Archive for the ‘MT’ Category

Montana: ‘Castle doctrine’ law forces shooter’s release, prosecutor says

August 14, 2009

Billings, Montana

From the Billings Gazette of August 11, 2009

‘Castle doctrine’ law forces shooter’s release, prosecutor says

A man who police said shot his Wal-Mart co-worker in a dispute over the length of a work break has been released from custody because his actions may be protected by Montana’s recently enacted “castle doctrine” law.

The shooting, which took place Monday evening, is under investigation by the Billings Police Department and could still result in charges. But Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos said language in the “castle doctrine” bill passed during the last session of the Montana Legislature required him to release the shooter until more information becomes available.

The law asserts, among other things, that a person has a “natural right” to use firearms for self-defense and is not required to summon law enforcement assistance before using “justifiable” force to ward off an attack.

“The play of (House Bill) 228 with the current law causes us some pause to do a much more thorough investigation to determine if we can charge anyone,” Paxinos said.

When police arrived at the Wal-Mart on King Avenue West at about 9:15 p.m. Monday, they found Daniel Lira, 32, inside the store’s loading dock area with a gunshot wound.

Billings Police Sgt. Jay Berry said that Lira hit co-worker Craig Schmidt, 49, in the face. Schmidt fell backward, then pulled out a .25-caliber semiautomatic Beretta handgun and shot Lira, police said. The single shot was fired at a range of 10 to 15 feet.

Lira, 32, was taken to St. Vincent Healthcare and later released. Police Sgt. Kevin Iffland said the bullet grazed the side of his head from front to back.

Paxinos said that prior to passage of House Bill 228 authorities would have had probable cause to arrest Schmidt for assault with a weapon.

Now, he said, they need more details about whether there was a history of aggression between the two men, what they may have said to each other when the incident occurred and other information that will shape whether it was reasonable for Schmidt to believe his life was threatened. Other details such as the size of the two men – Schmidt weighs 150 pounds and Lira weighs 300 pounds – could also affect whether a self-defense claim is reasonable, Paxinos said.

“I’ll have to do the investigation while the guy is free to move around,” said Paxinos, who along with other county attorneys opposed House Bill 228 during the legislative session.

The “castle doctrine” bill, which was sponsored by Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns of Laurel and supported by the National Rifle Association, sparked passionate debate about self-defense rights before passing the Legislature.

“Once somebody punches you, and you’re down and incapacitated, that person has already demonstrated an intent for violence and you can’t tactically assume that they’re only going to hit you once,” said Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, who crafted the bill.

But those opposing the “castle doctrine” legislation argued that existing law already protects those acting in self-defense, and that the new code would only create unnecessary burdens for prosecutors and police officers.

“There’s just such a disconnect between words on paper and what happens on the streets of Montana, and I think legislators had to be more sensitive to what’s happening on the street,” said Jim Smith, spokesman for the Montana County Attorneys Association.

Aside from potential legal charges, it was unclear if Schmidt or Lira will face disciplinary action from Wal-Mart. Schmidt has a permit to carry the concealed weapon, but a spokesman for the company said it would be inappropriate to discuss whether Wal-Mart has a policy about employees carrying guns.

“We are still gathering details at this time, and we’re now most concerned about the well-being of the people involved,” Kelly Cheeseman said.


Montana: Man shoots wolf for threatening cattle

April 23, 2009

Missoula, Montana

From KPAX of April 21, 2009

Man shoots wolf for threatening cattle

A landowner shot and killed a wolf on private property near Hamilton over the weekend after he said he saw the animal chasing his cattle.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks investigated Saturday’s incident and said the man’s actions were warranted. Federal rules say wolves in the experimental wolf population area of Montana – which includes much of the southern half of the state – can legally be killed if they are seen killing or threatening to kill dogs or livestock. All incidents must be reported to FWP within 24 hours.

Wolves are expected to be removed from the federal Endangered Species List on May 4, after which they will become reclassified under state law as a species in need of management. The flexibility to protect livestock and domestic dogs will be provided in Montana law and will apply to the entire state.

Montana: Hunter shoots grizzly in ‘self defense’

November 1, 2008

Marias Pass, Montanta

From the Montana News Station of October 31, 2008

Hunter shoots grizzly in ‘self defense’

A hunter says he was defending himself when he shot a grizzly bear in Western Montana.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said an adult female grizzly charged Shawn Damschen of Coram on Monday near Marias Pass.

FWP said Damschen reported the adult bear and two younger ones approached him. He said he yelled and the younger bears ran off, but the sow charged.

Damschen fired two shots from his rifle at a distance of about 10 feet, and hit the bear.

Later a wildlife warden, Damschen and a companion returned to the area and found the wounded bear.

The warden killed it.

Montana: Montana hunter shoots wolf in self defense

May 30, 2008

Kalispell, Montana

From ABC Montana of May 29, 2008

Montana hunter shoots wolf in self defense

A man hunting black bear shot and killed a wolf near Olney, northwest of Whitefish.

Zachary Harms of Kalispell was driving his truck up a forest road Tuesday when he saw movement. He walked along the road with his rifle, thinking he may have seen a black bear. Two wolves then ran out from the side of the road. One ran across the road and up the hillside. The other ran down the road towards Harms. The wolf closed to approximately 10 feet and Harms fired, hitting the female wolf in the front of the head.

The hunter contacted the sheriff’s office later that day and reported he had killed a wolf. Two state game wardens investigated, and determined the shooting was in self-defense and was allowed under state law.

Montana: Billings man who fired pistol in self-defense released

February 7, 2008

Billings, Montana

From the Billings Gazette of February 6, 2008

Billings man who fired pistol in self-defense released

A Billings man who was arrested after firing a pistol in a tavern parking lot has been released from the county jail.

Justin Swanz, 26, was freed about 10 hours after his arrest early Tuesday when county prosecutors sent the case back to police for further investigation. Chief Deputy County Attorney Mark Murphy said he could not discuss details of the case, but Swanz claimed in an interview Wednesday that he fired the pistol in self-defense.

Swanz was arrested after police responded about 1:20 a.m. Tuesday to a weapons complaint at Shooters Casino and Sports Bar, 1600 Ave. D.

Officers stopped Swanz as he was leaving the parking lot in a Jeep Cherokee.

Swanz told The Gazette on Wednesday that he fired once into the air as six or seven men advanced on him in the parking lot following a confrontation inside the bar. Swanz said he fired the Taurus .44 Special revolver once.

“They were going to beat me up,” Swanz said. “I had no choice but to fire that shot in the air. It was total self-defense.”

Swanz said he had arrived at the tavern alone between 10 and 11 p.m. to play pool. He bought a pitcher of beer and played several pool games with another man. Swanz said he went to leave shortly after 1 a.m. and was confronted by men who claimed he owed the other man $1,200 for betting losses on the pool table.

Swanz said he did not bet on the games, but the men threatened him and one man grabbed his pocket knife from his front pants pocket. Swanz was told to leave, so he grabbed his jacket and walked out of the tavern, he said.

As he walked to his car, Swanz said, the men followed and continued to threaten him. When it appeared they were going to attack him, Swanz said, he pulled his pistol from his coat pocket, pointed it into the air and fired one shot. The gunfire stopped the men, although someone threw ice on him, he said.

Swanz said he does not have a concealed weapons permit. Swanz said he is unemployed and he has no criminal record.

November 12, 2007

Kalispell, Montana

From of November 12, 2007

Hunter recovering from mountain lion attack

The state wildlife agency says a hunter is recovering from a weekend attack by a mountain lion, southeast of Kalispell.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says the hunter was on a trail yesterday when he heard a growl, turned and saw the lion 10 to 15 feet away. The man dropped his rifle and sought protection behind a tree, but the lion pounced on his back and knocked him into the tree. The man was able to grab his pistol, fired a shot and the mountain lion fled.

The hunter, whose name was withheld, received medical attention at a hospital and was released.

November 7, 2007

Browning, Montana

From the Browning Glacier Reporter of November 7, 2007

Haggar’s encounter with grizzly ends tragically for hungry 400-pound bear

Carl Haggar has been living just west of the Blackfeet Reservation boundary on U.S. Highway 2 for years, and he’s been hunting the Lubec Hills area across the highway for just about as long. Carl is a responsible and careful hunter, and he’d already talked to Dan Carney, bear biologist for the Blackfeet Tribe, as well as Gabe Salois, a game warden for Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife. They’d already told him there were grizzly bears at large in the Lubec Hills.

“I went out Tuesday morning [Oct. 22] at daybreak,” Haggar said Sunday, Oct. 28. “It was a beautiful morning, not much wind. It took me about an hour and a half to get to the area where I hunt. Bears were not on my mind, but I knew of multiple sightings,” he said of his conversations with the experts. Nevertheless, Carl saw no signs of bear activity as he continued his solitary hunt.

He was walking along the top of a ravine – the Lubec Hills include several parallel ridges with narrow valleys between – when he saw a grizzly cub scamper up the other side. Immediately an enormous sow grizzly charged up his side of the ravine to investigate. Haggar stood his ground with his rifle held across his chest and softly but firmly said “whoa” to the griz. Haggar said “whoa” three times as the female griz waited, deciding what to do next, when Carl tripped and fell over backwards.

The griz was on him in a flash, covering the 20 feet separating them in a split second. “I knew I would be mauled,” he said. “I remember thinking that if I got a round off I hoped I’d have time to get in another one because it was obvious I was in deep sh_t.”

Haggar fell on one arm, still holding his semi automatic 30.06 rifle in the other. He got a single shot fired and hit the female just above the left eye, killing it nearly instantly. She fell at his feet, motionless.

“There was a moment when she was at the top when I thought she would stop, just for an instant, but my tripping just triggered her instincts…when she dropped at my feet I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Standing by a tree and catching his breath, Haggar said he looked to see if there were more cubs, but didn’t see any. “Then I started to get angry about the situation and why the bear had to die,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking at all about how close I’d come to death.”

Haggar hiked back out, called the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and that afternoon accompanied Rod Duty to investigate the scene.

When they got there, a male grizzly prevented the official from gathering biological samples, but upon investigating from the opposite ridge, they were able to see a gut pile from a hunter’s elk kill, lying at the bottom of the ravine. Although invisible from Haggar’s vantage point earlier, the remains had attracted the female as well as the male later that day.

Duty found Haggar’s shell casing lying nine feet from the bear’s carcass. Haggar said he’d tested his gun at home and found it throws the casings about five feet behind him so the bear was only about four feet away when it was killed. Duty absolved him of any guilt in the bear’s death, ruling it was self defense.

November 6, 2007

Ovando, Montana

From the Great Falls Tribune of November 5, 2007

Hunter kills advancing grizzly

A female grizzly bear was killed over the weekend at close range by a hunter near Ovando, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said.

The hunter told authorities that he was walking down a game trail on Saturday then he saw three grizzlies 75 yards ahead of him. A large female advanced, despite his attempts to warn it of his presence.

The hunter shot the 300-pound bear at close range, killing it with one shot, FWP officials said Monday. The two other bears left the area.

The hunter immediately reported the incident to authorities, who closed the road in the area until they could retrieve the bear on Sunday.

FWP said the incident is a reminder that much of western Montana is grizzly bear country.

Bear specialist Jamie Jonkel asked hunters to carry bear spray, saying it is the most successful way to fend off bear attack and prevent injury to hunter and animal alike.

“Hunters should watch for bear sign, be especially careful around dense cover, make plenty of noise, avoid hunting alone and use extra caution when returning to retrieve a game carcass,” Jonkel said in a release.

October 26, 2007

Great Falls, Montana

From the Great Falls Tribune of October 26, 2007

Hunter charging grizzly

Sitting on his butt and aiming a 30-06 rifle with one arm, Carl Haggar of East Glacier fired the shot of his life — and maybe saved it.

The 350-pound grizzly that was closing in on him hit the ground — dead — just five feet away.

“It was an amazing sound,” said Haggar, recalling the bear’s heavy collapse, “because it was a lifeless sound.”
Haggar, who was hunting elk, said he felt terrible after killing the bear, which happened late Tuesday morning near the South Fork of the Two Medicine River in the Lewis and Clark National Forest southwest of East Glacier.

But, he figured, it was the bear or him.

“I would have been killed if I hadn’t had a killing blow,” he said.


October 10, 2007

Billings, Montana

From Butte’s The Montana Standard of October 10, 2007

Athlete recovering from mauling

A Carroll College student is recovering from a severed hamstring and other injuries suffered when he was mauled by a grizzly bear while bow hunting over the weekend.

Roman Morris, who is a freshman wide receiver on Carroll’s football team, said he was crouched on a hillside north of Gardiner at dawn Saturday when a female grizzly bear walking by turned and attacked him.

‘‘It charged down the hill and just drilled me,’’ said Morris, 21, of Whitewater.

Over the next 30 to 45 seconds, Morris fought with the bear as it bit and clawed, severed his left hamstring, punctured his shoulder, chomped at his head and tossed him around.

‘‘I thought the whole time, This is so messed up. I’m going to die, I’m going to die,’’’ said Morris, a pre-med major.

The bear ran off after a friend fired a pistol. Morris underwent surgery at a Livingston hospital and was recuperating Monday at his brother’s house in Helena.