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HAMILTON - A coroner's inquest found Tuesday that Hamilton Police Officer Ross Jessop was justified in shooting Raymond Thane Davis to death after the Hamilton man opened fire during a late-night traffic stop in January.

It took a six-woman jury one hour to make its ruling following nearly five hours of testimony, which included a video that showed Davis pointing a pistol inches from Jessop's face and pulling the trigger.

The click of the revolver's hammer hitting a previously fired round was audible in the recording.

Davis fired a second time as the officer fell back and drew his own weapon.

Jessop fired his pistol 14 times into Davis' vehicle as it sped away. One round hit Davis, 36, in the back and he died at the scene.

Davis' .41 caliber revolver was recovered from the floorboard of his vehicle. Its hammer was cocked and ready to fire.

***

Witnesses testified Tuesday that Davis' taste for whiskey and a bad case of jealousy were to blame for the fatal confrontation.

Shannon Diaz, bar manager at Hamilton's Office and Silver Coin Casino, said Davis was acting strange enough on the evening of Jan. 1 that she wouldn't serve alcohol to him.

"He was completely not like himself ... when he starts drinking whiskey, he just completely turns into a different person," Diaz said.

She told him he needed to leave.

Davis returned later and found his girlfriend, Diaz and another man sitting outside. The man - who is African-American - had loaned Davis' girlfriend his coat.

That set off Davis, Diaz said.

He shouted racial epithets and later texted the same to his girlfriend. When he returned to the bar, Diaz had bouncers and her husband put him out.

She said someone later received a text message saying Davis had a gun.

Tracy Womack, owner of the Ponderosa Bar, said Davis was fine when she first saw him around 9 p.m., but she knew he'd been fighting with his girlfriend when he came back later and continued drinking.

When Davis' girlfriend came back to the Ponderosa later, she asked to hide behind the bar.

"She sat on a little stool. ... She didn't want him to see her," Womack said.

He spotted her the second time he came back and started yelling racial epithets at her again. Womack told him to leave.

"I knew I needed to protect her and get him gone," she said.

Davis moved to the Rainbow Bar, where he continued to drink.

The bartender there, Nicholas Renzo, remembered wrapping up Davis' hand, which was bleeding.

"He said he hit a wall or something. ... Anyone who knows him, knows he shouldn't drink whiskey," Renzo testified. "He gets violent."

He later told Renzo later he had a gun.

Just before Davis got ready to leave at about 1:30 a.m., he looked at Renzo and told him "It was nice knowing you. I'm not going to see you for a while."

Renzo said he thought was the alcohol talking.

***

Jessop was raised in Pinesdale. He is a 2001 Corvallis graduate who had been working at the Hamilton Police Department since 2008.

On Jan. 1, he came on shift at 4:45 p.m. and was scheduled to get off work 10 hours later, at 2:45 a.m.

That night, Jessop first saw Davis talking to two Hamilton police officers.

The officers were questioning Davis about battery cables that had been cut on his girlfriend's car. The officers told Jessop that Davis was heavily intoxicated and had been warned not to drive.

Not long afterward, Jessop spotted Davis' Lincoln Navigator driving north of Second Street. He pulled in behind and followed the vehicle as it turned on Adirondack Street. When Davis used a turn lane to drive straight through the next intersection, Jessop turned on his lights.

Davis crossed the railroad tracks on Fairgrounds Road and pulled over on a patch of dirt almost directly across from the fairgrounds entrance.

Jessop activated his spotlight, then saw something he'd never before seen during a traffic stop: Davis reached out and slowly adjusted his mirror so he could see the officer.

"That's very unusual," Jessop testified. "Our spotlights are very bright and they hurt your eyes."

Most people immediately turn their mirrors so the light is reflected away from their face, he said.

"At that point, I was caught off guard," Jessop said. "I approached with a little more caution than I usually do."

***

Jessop could smell the alcohol on Davis as soon as he neared the window. He asked the man how much he'd had to drink that night.

"Plenty," came the reply.

Jessop said the face that stared out the window that night was hard to describe.

"It was argumentative ... very sure of himself, almost cocky."

Jessop asked him what he meant by plenty. A split second later the officer was staring down the barrel of Davis' .41 Magnum Smith & Wesson pistol.

"The end looked bigger than a quarter," Jessop said.

Jessop heard a click.

Davis pulled the trigger and the hammer fell on an empty round.

"My very first thought - after I realized it was a revolver - was I was terrified. Absolutely terrified," Jessop testified. "I recall thinking I wasn't going to see my wife again. I wasn't going to see my mom, my brothers or my sisters, or my co-workers or my dogs. I was terrified."

Jessop moved his face away from the threat as fast as he could.

"I did hear the click," he said. "I remember stopping. I was actually hoping it was just a joke ... I remember thinking why would you do that to an officer."

And then he saw Davis' head readjust.

"I remember thinking the reason he's readjusting his head is he's going to shoot again," Jessop said.

He ran toward the back of Davis' vehicle, while drawing his Glock 22.

He heard a gunshot.

"My next thought was I had to defend myself and eliminate the threat to me," Jessop said. "I don't recall drawing my weapon. I do remember my first shot. I was conscious that I was shooting my gun."

Jessop thought he'd fired seven or eight rounds. It turned out he'd fired 14.

Six bullets hit Davis' vehicle, including the one that drove through the passenger and driver's seats and into Davis' back.

After Davis' vehicle struck a building and came to a stop, Jessop loaded his rifle and got in his car and moved closer.

Ravalli County Attorney George Corn asked him why - after he'd nearly been killed - did he move closer to his assailant.

"My duty as an officer is to make sure the community is safe," Jessop said. "I had no idea if I hit him or not. My thought was to get close enough to keep the area safe and keep myself safe."

Davis was dead when he was pulled from his vehicle by officers not long afterward.

***

John Pohle, the Powell County coroner, presided over Tuesday's inquest.

The investigation of the shooting was completed by the Missoula Police Department, and the investigative team testified Tuesday.

Missoula Police Lt. Steve Brester, who led the investigation, said Jan. 1 wasn't the first time Davis had been on the wrong side of the law.

Davis was a registered violent offender with a criminal history going back 10 years, including a felony conviction for assault on a police officer.

At the end of the hearing, Corn called Brester to the stand one last time.

By now, Jessop was sitting in the front row, flanked by his fellow officers. His wife was sitting a row back and other supporters filled the courtroom.

Corn wanted Brester's professional opinion: Was it necessary for Jessop to shoot Davis?

"My opinion is that Mr. Davis purposely put his .41 Magnum into the face of Officer Jessop with the intention of killing him," Brester replied. "Officer Jessop had no choice but to respond with lethal force."

The jury agreed unanimously.

Ravalli Republic editor Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at editor@ravallirepublic.com.

 

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