KALISPELL (AP) — The defense attorney for a 35-year-old man who killed his ex-girlfriend and her teenage daughter has called for an examination of law enforcement policies and procedures when it comes to dealing with domestic threats and disputes.
Senior Public Defender Noel Larrivee said his investigation of the shooting deaths on Christmas Day 2010 found lapses in judgment, missed opportunities and poor communication between law enforcement agencies leading up to the killings just east of Kalispell.
"The number of missed opportunities that existed to derail this train boggles the mind," Larrivee wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed in Flathead County District Court. "Law enforcement did not commit the homicides. Tyler Miller did. That said, there was a complete failure of the systems and mechanisms designed to protect persons from themselves and from harming others."
Tyler Michael Miller pleaded guilty to two counts of deliberate homicide in December for the meth-fueled killing of 35-year-old Jaimi Lynn Hurlbert and her 15-year-old daughter, Alyssa Burkett. Miller earlier this month received two consecutive life sentences.
Kalispell Police chief Roger Nasset told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/yKlgXL) that he reviewed the agency's response and found no shortcomings. He said officers handled the case with professionalism and according to policy, took every measure to make sure the victims remained safe, even offering to bring Hurlbert to a safe house.
"There had been threats in this relationship many, many times, and really that was one of the reasons that Jaimi did not accept our offer to bring her to a safe house," Nasset said. "The volatility of their relationship, the threats, the drug use, none of that was new. It had been going on for years, and it culminated in this tragic event."
Larrivee said that city and county law enforcement agencies received 10 different 911 calls about Miller in the 72 hours leading up to the killings. He said some were never relayed between the agencies even as officers looked for Miller.
Larrivee also noted police picked up Miller the day before the killings after he visited Hurlbert's friend, Michele Koller-Koffler, and threatened both women, accusing them of using meth.
Koller-Koffler called police to report the threats and two Flathead County Sheriff's deputies, with guns drawn, took Miller into custody and placed him in handcuffs. Court documents said the deputies drove Miller home without citing him when Larrivee said police could have taken him into custody based on his behavior.
Larrivee, in his report, wrote that one of those deputies said Miller was "extremely agitated and in a rage," telling police that "he was going to get Jaimi and Michele."
Police received additional calls about threats by Miller from Koller-Koffler and Hurlbert's father. Miller's mother also called police asking that her son be placed on an involuntary medical hold because of threats to Hurlbert. She said he also talked about harming himself.
"I have never in 36 years of lawyering seen the ball get dropped as badly as it was in this case," Larrivee said. "There were no less than 15 law enforcement officers who, had they done something more, could have derailed this."
Nasset said situations can look clearer in hindsight than when they are unfolding in real time.
"We deal with these cases on a weekly if not daily basis in the Flathead Valley, but you don't hear about the cases that turn out well because of the proactive steps we take," Nasset said. "This was a tragic case and the individual responsible is Tyler Miller and no one else."
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry had not been sworn into office when the killings took place. However, he said a new centralized dispatch center has helped agencies coordinate actions.