A man who shot a Wal-Mart co-worker during an argument at the store's loading dock Monday night has been released pending further investigation, according to the Billings Police Department.
Billings Police Sgt. Jay Berry said that Craig Schmidt shot Daniel Lira after Lira allegedly hit him in the face. Schmidt, 49, fell backwards, and then used a small handgun to shoot Lira in the head, police said.
Lira, 32, was taken to St. Vincent Healthcare and has been released.
Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos advised police that Schmidt should be released under a law passed by the Montana Legislature last session. The legislation, known as House Bill 228, may require the state to prove that the use of force is unjustified when a shooter makes a self-defense claim.
Billings police received a call about the shooting, which took place at the Wal-Mart on King Avenue West, at 9:11 p.m.
This is a breaking news update. For more details, read the morning report below.
One man was taken into custody and another hospitalized after he was shot in the head Monday night at the West End Wal-Mart in Billings.
Billings Police Sgt. Jason Gartner said police arrested the suspect at gunpoint without incident outside the loading dock, apparently where both men worked. The victim, who was shot in the forehead, was taken St. Vincent Healthcare.
Gartner said employees told police that the men worked together at the store and were unloading a semitrailer when the shooting occurred.
"These guys knew each other. They had words and a shot was fired."
Police arriving at the store at about 9:15 p.m. found a man who matched a suspect description on the east side of the building. Police later found a gun in the area, Gartner said.
Inside the loading dock area, police found the gunshot victim. "Surprisingly, he was conscious and holding a rag over his face," Gartner said.
Police searched the parking lot outside the loading dock and found a semiautomatic pistol, Gartner said. Police did not release the caliber of the gun.
The victim's condition was not available at press time, but police detective Sgt. Jay Berry said he would be hospitalized overnight for observation. Police hoped to interview him at the hospital.
The suspect was interviewed by detectives and was expected to be booked in to jail overnight. Police impounded the suspect's vehicle. Gartner said they did not know if the older-model white Nissan pickup was involved, but police impounded it as a precaution.
Police talked with half a dozen co-workers who were lined up outside the building within the yellow crime scene tape that was stretched between light poles and shopping carts. Their accounts of the incident varied, Berry said, depending on where they were when the shot was fired.
Employees were reluctant to talk to the media but did say the store has more than 300 employees. None of those approached were aware of any details of the shooting, which took place in a backroom area of the store away from customers and most staff.
Employees were allowed back into the store at about 10:25 p.m. and customers were allowed in shortly after 11 p.m.
Morriah Kovar said she and her friends were buying supplies so they can set up shop as vendors at Crow Fair, which begins Thursday. Her business, Native Sun, sells crafts, and she and her friends were buying supplies to camp during the weekend event. Their list continued to grow as they stood outside the Wal-Mart.
When police responded to the call of a shooting, the initial information was vague, Gartner said, and officers treated the situation as if there could be an active shooter roaming throughout the store.
Officers carry rifles and shotguns in their patrol cars, so they are able to respond immediately to similar situations and several officers took their rifles into the store, Gartner said.
"They came in prepared for the worst," Berry said.
Police and emergency services were called to the tire shop area of the store, on the east side near the load dock where the shooting took place. At least 10 Billings police converged on the store when the call came in. The store was quickly emptied of shoppers when they were notified of the shooting.
Hundreds of people milled around the parking lot, many of them talking on cell phones.
Kelsey Borsious and Tera Segura were shopping for cat toys when police came running in the store.
"They had really big guns," Borsious said. And they yelled at the girls to leave the store.
"There were seven or eight of them, it was like a SWAT team of cops," Segura said.
The girls perched outside the doorway because they said they still need their items.
"We're going to go back in," Borsious said. "I've got a lot of stuff I need to get."