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Missoula coroner's inquest jury returns verdict in fatal officer-involved shooting

Perry Inquest to Jury
Perry Inquest Deputy
Perry Inquest Evans
Perry Inquest Video Footage
Perry Inquest Resident
Perry inquest
Dr. Suniel Kumal Pradhar
Perry Inquest Ravalli Guisinger
Perry Inquest DCI
Posted at 9:14 AM, Apr 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 13:36:42-04

There are three coroner's inquests taking place this week at the Missoula County Courthouse and all involve Missoula law enforcement and fatal shootings.

A coroner's inquest is a formal inquiry around the causes and circumstances surrounding the death of a person.

The first inquest was held Thursday for Johnny Lee Perry II who died in August 2021 after being shot by Missoula County sheriff's deputies, who say they tried to de-escalate the situation.

Perry Inquest Video Footage

The jury found there was no crime committed in the death of Perry and deputies were found not criminally responsible by a jury after a day of statements from those involved.

The inquest included statements about what Missoula County Sheriff's deputies saw leading up to the shooting.

Authorities had responded to a disturbance in the Southside road area west of Missoula for reports of a man swinging a machete and making threats.

Sheriff's Deputy Justin White showed dashcam footage of Perry swinging around a machete during the coroner’s inquest.

Perry Inquest Deputy

MTN News spoke with a member of Perry's family on Thursday, who said he did not think Perry's actions appeared threatening.

But, Deputy White disagreed, saying on the stand he felt afraid.

Other deputies who responded would also give statements, such as why a taser was not used and eventually the medical aid given to Perry after the shooting.

Jury deliberation lasted for about 30 minutes before they determined the deputies were not criminally responsible.

Perry — who was Black — was supported by protesters who appeared outside the courthouse holding Black Lives Matter signs.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office issued the following news release following the verdict:

Following the events on Southside road on August 29, 2021, Missoula County Sheriff’s Office and Deputies strictly followed guidelines already in place for an incident that involves a Deputy discharging their firearm and there is a loss of life. Today closes another part of that process.

“Our fist thoughts go out to the family and friends as we continue to extend our condolences to all those affected by the death of Johnny Lee Perry II,” stated Sheriff T.J. McDermott.

After numerous de-escalation attempts and utilizing non-lethal options, Deputies relied on years of training to make a split-second decision to safeguard lives. Immediately after shots were fired, Missoula County Sheriff’s Deputies administered medical aid. “We stand behind the decisions utilized to safeguard lives and recognize the efforts that were taken to preserve the life of Johnny Lee Perry II,” said Sheriff McDermott.

“The decision made today during the Coroner’s Inquest concludes the process and we recognize and value the jury’s decision,” said Sheriff McDermott.

Two more coroner’s inquests are scheduled to take place on Friday.

One involves the death of 21-year-old Brendon Galbreath which was the subject of a protest last summer.

Galbreath died last August after what police describe as a chase that ended in fatal shots.

The other coroner's inquest scheduled for Friday involves Pedro Luiz Cruz, who died in 2020.



PREVIOUS REPORTING

4:33 p.m. - April 28, 2022

A jury has returned a not guilty plea in the coroner's inquest into the fatal officer-involved shooting of Johnny Lee Perry II on August 29, 2021.

A coroner's inquest is a formal inquiry around the causes and circumstances surrounding the death of a person.


3:49 p.m. - April 28, 2022

No further witnesses will be called in the coroner's inquest into the officer-involved shooting death of Johnny Lee Perry II.

The jury has begun deliberations and has been instructed to reach a verdict.

Perry Inquest to Jury


3:28 p.m. - April 28, 2022

Ryan Eamon, a case agent for the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation's, Major Case Section took the stand and showed the remains of a less lethal foam round that was fired at Johnny Lee Perry II.

Perry Inquest DCI
Montana DCI case agent Ryan Eamon

The round was described by a deputy as like being hit by a major league fastball, designed to incapacitate an aggressive subject. The medical examiner found two wounds on Perry that resemble being hit by these rounds.


2:58 p.m. - April 28, 2022

Medical examiner for the State of Montana Dr. Suniel Kumal Pradhar — who performed the autopsy on Johnny Lee Perry II — took the stand to give testimony on Thursday afternoon.

"He bled out almost two liters of blood," Dr. Pradhar explained.

He added Perry died of a gunshot in the right upper back near the right shoulder due to internal bleeding.

Dr. Suniel Kumal Pradhar
Dr. Suniel Kumal Pradhar explaining the autopsy report.

Dr. Pradhar said the bullet went through the back, broke two ribs, and then exited near the right collar bone. The ribs punctured the lung, which made Perry bleed to death.

When questioned about the toxicology report, Dr. Prashar said meth and marijuana were in Perry's body.

"The 3400 nanograms per milliliter is in a range that would be lethal for some people. For more habitual users, that may not be a cause of death," Dr. Prashar explained.


2:33 p.m. - April 28, 2022

Ravalli County Sheriff's Office Deputy and Corner Leighton Guisinger described the cause of death of Johnny Lee Perry II to the jury.

He said they had to go to the medical examiner because he heard conflicting stories of bullets entering the chest and back.

Perry Inquest Ravalli Guisinger
Ravalli County Sheriff's Office Deputy and Corner Leighton Guisinger


2:25 p.m. - April 28, 2022

Troy Rexin with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office — who was the most senior rank on the scene — next took the stand.

"Everybody was doing a perfect job," Rexin said, adding that all deputies were following their training.

Although Rexin was the senior in charge, he deferred tactics to a deputy who had more SWAT training.

Perry Inquest Rexin
Troy Rexin points out medical supplies used in trying to stabilize Johnny Lee Perry II after the shooting.


1:48 p.m. - April 28, 2022

Missoula County Sheriff's Office Deputy Sean Evans — who is a taser instructor — explained why Johnny Lee Perry II was not tased by law enforcement.

Evans explained deputies believed the machete would be used to cut through the wires.

Video of deputies approaching Johnny Lee Perry II's vehicle:

WATCH: Deputies approaching Johnny Lee Perry II's vehicle

Additionally, Evans stated the baggy clothes that Perry was wearing would have made a taser less effective.

Deputy Evans also described to the inquest jury how he approached the scene and stressed the number of times deputies tried to talk to Perry.

machete

"A look of pure rage went across his face. It was absolute anger," Evans said when describing Perry after he was hit with less lethal rounds.

Perry Inquest Evans
Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Sean Evans being sworn in on April 28, 2022.


1:15 p.m. - April 28, 2022

Following a break in the proceedings, a coroner's inquest resumed Thursday afternoon.

Deputies could be heard on a video played for the jury calling to Johnny Lee Perry II, asking him to drop the machete that he had displayed.

A deputy also described threatening gestures that Perry is said to have made, which the deputy said heightened the situation.

The deputy said Perry was hit with three "less lethal" rounds at close range and then swung the machete.

"He appeared to be running with a purpose," the deputy said. "At that point less lethal didn't work so I called out lethal."

The deputy further stated law enforcement was afraid of what was in a trailer he was going toward.

Perry Inquest Deputy


10:24 a.m. - April 28, 2022

Prior to taking a mid-morning break, an area resident described to the jury the events that she observed prior to shooting.

Perry Inquest Resident


9:52 a.m. - April 28, 2022

Thursday's coroner's inquest began with Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Coroner Jessie Billquist-Jette speaking.

The jury was then shown body and dash-cam video footage of the incident.

Perry Inquest Video Footage


9:14 a.m. - April 28, 2022

A coroner inquest is underway Thursday in Missoula District Court for an officer-involved shooting that killed a Missoula man.

The shooting happened on August 29, 2021, when Missoula County Sheriff's deputies responded to a report of a disturbance in the Southside road area west of Missoula, involving a man swinging a machete and making threats.

According to a press release from the Missoula County Sheriff's Office at the time, deputies tried to communicate with the suspect, identified as Johnny Lee Perry II of Missoula.

After multiple non-lethal attempts to de-escalate the situation, deputies shot Perry and he was injured. He later died in the hospital.

The Ravalli County Coroner's Office conducted the coroner investigation, which is common practice when another agency's personnel are involved in a custodial death.

MTN News will have updates throughout the day.

- information from Katie Miller, James Dobson, Melissa Rafferty and Mark Thorsell included in this report