On June 28, Missoula County Sheriff's Detective Jonathan Stineford, working on a drug case, shot and wounded Harry Louis Van Pelt after Stineford thought Van Pelt was reaching for a gun.

photo by Peter Christian

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg provided background information on the case on Thursday, October 3.

"The drug task force had arranged the purchase of some methamphetamine, and one of the key suspects seemed to have figured out that the cops were on to him," Van Valkenburg said. "He was ordered to stop his vehicle and raise his hands, but he did not do that. He actually reached down in such a fashion that the officer (Stineford), who was holding a weapon on him at the time, thought it had indicated he was going for a gun. The officer fired a couple of shots and hit Van Pelt in the hip and leg. He was taken into custody and received medical treatment."

Van Valkenburg explained why that the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office handled the investigation into the shooting because the Missoula County Sheriff's Department and the Missoula Police Department were involved in the attempted arrest of the drug dealers.

"In order to make sure there was an objective investigation into the shooting, it needed to be done by an outside agency," Van Valkenburg said. "That in itself took nearly two months to complete. The matter was then referred to me, but due to legal matters by the defendant and his attorney, he finally made his appearance in federal court where he plead guilty in early September."

Following the court appearance, the Missoula County Sheriff's office conducted its own internal shooting review board.

"After the shooting review board concluded its investigation, then I felt it was appropriate to make a decision on this particular case," Van Valkenburg said. "This was a justified shooting, and there was no reason to prosecute the deputy, and at that time I felt it was appropriate to release the report to the Missoulian, but not until then, because there was a lot of information still pending."

Van Valkenburg said some parts of the report were redacted to protect the security of undercover officers and the identities of others involved in the incident.

"Things that involved people's birth dates and social security numbers were removed because there's no need for the public to know things like that," Van Valkenburg said. "In addition, because of the nature of this offense, and to protect the security of our undercover personnel, some information, such as the type of vehicle or the names of the individuals or photographs were not being released because doing so would jeopardize their personal safety and the prospects of future investigations."

The investigation uncovered the fact that Van Pelt was not reaching for a gun, although there was an air pellet pistol found in the vehicle.

Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen confirmed that Detective Stineford has returned to his duties.

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg: