A coroner’s jury ruled 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 the six-woman jury one hour to make its ruling following nearly five hours of testimony, which included a videotape 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 on the tape.
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 the man in the back. Davis, 36, died on the scene.
His .41 caliber revolver was recovered on the floorboard. Its hammer was cocked and ready to fire.
Witnesses testified Tuesday 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 Diaz, his girlfriend and another man sitting outside. The man, who is African American, had loaned Davis’ girlfriend his coat.
That set Davis off, 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.
Davis moved to the Rainbow Bar where he continued to drink whiskey and cokes.
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.”
Jessop was raised in Pinesdale. He is a 2001 Corvallis graduate who has been working with the Hamilton Police Department since 2008.
On Jan. 1, he came on shift at 4:45 p.m. He was scheduled to get off work 10 hours later at 2:45 a.m.
Jessop first saw Davis that night talking to two Hamilton police officers.
The men were questioning Davis about some battery cables that had been cut on his girlfriend’s car earlier that night. Jessop saw Davis shake the officers’ hands and go back inside.
The officers told Jessop that Davis was heavily intoxicated and had been warned not to drive.
Not long afterwards, Jessop spotted Davis’ Lincoln Navigator driving north on 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.
And then the officer saw something that he’d never seen before 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.
“At that point, I was caught off guard,” he 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 drank 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 a .41 magnum Smith and 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 coworkers 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, Model 22.
He heard a gunshot.
Jessop thought he’d fired 7 or 8 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 stuck the power company’s 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 just been nearly 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 afterwards.
The investigation of the shooting was completed by the Missoula Police Department. The investigative team all testified Tuesday. John Pohle, the Powell County Coroner presided over the inquest.
Missoula Police Department Lt. Steve Brester led the investigation.
At the end of the hearing, Corn called Brester back to the stand one last time.
Corn wanted Brester’s professional opinion: Was it necessary for Officer 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.