A Missoula math professor thought his dog was chasing his cat around his home Monday morning when he heard some commotion from inside the house. When he started hearing louder-than-usual sirens and noticed a rapidly growing police presence around his property, however, his inclination shifted.
“I briefly opened my front door and learned authorities were seeking the whereabouts of one or more individuals,” Josef "Joe" Crepeau wrote in an open letter to the community. “My interpretation of the noise quickly changed. I felt I should convince myself the subject or subjects of the search were not [the cause of the noise] so I decided to search my home for intruders.”
Crepeau, 58, provided his letter to the Missoulian and elaborated in person Tuesday.
He said he grabbed his 9 mm Beretta and began the search, starting from the top floor, as he reminded himself of training protocols and worked to "ramp myself down." In the basement, he saw an open door that led outside and became more cautious.
"I then made use of my handgun to tip the balance of power in my favor," Crepeau, a resident of Missoula since 1976, wrote in his letter.
When speaking to the Missoulian at his office in Missoula College on Tuesday, Crepeau joked that the state of affairs in the basement might have served as a deterrent. "I was hoping that he took one look at that hell hole of a basement and ran away."
However, when he looked in the furnace room, he saw the intruder crouched down, and he finally chambered a round.
"He was clearly in distress. He was panting and sweating and just shaking," Crepeau said. Crepeau believes the intruder heard him chamber a round. "He became very cooperative very quickly."
Crepeau said he wanted a nonviolent conclusion and his finger never touched the trigger throughout the process.
In a tone his wife refers to as his "mean voice," Crepeau said he ordered the intruder to stand up, put his hands up, keep them up, and eventually, come forward slowly. He turned the intruder to make sure he was in front of him, lowered his weapon, and marched him up the stairs.
At one point, he said the intruder started talking, but Crepeau didn't let it last. "I ordered him to keep his mouth closed" with the help of some expletives.
Outside, he alerted law enforcement and turned the man over to authorities. Crepeau said he put down is firearm and got on the ground because he knew he would be handcuffed as part of protocol. He said the authorities quickly verified he was the property owner and let him go.
Crepeau said he is grateful for law enforcement authorities, and he stressed the importance of "training, training, training," in the use of firearms. He himself has done lots of competitive shooting, although he hasn't found himself in a similar situation for many, many years.
"The Second Amendment is too precious to screw around with willy-nilly," Crepeau said. "With great power comes great responsibility."
He praised in particular the Western Montana Fish and Game Association at the Deer Creek Shooting Range.
Missoula police identified the intruder as 22-year-old Justin Delaney. The case drew plenty of community interest as Crepeau, an associate professor of mathematics and the chair of the Department of Applied Arts and Sciences at the University of Montana, escorted Delaney outside his home at gunpoint and turned him over to police. A Missoula County Sheriff's Office post about the incident has been shared more than 300 times on Facebook.
Delaney appeared in Missoula County Justice Court on Tuesday on several felony charges, including burglary and theft, as well as reckless driving and fleeing from a police officer, both misdemeanors. He is also charged with felony possession of drugs for the bag of meth Missoula police say was found in the vehicle Delaney allegedly stole, triggering the pursuit, according to charging documents filed Tuesday.
Law enforcement was alerted at 7:48 a.m. to a vehicle being stolen from the parking lot of a residence; the owner of the vehicle said she had left the key in the ignition and it was stolen within 10 minutes.
A deputy located the stolen pickup on Mullan Road and attempted a traffic stop, but the driver sped away, according to reports.
The effort to stop the stolen vehicle drew multiple agencies who deployed roadblocks and spike strips, each unsuccessful in stopping the suspect. The driver reportedly took off across yards and fields, tearing out gates, fences and damaging a mailbox along the way, charging documents state.
Law enforcement followed the tracks to Crepeau’s home on Haven Heights Drive, about the time Crepeau was reconsidering his interpretation of that noise he believed to be his pets.
“We are glad that no one was hurt in the incident yesterday morning,” Missoula Police Sgt. and Public Information Officer Travis Welsh told the Missoulian Tuesday.
Missoula Deputy County Attorney Mark Handelman said in court Tuesday that Delaney is the subject of an outstanding warrant from Idaho. Records from the Idaho Department of Corrections show he was sentenced in Butte County on a burglary charge. He is currently listed as a fugitive there.
Justice of the Peace Landee Holloway set Delaney’s bail at $75,000.
“I am grateful for the exceptional professionalism displayed by the members of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, the Montana Highway Patrol, and the Missoula Police Department during and after the activities noted above. It is through their diligence that we are able to feel safe and secure as members of a community,” Crepeau said in his letter.
“I strongly encourage any citizen who desires to use their Second Amendment rights to lawfully employ firearms for personal protection do so only after successfully completing appropriate training by a competent and professional firearms instructor. Please remember with great power comes great responsibility. The decision to use firearms for personal protection should never be made without full understanding of the power and responsibilities involved.”
Crepeau said Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott shook his hand to thank him after the incident.
Crepeau himself returned to work and turned in final grades for the semester.