by Travis Mateer
Today I listened and watched some of the most awful testimony I’ve ever heard. The girl who took the stand in the coroner’s inquest was only 17 on November 7th, 2020, when a fight between her mother and dad escalated to physical violence. She called 911 and within seconds of arriving on scene, the responding officer, Tyler Swartz, had a chair and knife thrown at him by Jesse James Kale Brown. After deploying a taser to no effect, Swartz used lethal force, striking Brown twice in the chest. Brown died at the scene.
When this officer-involved shooting occurred, there was an immediate response from University protest culture. Protestors like Andi Hoelzel showed up outside the police station with protest signs. Remember, this was the November after the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement erupted. It must have been very exciting for these woke protestors to be out on the street PROTESTING police brutality!
See that quote above? Hoelzel was showing up to PUT PRESSURE on the chief of police and the county attorney. So, was this protestor in the gallery yesterday listening to the young woman describe jumping on her father’s back while he was strangling her mother? Was she there to hear the 911 call and the terrible cries that came in spasms as this young woman heard the shots that ended her father’s life?
Two years and two months ago, the demands coming from Missoula’s protest culture were clear:
Protesters first stopped by the corner of Ryman and Spruce Street on Nov. 8, and came back with a larger crowd Nov. 9. Signs read “MPD killed someone last night, demand justice and end police brutality,” as well as “His name was Kale Brown.”
Hoelzel said protesters understand there is an ongoing investigation from the Montana Department of Justice, which makes it difficult to release information on the case. That being said, protesters asked MPD to give more details, like the officers involved and any body camera footage.
Well, that information has now been presented in court, and guess what? The officer has been cleared of any wrong doing, which is absolutely no surprise. The structure of a coroner’s inquest places a county attorney in the position of having to examine an officer-involved death for CRIMINAL intent, and with that threshold to meet, I don’t think an officer has ever been found criminally liable for a death at the hands of law enforcement.
For more information on coroner’s inquests, this New York Time article from 2015 is worth reading, and claims Montana is the only state to require a coroner’s inquest in officer involved shootings. Despite this public process (instead of a more murky process, like grand juries in other states), the criticism from the article rings true with what I’ve seen. From the link:
Echoing criticisms of grand juries, detractors say inquests are also biased toward the police. In Montana, for example, at least 12 men have been killed in confrontations with law enforcement officers in the past two years — some of them shootouts, others cases in which the slain men were unarmed. Coroners’ juries have not sided against law enforcement in any of them.
Critics say the scales are tipped because local prosecutors, who often have working relationships with the police and sheriff’s officers, choose the witnesses and ask the questions. Victims or their lawyers can submit questions from a public gallery, but they have no power to question witnesses themselves. And the coroners are often closely aligned with law enforcement.
I don’t think someone like Andi Hoelzel actually gives a shit about this kind of criminal justice system nuance, though. And why not? Because her protesting is just an extension of her politics, which this article from 2019 clued me into. Here is Hoelzel complaining about not being able to ask Steve Daines a question alongside her DSA “comrade”, Josh Decker. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the obnoxious husband of Grace Decker, an equally obnoxious person who plays politics from her School Board/United Way positions. From the first link:
A few members of the Western Montana chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America don’t think it was a coincidence that City Club Missoula moderators did not select them to pose a question to Montana’s Republican Sen. Steve Daines at a Monday forum, but event organizers say it was.
“I think there was some direct avoidance of the table that contained predominately Democratic Socialists of America,” said Josh Decker, one of the organization’s members.
Decker and Western Montana DSA co-chair Andi Hoelzel believe that Jim Royan, a former chair of the local Republican Party and a former board member for City Club Missoula, purposely didn’t bring one of the microphones to the Socialists’ table. That’s because, they say, Royan and others recognized them from when they were arrested for criminal trespass for staging a sit-in at the Missoula GOP office last October to protest the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Seeing that Hoelzel is connected to disgusting political opportunists who depicted parents like me as Trump-worshipping white supremacists for being RIGHT about unnecessary overreach under the guise of “HEALTH” makes sense. Also, fuck these people. They exacerbate divisions within our community when it’s politically convenient for THEM, then ghost the actual victims of addiction and desperation because some other shiny object has captured their attention.
My favorite part about the article is how Hoelzel and Grace Decker’s obnoxious husband, Josh, got up and yelled at Steve Daines at a City Club event. I find this particularly hilarious, considering MY yelling into a megaphone across the street from where Grace Decker works at United Way resulted in Grace Decker leaving work in terror for the rest of the day, while the remaining staff were apparently directed to call the cops if I returned to the neighborhood with my terrible megaphone. From the link:
After City Club organizers told the crowd of about 200 that there would be no more questions, Hoelzel and Decker stood up and shouted at Daines that the world is in a “climate crisis.” They both quickly stopped after clapping had subsided and others told them to stop.
Daines met privately with several people in attendance after the question-and-answer session ended, and those conversations lasted about 15 minutes each. Hoelzel and Decker were not able to reach Daines to speak with him before others crowded around.
Yes, while these unfunny jokers play political games, the LONG work of the criminal justice system grinds on, and the REAL person with REAL courage in this story is the young woman who did what her own mother couldn’t do, and that’s SHOW UP and tell the jury what happened on that terrible day.
If the protestors had stuck with this case, they might have learned that Officer Swartz arrived BEFORE the two “primary” officers, and that protocol in domestic disturbance calls is for two officers to respond, so Swartz wasn’t following Missoula PD protocol when he entered the apartment. Attending this inquest would also have allowed the protestors to hear the only point of criticism Swartz received from a fellow officer, which was criticism that Swartz didn’t shoot FAST ENOUGH.
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