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Missoula police found not responsible for death of Native American

Missoula police found not responsible for death of Native American

By Joseph Budd

Native Sun News Today Staff Writer

A case involving the death of a young man is seeing light, and while the evidence shown from a video showed him killing himself, doesn’t offer a lot of solace to the family left behind.

Last year in August, 2021 a traffic stop on Great Northern Ave, just after midnight by Officer Garrett Brown, Brown would fire a round into a car driven by Brendon Galbreath, 21. Both vehicles had come to a stop. The bullet would later be recovered, in the backseat and never hit Brendon.

However, as with state law, an inquiry was opened regarding a non-natural cause of death while in custody. Evidence is collected, and a coroner’s request was made for video footage.

Meanwhile, Brendon’s family and friends, were grieving the loss, and questioning the circumstances that preceded it all. At an inquest, some of the family, said Galbreath appeared to drive away from the traffic stop out of fear. An older brother, Terrance LaFromboise, said the lack of support for an intoxicated person with mental health issues, coupled with the stress of a police chase, “created the perfect storm for him to take his life.”

In the days and weeks, since the incident took place, the Blackfeet Nation was a bit shook, both on the reservation and in Missoula. The police had announced that a man fled a traffic stop in the early morning hours, then died following an officer-involved shooting. It was confirmed that an officer had fired his gun, but the officials did not report that Galbreath also had discharged a firearm.

A week later, the Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, or DCI, said in their preliminary investigation, indicated that Galbreath died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. That also stated, that the police officer involved in the car chase had fired a shot from his own gun “almost simultaneously.”

When the time came for the hearing, the information presented painted a picture that explained a lot of what happened that night and early morning, the results still led to the same conclusion. Officer Brown had stopped Gailbreath’s car during a stop. He informed Galbreath he was stopped for a number of minor traffic violations. And Galbreath was heard apologizing for them. Brown asked Galbreath about if he had been drinking, and twice, Galbreath told the officer he had not consumed any alcohol. From the body camera footage, Brown then inquired about the alcoholic beverages in the backseat, in which Galbreath said were from a previous night.

At that point, Brown returned to his patrol vehicle, Galbreath drove away. This started the car chase, through red lights and stop signs. Galbreath’s car was finally stopped by another officer minutes later on Stephens Avenue, near Beckwith Street. Brown’s patrol car, pointing directly at the front of Galbreath’s car, then captured video, showing Galbreath pointing his gun at himself…and took his own life.

Many in the courtroom, family included, audibly wept when witnessing this footage. After the incident, Galbreath was transported by paramedics to Providence St Patrick’s Hospital, and pronounced dead hours later. A deputy coroner from the Missoula County Sheriff’s office and a state medical examiner testified that the cause and manner of death was suicide from a single gunshot wound to the head. Toxicology reports, found alcohol and THC present in Galbreath’s blood.

In the closing statement, Missoula County Attorney Matt Jennings said that the inquest process undoubtedly leaves unanswered questions about the tragic event. “Like, why?” Jennings said. “I don’t know, and you don’t either. And neither does his family. They’ll wonder that for the rest of their lives.”

In the case of this young man, during an inquest, normally family are not typically represented by an attorney, who is allowed to question witnesses. Members of the jury are allowed to ask questions and members of the public may also ask questions, if they are submitted and approved by the presiding coroner. The family of Galbreath, expressed grief and frustration that both young men died after police encounters, while experiencing mental health crises, and being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. LaFromboise mentioned, “Now we know going forward, we have to advocate for crisis intervention with our police departments. We’re coming to that point, where we have to ask our state for more.”

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