By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
MISSOULA - Law enforcement officers' failure to follow standard procedures and policies likely contributed to the fatal shooting of Blaine County sheriff's deputy Joshua Rutherford, a former officer and investigator from Seattle told jurors Friday.
Charles Winters, a retired officer who spent 25 years with the King County Police Department in Seattle, testified as an expert witness for the defense in trial of Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. in Missoula. Jackson, 28, of Harlem is charged with one count of deliberate homicide and one count of attempted deliberate homicide. He's accused of shooting and killing Rutherford and wounding deputy Loren Janis in a May 29, 2003, shootout in a field near Harlem.
The prosecution wrapped up its case Friday morning, after 11 days of testimony, and the defense began presenting its case.
Winters said he examined more than 1,000 pages of information about the case, including witness statements and photographs of the crime scene. He said he then reviewed the Blaine County Sheriff's Office policy handbook and information from the Montana Law Enforcement Academy.
Winters said officers made a number of mistakes on May 29, 2003, that allowed a routine response to a disturbance complaint to spiral out of control.
Winters said officers should try to avoid responding to calls involving people they have a personal relationship with.
"As a means of sound practice, that should be avoided if at all possible," Winters told jurors.
Janis responded to a call for assistance at the home of Mari Blackbird, who was the former girlfriend of Jackson. Janis had adopted Blackbird's child just days earlier, Winters said.
Winters also said that Rutherford, who arrived at the scene first, should have taken a few moments to gather information on what had happened before starting to chase after Jackson.
"It's my belief that officer Rutherford became caught up in the chase," Winters told jurors.
He said that type of response is common with young or inexperienced officers.
Rutherford, 28, was a graduate of the Montana Law Enforcement Academy; he had more than three years of experience as a law enforcement officer.
Winters also criticized the deputies' unsuccessful attempts to control and arrest Jackson. He said Janis' use of pepper spray and his baton on Jackson seemed to be an extreme use of force for the situation.
"I would classify (the baton) as a poor choice" at that time, Winters told jurors.
In his testimony, Janis said he had raised his baton to hit Jackson in the head while Rutherford and Jackson were struggling on the ground.
"(Janis) was preparing to deliver a deadly force blow without justification," Winters said.
Winters also detailed a number of mistakes he believes officers made while investigating the crime scene, including the time it took to establish a chain of command, and the manner in which the scene was handled.
Winters said investigators should have waited until daylight to begin processing the crime scene, instead of working in the dark.
"Once evidence is gone, it's gone forever," he said.
Theresa Petersen, a nurse with the Fort Belknap Indian Health Service, took the stand for the defense Friday. Petersen said she helped treat Janis when he arrived at IHS, before he was transported to Billings.
Petersen said she decided to come forward to testify after reading a story about the trial in the Havre Daily News. She said she remembered comments Janis made at the Indian Health Service that were different than what he testified to in court.
Petersen said Janis was alert and coherent at the time of his treatment, but he seemed to be questioning what had gone on in the field where Rutherford was killed. She said Janis was making comments like, "Did I shoot Josh?" or "I shot Josh."
In cross-examination, Petersen said she couldn't remember exactly what Janis had said.
"You're not certain that he said Josh?" Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird asked Petersen.
"I'm fairly certain that he said Josh," Petersen replied.
Petersen said she hadn't been interviewed by any investigating officers before testifying in court.
District Judge John McKeon denied a request by defense attorney Ed Sheehy to have McKeon make a ruling on the deliberate homicide charge. Sheehy said the prosecution had not proved without a reasonable doubt that Jackson shot and killed Rutherford.
"There is no evidence that he pulled the trigger on the gun," he said.
Laird objected to Sheehy's request. She said the prosecution has provided "more than ample evidence" to prove that Jackson killed Rutherford.
After hearing from both the defense and prosecution, McKeon denied the defense's request.
Jackson's trial will resume Wednesday in Missoula.