NewsCrime Watch


Chief identifies Billings police officer who shot and killed armed man downtown

officer involved shooting.jpg
Posted at 4:19 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 20:08:01-04

At a Wednesday news conference, Chief Rich St. John identified the Billings police officer who shot and killed a man armed with a machete in downtown Billings Tuesday afternoon.

Officer Zach Wallis is an 11-year veteran of the police force and a member of the department's SWAT team, St. John said. Wallis was placed on paid administrative leave, which is department policy for any officer involved in a shooting.

The state Division of Criminal Investigation will be the lead agency investigating the shooting, and Billings police detectives will assist, St. John said.

St. John did not identify the man killed, saying the Yellowstone County Coroner's Office would release the name following notification of next of kin.

St. John said the incident unfolded "very, very quickly" on the busy 400 block of North 31st Street, in front of the Transwestern Plaza and across the street from the First Interstate Tower building.

Police were called just before 1 p.m. of a report of a man wielding a machete and threatening passersby. St. John said officers surrounded the man and negotiated with him for about seven minutes. He was not complying, so one officer fired a Taser and struck him, bringing him down, St. John said.

Seven officers, including Wallis, then converged on the man, who was seen on video writhing on the ground. St. John said at some point, "for an unknown reason," the Taser was no longer effective, and the man began to resist and reached for the machete. Wallis, who was a few feet away, fired five times and struck the man in the torso as he lay on the ground.

He later died in a local hospital.

MTN News obtained a 19-second video of the incident, which includes the Taser deployment and gunfire from a distance.

Warning: The video below includes profane language and other sights and sounds some viewers may find disturbing.

Raw Video: Billings police shoot armed man in busy downtown

David Dietrich, a Billings attorney, witnessed the shooting nearby from the front stairs of building one of the Transwestern Plaza, between 40 and 60 feet away. He questions police use of force in the incident.

“There didn’t appear to be any brandishing of the machete or even an attempt by him to access it in the sheath, which is where it was when he got Tased,” Dietrich said on Wednesday. “My god, I mean, what a level of force used under these circumstances… I didn’t even know he was dead until after because I had no idea that, that level of force was needed to subdue him because of the fact that he had been very effectively Tased.”

During the news conference, St. John said all officers were wearing body cameras that will be reviewed. He also requested that members of the public who may have additional footage should contact investigators.

In response to a reporter's question, St. John said that officers had to consider a lot of factors on the busy street, including multiple points of entry at nearby buildings.

"We can't have this situation go mobile... I think you could imagine the problem if this individual got into one of the buildings," he said.

St. John added that a person with an edged weapon such as a machete can be dangerous from up to 21 feet away. Officers were forced to act quickly, he said.

"We can 'what if' this thing to death, but we're not allowed to. Allow us to finish the investigation, let those independent reviews take place, let the facts come out, and we'll see how things went on," he said.

Watch St. John's full news conference below: