BILLINGS — Nineteen Billings Police Department officers are on mandatory administrative leave after two officer-involved shootings in late May. But leave is far from a vacation. One officer who has been through an OIS said it's a trauma that will stay with them for the majority of their lives.
"I’m not ashamed to admit it, I still go see a counselor," said BPD Sgt. Jeff Stovall.
The last five years have been anything but easy for Stovall. He was one of five officers involved in a 2017 southside shooting that left Preston David Bell dead after Bell backed a stolen pickup truck into multiple police cars.
Stovall described what that moment is like.
"Your body is getting so much adrenaline and cortisol that most it shuts down," Stovall said. "Your frontal cortex of brain shuts down so your body can protect itself."
He went on leave the next day and was gone for three weeks.
"And to be honest, it probably wasn’t long enough," he said. "I was numb for a long time. I didn’t go the right way."
Stovall was named Billings Police Officer of the Year in 2019, but in 2020, he plead guilty to a DUI charge while off-duty. It forced him to take a harder look inwards, and recently, he found his greatest tool yet.
"I carry around a recorder of my kids’ laughter," he said. "Every time I’m put in a traumatic situation, I pull the recorder out and listen to that, and that re-trains your brain that (you're) going back into a trauma (you were) in, but now I have a positive side of it.”
It’s a key part of the department’s focus on officer mental health. Anyone on leave is brought back in within a week for a critical incident debrief to help the officer begin to process it. Before the officer can come back, they must pass an independent psychological evaluation and weapon re-certification.
While two weeks is the minimum, Stovall said it can take some much longer and that has to be okay.
"That’s the stigma that has been around for so long. ‘This guy is messed up,’" Stovall said. "No. We deal with traumatic events every day, and your body can't keep up with it. We need to find what other endorphins, what other chemicals like Oxytocin can balance that back out."
After years, he’s finally found his. Now he hopes to help 19 others find theirs.