BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A burglary suspect killed after he stole an officer's patrol car was a threat to public safety and a desperate felon whose shooting by an officer was justified, a Montana police chief said Tuesday.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said the Jan. 6 shooting remained under review and changes are pending in how the department transports prisoners. But no action was planned against Officer Dave Punt, a 19-year law enforcement veteran who shot 29-year-old Daniel Brawley after he slipped out of plastic handcuffs, stole the patrol car and attempted to speed away from a crime scene through a Billings neighborhood.
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"Make no mistake, despite we could have done things better, this entire incident and unfortunate outcome lies unequivocally with Mr. Brawley," St. John said. "Mr. Brawley put Officer Punt in fear for his life."
An inquest into the shooting is required under Montana law because an officer was involved. That means a coroner's jury will have the final say on whether Punt's actions on Jan. 6 were justified.
Video released by Billings police on Tuesday showed Punt being knocked to the ground by the patrol car as Brawley spun the vehicle in reverse and then crashed into a tree. The short clips, recorded by patrol car video cameras, showed Punt get to his feet, grab his handgun, and fire at the car as it accelerated forward. St. John said Punt fired nine shots through the side and rear of the car, hitting Brawley once in the right side of his torso.
A crowd of police officers was on the scene at the time of the shooting, which followed an hours-long standoff in a Billings neighborhood that culminated with Brawley and his wife being taken into custody for alleged burglary.
None of the other officers fired at Brawley.
It remains unclear if he died from the gunshot or wounds sustained when he crashed the patrol car after being shot. A final report from Yellowstone County coroner's office is pending, St. John said.
St. John said the suspect's ability to slip his handcuffs and climb into the driver's seat of the running patrol car had prompted a review of the department's prisoner transport policies.
He said members of the department's SWAT team had been issued metal handcuffs to use in addition to the plastic "flex cuffs" from which Brawley slipped free.
The chief added that Brawley's small size and slim build contributed to events, allowing him to squeeze through a partition in Punt's patrol car that separates prisoners from officers. That partition was down at the time of Brawley's arrest, and the vehicle had been left running with the keys in the ignition.
Brawley had a prior burglary conviction, and had been due in court for a parole revocation hearing.
His wife, Heather Brawley, was charged last week with residential burglary. She remains in the Yellowstone County jail with bail set at $10,000.
The coroner's inquest is expected to be held in coming months but has not yet been scheduled.
An internal police department shooting review board will also examine the shooting.