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Family of Montana man killed by BIA officer suing the agency

LODGE GRASS – The mother and grandmother of a Lodge Grass man who was shot and killed by a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer in April 2018 has filed a civil suit against the agency in federal court.

The complaint alleges that BIA Officer Timothy Smells Jr. “failed to use any intermediate force (taser) prior to the use of lethal force,” and Smells “failed to administer any first aid,” after he fatally shot Ruben Stewart on the night of April 15, 2018.

The complaint was filed June 5 by Janet Jean Big Lake, identified in the documents as Ruben Stewart’s mother and representative of his estate.

Laverne Williamson Big Hair, Stewart’s grandmother who was present at the time of his death, was also listed as a plaintiff.

Court documents state Big Hair had called authorities after her grandson, Stewart, was acting disorderly in the home they shared.

Smells was speaking with Big Hair in the front doorway. Minutes later, Stewart came to the doorway brandishing a paring knife challenging the officer to a fight.

That’s when, according to the documents, Stewart was shot by Officer Smells five times in the immediate proximity of his grandmother.

In February, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme’s office declined to prosecute Smells in connection with the fatal shooting. At the time, Alme stated he could not prove Smells had committed a crime.

Big Lake and Big Hair are asking for damages related to the funeral cost, loss of earning capacity, and emotional pain and suffering.

In the court documents, Big Hair, “lamented that when she asked for law enforcement assistance, it was not to shoot her grandson to death, but only because he was being disorderly.”

This case is set to be brought to U.S. District Court in Billings Aug. 8.

-Mitch Lagge reporting for MTN News
MTN News

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