BILLINGS — After about 30 minutes of deliberation Monday, a citizen jury delivered a verdict to a tense and tearful courtroom: Billings police officer Brett Hilde was justified in his use of force shooting Raymond Dupree Jr. eight times in February, killing him on the spot.
Per Montana state law, following an officer-involved shooting, the county attorney's office must hold a coroner's inquest into the incident in front of a citizen jury to determine whether the officer was justified in their use of force.
That happened Monday, nine months after Dupree's death.
"I'm sorry that you have to be here today for this. This is probably not something that you ever wanted to do, but it's extremely important," said Ed Zink, deputy chief county attorney for Yellowstone County.
"It is important to Mr. Dupree's family, some of whom are in the courtroom this morning, it's important to Officer Hilde and it's important to this community, that when something like this takes place, we look at it in a public fashion and look at it very carefully," Zink said.
Dupree, 39, was shot and killed by Hilde on the evening of Feb. 15 on Seventh Street West near Broadwater Avenue.
Hilde and other officers were responding to calls from passing motorists of a man walking down the street, holding a handgun, and pointing it at cars.
Officers arrived and said Dupree brandished the gun at them, prompting Hilde to shoot Dupree eight times.
The gun Dupree was holding was later determined to be a pellet gun.
A few points that arose during the inquest: Officers responding to the call, including Hilde, were in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles. Hilde failed to turn on his bodycam responding to the incident and during the shooting.
Video of the shooting, collected from a nearby homeowner's security system and shown for the first time, shows the lapse in time between officers' arrival, shouting commands to Dupree, and the shooting, was a matter of seconds.
The officers involved with the shooting were placed on administrative leave in February after the incident and have since returned to work.
The jury's decision is only advisory and it is up to the county attorney's office to take the case any further, if a question of force remains unresolved.