BILLINGS — Two Billings police officers opened fire on a man in a stolen truck at a downtown gas station after the man rammed patrol cars and injured one officer.
It happened near a Holiday convenience store at North 27th Street and Sixth Avenue North early Wednesday.
The suspect, whose name has not been released, sustained gunshot wounds that are not life-threatening, and remained hospitalized late Wednesday morning.
The two officers who fired their weapons - Brett Hilde, 28 years old, and Jeremy Boeckel, 38 - have been placed on paid leave, in accordance with standard policy. A third officer involved in the incident - Tracy Icard, 44 - was treated and later released from a Billings hospital following the early Wednesday incident.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said charges are pending against the man, who he said is a 30-year-old Billings resident with a long criminal history who has outstanding felony warrants.
St. John said that none of the officers involved had body-cams, but the incident was captured on multiple surveillance video cameras in the area.
St. John held a press conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday to provide the public with information about the incident.
He said he believes the man committed an "intentional, aggressive act to injure or kill police officers" before officers then shot him.
“This was a rapidly evolving incident," Rich St. John said. "It took place under 60 seconds from the time the truck entered the Holiday parking lot. In that time one officer injured, three cars severely damaged, private business damaged, and then we have an individual who was wounded by police.”
St. John said the suspect vehicle moved through the Albertsons parking lot, exited on the south side of the lot and crossed Sixth Avenue North before moving into the Holiday gas station parking lot, stopping between the gas pumps and the store.
Icard followed the truck, stopping his patrol car partially in the north Holiday station entrance, partially on Sixth Avenue North.
“It appeared to him (Icard) that the suspect vehicle was trying to cut through parking lots to get onto 27th to continue heading south,” St. John said.
Simultaneously, St. John said officer Brett Hilde,28, pulled into the Holiday lot from the west entrance, parking his car nose to nose with the truck about ten feet apart.
“At this point the suspect put the truck in reverse and rapidly accelerated backward, swinging to the left," St. John said. "And in doing so rammed officer Icard."
Icard was in his patrol car at the time of impact.
"The suspect then accelerated forward and ran through approximately 40 feet of chain link fence separating the Holiday store from Ryan's used cars,” St. John said.
The suspect damaged one car in the Ryan Automotive lot.
After this commotion, it appeared to Hilde that the truck was hung up on the chain link fence. Then, St. John said Hilde exited his car to approach the truck on foot.
As Hilde was approaching the truck, Officer Jeremy Boeckel,38, arrived, parking his patrol car behind Hilde's, between the Holiday store and the gas pumps. Boeckel exited his car and moved on foot toward the truck.
St. John said at this point, the truck rapidly accelerated backward approximately 100 feet, ramming into Hilde's car.
“The impact was of such force that it destroyed the front end, deployed the air bag and caused it to get hooked and pinned under the truck," St. John said. "The suspect driver continued to accelerate backwards and pushed Hilde’s car into Boeckel’s car. Both cars were pushed all the way through the lot. To a point where Boeckel’s car was spun 45 degrees and ended up partially on north 27th."
The suspect then accelerated forward, dragging Hilde's car, which was pinned underneath the truck. The truck moved to the north side of the gas pumps.
Icard moved his car to block the north Holiday parking lot entrance while Hilde and Boeckel were on foot paralleling the truck as it was trying to leave. The officers took cover behind the gas pumps.
"Fearing that Officer Icard would be rammed again and others would be at risk, the officers fired multiple rounds at the driver's side door. The suspect was hit multiple times and stopped accelerating."
St. John said the truck's momentum carried it forward, hitting Icard's car again. Hilde, Boeckel and other officers who had arrived on scene secured the suspect.
The suspect was identified as a 30-year-old, white Billings man.
St. John said the man is, “known to local law enforcement, has a lengthy criminal history. Is on probation and has outstanding felony and misdemeanor warrants.”
The suspect is recovering in a Billings hospital, pending charges.
“The suspect was transported to the hospital with what was reported to me, as non-life-threatening injuries,” St. John said. “Officer Icard was transported to the hospital for injuries he sustained from being rammed. He was treated and released.”
Hilde and Boeckel have been placed on a minimum two weeks administrative paid leave.
St. John was not able to say how many shots were fired between the two officers. Those details are still being investigated.
St. John said once Billings police are done investigating, the case will be turned over to the Montana Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation and Yellowstone County attorney for independent review.
Upon further investigation, St. John said police learned that the truck had been stolen a few days prior. But that was not the reason why officers initiated the stop. They were looking for a suspect in a burglary.
“Our intent was to stop and identify. If there was enough probable cause at that time make an arrest for the burglary,” St. John said.
With two officers on leave, and one recovering from being struck in his car, the lack of officers could put Billings police in a minimum staffing situation. Billings police are required to have a minimum of nine officers on shift. If they don't, they ask officers to stay longer, or call in others.
“It significantly affects our operation, but the captains and lieutenants are pretty nimble in making things work. We’ve always been able to answer the bell when somebody calls," St. John said.