The Missoula County Attorney’s Office has filed felony aggravated animal cruelty charges against three men suspected of shooting house pets in the Lolo area with large blowgun darts in September and October.
Tucker Parsons Miller, 20, Hayden Duane Barker, 18, and Matthew David Breeden, 20, also face felony charges of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.
Felony animal cruelty is punishable by a maximum of two years in the Montana State Prison and a $2,500 fine. Tampering with evidence is punishable by up to 10 years and a $50,000 fine.
Beginning in the last week of September, seven different pet owners in the Lolo area found large darts lodged in the necks and chests of their pets, which ranged from cats to Siberian husky dogs. All of the animals survived.
At least 15 other individuals reported finding darts on their property.
According to an affidavit, one Lolo homeowner saw a light-colored pickup stop in the street with its engine running, then heard a loud “bang” as something struck his living room window. He discovered a steel blowgun dart in the grass beneath his window and one stuck in his roof.
The homeowner did some research on the Internet, determined that the truck was likely a newer GMC or Chevy truck and turned over the darts to Missoula Animal Control.
A big break in the case came when a concerned citizen called law enforcement because he remembered seeing a man buy a blowgun and what appeared to be a large number of darts at a local sporting goods store, according to the affidavit.
The citizen, who was visiting town and buying fishing gear, told detectives he didn’t think much of it at the time, but he knew it might be important when his mother posted the story of pets being shot with a blowgun on her Facebook page.
A detective contacted the store’s loss prevention officer, who was able to locate the transaction that included the sale of a blowgun on Sept. 23, according to the affidavit. The employee said the store hadn't sold any blowguns like it in the months leading up to that transaction, and detectives could not find a similar sale anywhere else in the area.
Detectives also reviewed video surveillance of the buyer arriving in the store's parking lot in a newer Chevy pickup truck, accompanied by two men and two women.
The driver was later identified as Miller, and the men entering the store with him were identified as Barker and Breeden, according to the affidavit.
On Oct. 10, detectives met with Barker, but he told them he didn’t know anything about pets being darted with a blowgun.
According to the affidavit, however, Miller met with detectives on Oct. 12 and identified his friends in surveillance photos taken from the store parking lot.
Miller allegedly admitted to buying the blowgun and darts, and said that he and Breeden shot two or three cats around a Dumpster in a trailer park when they were “kind of bored” one night. He said he didn't think Barker was with them when the cats were shot.
Miller also claimed the blowgun and darts had been stolen from the back of his truck.
When detectives spoke with Breeden, he admitted to shooting three cats and said he was ashamed that he was involved, according to the affidavit. He claimed that it was not his idea.
During an Oct. 22 interview at the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office with his attorney present, Breeden admitted he didn't provide detectives the true story during his first interview, according to the affidavit.
He allegedly admitted that he, Miller and Barker all shot cats, but denied targeting a dog.
Breeden also allegedly told detectives that he and the other two men got nervous after news of the pets being darted spread on social media. He said he and Miller took the blowgun into the mountains, destroyed it and buried it beside a dirt road. He later led detectives to the blowgun, which had been chopped into pieces.
According to the affidavit, when Barker and Miller were interviewed a second time they admitted to lying to detectives in their earlier interviews, and they admitted to shooting cats.
Initial court appearances have not been scheduled for the suspects.