Two former Yellowstone County Sheriff’s deputies were cleared by a jury on Feb. 4 for firing more than 50 rounds and killing a man on Jan. 8, 2015, in Huntley, Montana (video below).
A jury found that Jason Robinson and Christopher Rudolph were justified in killing Loren Simpson, who was driving a Ford Explorer SUV, which had been reported stolen, notes the Billings Gazette.
"I saw the front wheels turn in my direction,” Robinson testified on Feb. 3. “At that point, I knew he didn’t care he was going through me and he was going to kill me."
The dashcam video of the incident shows Simpson veering off to the side, avoiding Robinson and Rudolph, who walk in the direction of the vehicle's path and open fire with a shotgun and an AR-15 rifle, killing Simpson.
Former FBI Special Agent Brian Kensel, who is also a use-of-force expert, said the deputies fired 54 rounds at Simpson.
Robinson said in court that the angle of the police car's dashcam filmed a distorted perception.
The Billings Gazette reported another description of events on Jan. 22, 2015, based on a search warrant application, signed by Detective Shane Bancroft.
The warrant said Robinson stood by the passenger’s side of the police cruiser, while Rudolph stood by the driver’s side.
According to Bancroft, the deputies recalled how the Explorer's tires started spinning “as if the driver was accelerating and it turned toward Deputy Robinson. As the vehicle was bearing down on Deputy Robinson, he fired rounds from his AR-15. Simultaneously, Deputy Rudolph began firing rounds from his shotgun.”
One round fired by Rudolph hit Simpson, while two rounds fired by Robinson hit Simpson in the back of the head, and killed him. Those bullets traveled into the Explorer via the back window, meaning Robinson was behind the car at that point.
After the 54 rounds were fired, Robinson reached for more ammo, but was out. Instead, Robinson said he drew his pistol, approached the car and found Simpson dead.
Kensel testified that the deputies' feelings of being threatened were all that mattered legally, and referred to all the events up to that moment as a “smoke screen” of distraction.
On the day of the shooting, Robinson was training Rudolph, but Robinson did not have the certification to train him.
"We were going to stop that vehicle," Rudolph stated.
Robinson and Rudolph resigned after the incident.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito will still make the final decision as to whether Robinson and Rudolph will be charged.
The Courthouse News Service reported in October 2015 that the Simpson family had filed a lawsuit against Yellowstone County for "wrongful death, assault, negligence, civil rights violations, constitutional violations and loss of consortium."
The lawsuit says that Robinson and Rudolph enlisted the help of three teens to help push their police cruiser out of the snow before the shooting.
The deputies allegedly exchanged phone numbers with the teens, and sent the youngsters up a road "with instructions to call the officers if they saw the vehicle the officers had been pursuing. Robinson and Rudolph essentially deputized the three youths on the spot and enlisted them to go investigate a vehicle that the deputies suspected had been involved in a crime."
The Simpson family's lawyer, Nathan Wagner, told the Billings Gazette on Feb. 3: "We are confident that the outcome will be different when we are allowed to present the rest of the evidence and cross examine the witnesses at the civil trial. We look forward to the opportunity to continue pursuing justice for the family."