MISSOULA – State investigators will try to figure out what happened Sunday when a woman died in a confrontation with Missoula Police.
The Montana Department of Justice will handle that investigation, and there are still questions about whether the woman may have taken her own life.
Missoula police officers responded to a residence in the 600 block of Blaine Street on Sunday morning to a reported disturbance where a gun was fired inside a home.
Upon arrival, they encountered a person with a gun and shots were fired.
Missoula County Sheriff TJ McDermott says Janessa M Cooper, 49, of Missoula died as the result of a gunshot wound at the residence. (editor’s note: the first name initially released by authorities was incorrect)
Missoula Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sergeant Travis Welsh says it is not clear how she died, and the incident it is under investigation to determine if an officer fired the shot that killed her.
Since at least one officer was involved, MPD passed the case onto the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation Monday.
“And that’s not uncommon. An agency will often invite an outside agency to come in and evaluate, just for an outside perspective. And so we’ve worked on a number of these types of cases,” explained Montana Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes.”
He told MTN news that their investigation will be extensive.
“That involves a number of different things, including interviewing everyone who was involved, any potential eyewitnesses, examining the scene of the incident, looking at any forensic evidence, and once all of that is complete, then the investigative file will be given to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, and a coroners inquest will be scheduled,” Barnes said.
He adds that because of the complexity of these types of cases, it is impossible to nail down an exact time frame.
“Each case is unique and all of the circumstances involved are unique and so we really can’t even give a ballpark because in my experience some take a certain amount of time, others might take longer it really does run the whole spectrum in terms of time frame so I can’t give an estimate at this point,” Barnes said.
Barnes says it will be up to the Missoula Police Department to identify any officers involved as the investigation wraps up.
Sgt. Welsh says that per department policy, the officer involved in Sunday’s fatal shooting is on paid administrative leave.