Beaverhead County is steering $5,000 toward prosecuting a man accused in the death of a Broadwater County sheriff’s deputy, even though Beaverhead’s officers had no role in a subsequent high-speed chase through several counties that ended in a shootout.
Meanwhile, for weeks now, officials in Butte-Silver Bow have been discussing a request from Sheriff Ed Lester to contribute $25,000 toward the prosecution costs but haven’t made a final decision.
Police in Butte-Silver Bow were not only involved in the chase on May 16, 2017, three of its officers were shot at and three vehicles were disabled before the incident ended in Missoula County with one suspect dead and his father, Lloyd Barrus, arrested.
Commissioners here seem intent on helping Broadwater County with prosecution costs, but they can’t decide where $25,000 should come from in a proposed $134 million budget or whether to tack the expense onto an already projected tax increase.
Granite County has given $25,000, the state has provided two deputy prosecutors and four other counties have provided in-kind help. Broadwater County is footing the cash costs, while the state is paying private attorneys for Barrus’ defense.
Beaverhead County played no part in events following the shooting death of Deputy Mason Moore, but its commissioners decided this week to give Broadwater County $5,000 to help with costs.
“This could have ended up in Beaverhead County really easily,” Commissioner John Jackson said Thursday. “If something like this came our way, we thought it might be reciprocated. It’s justified to help the smaller counties, too.”
Mason was shot and killed in Broadwater County but Lloyd Barrus and his son, Marshall Barrus, then led police on a high-speed chase through several counties, including Jefferson, Butte-Silver Bow, Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Powell and Granite before it ended in a shootout in Missoula County.
Marshall Barrus was killed. Lloyd Barrus was wounded and is now being prosecuted on several charges, including accountability for deliberate homicide in Mason’s death and five counts of attempted homicide for shooting at officers, including those from Butte-Silver Bow. Authorities believe Marshall Barrus fired the shots that killed Moore.
Montana’s Office of Public Defender is paying for Lloyd Barrus’ defense, which includes two private attorneys a big budget because it could have been a death-penalty case. Broadwater County is paying for the prosecution.
Prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty but the case is far from over, and as of last month, prosecution cash costs were already at $241,000.
Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson has asked counties involved in the chase to contribute $25,000 each and made the request to Butte-Silver Bow in December. Sheriff Lester has asked commissioners to honor the request by letter and during at least three recent council meetings.
He noted that three Butte-Silver Bow officers were shot at and said any one of them could have been killed. He also said his officers tried to end the chase in Butte-Silver Bow County but were unsuccessful.
“We could have easily been at the end of this dispute,” he said. “We could have been saddled with the whole prosecution.”
Danette Gleason, the county’s budget director, has told commissioners that the proposed $134 million budget is balanced. If they want to contribute $25,000, she says, they need cut the budget elsewhere or add it to the tax rolls.
As it stands, the proposed budget would raise property taxes slightly, in part to pay for big pay raises for police that commissioners OK’d last year. On houses valued at $100,000, taxes would go up about $6, Gleason says.
Taxes would go up another 25 cents if the $25,000 was added to the tax rolls, and at least two commissioners have suggested doing that. But others, including Jim Fisher, say the money can be found without doing that.
Lester has said he would forgo money earmarked for a new police vehicle if need be and Fisher has suggested it come from $1.8 million set aside for new portable radios and other technology upgrades for police and firefighters.
But commissioners won’t approve a new budget until at least this coming week, and so far, no final decision on the $25,000 has been made. Lester says he's confident the county will come through, however.
Beaverhead County commissioners donated $5,000 at the urging of their county attorney and prosecutor, Jed Fitch.
He says the Public Defender’s Office can spend up to $1 million on Barrus’ defense while counties are having “to pass that hat” for prosecution costs.
“That’s ludicrous in my opinion,” he said.
He also told The Montana Standard in a recent interview that Beaverhead County could have been involved.
“It could have easily been us if he (Lloyd Barrus) had gone the other direction instead of going up I-90,” Fitch said. “If he had turned and gone through Whitehall, he could have ended up in Dillon.”