heard from a number of witnesses.
A neighbor recalled being friends with Marcotte for twenty years. He said Marcotte had recently gotten into some trouble.
The night of the incident, Marcotte approached his neighbor asking that he call 911, according to the witness.
“He was telling me that he was having a bad day and he needed my help with something. He says, ‘I want you to do me a favor. I want you to call 911 and I’m going to need them to come down,’” the witness said. “He said, ‘I want you do another favor. I want you to tell my daughter that I love her. He reached into his pocket and he pulled out a pistol and crossed his arms. I was thinking maybe I could grab that pistol but he had his finger on the trigger.”
Upon arrival, officers learned Marcotte was suicidal, according to 911 Dispatch Center call logs.
Jurors heard from the four officers who responded to the incident. Officers Steve O’Brien, Kaleb Larson, Adam Stergionis and Lance Souza all said they feared for their lives.
“As far as one that really put the hair on my back, this was it,” O’Brien said. “I felt like we were being baited to go into the garage.”
“The ultimate goal was to get him to stop and maybe take him to the hospital,” Larson said.
“I’ve never gone to another call where someone was sitting there with an array of firearms just sitting there,” Souza said.
“He was lining one of us up to shoot and kill,” Stergionis said.
The officers told jurors they negotiated for 45 minutes before Marcotte dropped to the ground. He positioned himself so officers could barely see him.
“He grabbed the AR-style rifle, slid it across the cooler. I’m watching him do this with my binoculars. I could see the barrel pointing right at us,” O’Brien said.
Officers heard a pop and realized Marcotte had shot at them. That’s when they returned fire, according to testimonies.
“He took aim. He had the firearm against his shoulder. I heard a shot and then I remember seeing dust come flying up at me. I could not see where he was hitting, at that point I returned fire,” Larson said. “I thought for sure I was going to die that day.”
A DCI agent testified saying at the time of the incident, Marcotte had five fully loaded firearms within arms reach and a tactical vest near him.
During the investigation, the DCI determined Marcotte had set off two shots. The four GFPD officers set off a total of 26 shots.
DCI Agent Anthony Poppler believes officers were right in using deadly force.
“If Mr. Marcotte did not even shoot and point that rifle at them, they would have been just fine in using deadly force to protect themselves. That’s where a lot of people get hinged up on. You don’t have to wait for someone to shoot you before you shoot them back,” Poppler said. “If you perceive a threat, which all four officers told me and I believe them, that they felt like their lives were in the life of another, they are justified per statute to use deadly force.”
The four officers were put on paid administrative leave at the time of incident.
Inquests are required by Montana law when someone’s death is caused by a police officer. The Petroleum County Coroner presided over the coroner’s inquest.