Disturbing footage has emerged of a fatal police shooting in Montana in 2015, which shows that an unarmed man attempted to steer his vehicle away from two officers before they opened fire 24 times with a 12-gauge shotgun and an AR15 rifle.
Loren Simpson, 28, was killed on 8 January 2015 after two Yellowstone County deputies pursued him on suspicion of burglary and car theft. The deputies, Jason Robinson and Christopher Rudolph, were stuck in the road and left their patrol car as a block, without leaving their siren lights blaring or deploying traffic spikes before they exited their vehicle and opened fire on Simpson’s stolen Ford Explorer as he approached their position.
On Thursday a coroner’s inquest found the two officers were justified in shooting Simpson, after dashcam footage from the deputies’ patrol car was played to the jury. Both deputies told the inquest they feared for their lives before opening fire.
Simpson’s case appeared in a 2015 Guardian investigation, which revealed 30 fatal incidents in which police officers around the US had fired into moving vehicles, despite federal guidelines against the practice. Yellowstone County’s guidelines of use of force were identified in the investigation as the most lax.
A Guardian analysis of the dashcam video, which was played to the jury only once during the inquest, highlights how both officers appeared agitated and prepared to use their weapons well before making contact with Simpson.
As they pursue Simpson’s stolen vehicle, without their patrol car sirens activated, one officer asks the other, “Do you want your shotgun or your AR?” to which the other replies: “I’ll get my AR if I can.”
Thirteen minutes later, when the officers get stuck on a snowy dead-end road during the pursuit, one officer refers to Simpson as a “little fucker” and adds: “They go steal cars, they go break into shit, and throw that shit into those cars. Now they’re in the middle of fucking nowhere.” Five minutes later Simpson drives back down the road and encounters the deputies.
As Simpson approaches the officers, who stand pointing their rifle and shotgun, he veers to their right before they open fire. Once the car is stationary, the officers continue to fire. A medical examiner told the inquest that Simpson was struck three times, once by a shotgun round and twice by AR15 bullets fired by deputy Robinson, one of which fatally struck Simpson in the back of the head, according to the Billings Gazette. A large amount of methamphetamine was also found in Simpson’s blood.
In February 2015 an internal review board cleared both Robinson and Rudolph of acting against departmental policy during the shooting. Both officers resigned from the force just days after the internal proceedings concluded. Robinson, however, continued to work for the sheriff’s office as a detentions deputy.
The two-day coroner’s inquest saw both officers testify. Neither was cross-examined, as is procedure in Montana coroner’s inquests.
Robinson told the jury he believed Simpson had turned towards him before he opened fire. “I saw the front wheels turn in my direction,” he said according to the Billings Gazette. “At that point, I knew he didn’t care he was going through me and he was going to kill me.”
The county attorney’s office invited expert testimony from former FBI special agent Brian Kensel who said that while Robinson and Rudolph’s handling of the incident was “less than ideal”, they were ultimately justified in opening fire.
The Guardian reported in September that Robinson and Rudolph employed the help of two teenagers, aged 14 and 16, during the January incident, to act effectively as spotters for the officers. In the dashcam video, Robinson can be heard speaking to one of the teenagers on the phone, who calls to inform him that Simpson is driving back down the street. Both minors testified during the inquest.
The Yellowstone County sheriff’s office did not respond to a detailed list of questions, including whether the deputies violated protocol by using minors to assist with a criminal investigation.