After killing of unhoused man, Kalispell shelter criticizes ‘increased rhetoric’ from officials
(Daily Montanan) Following the Sunday killing of Scott Bryan in Kalispell, a local shelter mourned the loss of the unhoused man and criticized “increased rhetoric by some community leaders” as spurring threats against people without homes.
“We’ve never had violent acts like this toward our homeless community until recently,” read the statement by the Samaritan House. “It doesn’t take long for verbal assaults to turn physical.”
Kaleb Elijah Fleck, 19, was charged with deliberate homicide in connection with the case, according to the affidavit of probable cause. Fleck was arraigned Tuesday and is being held in the Flathead County jail on $500,000 bail, according to the jail roster and Kalispell Police Department.
A second man was arrested and released in connection with the case but could still faces charges, said Detective Shane Lidstrom of the Kalispell Police Department.
The affidavit of probable cause outlines the events surrounding Bryan’s killing and the arrests.
After 2 a.m., Sunday, Bryan, 60, was taken to Logan Health Hospital by Kalispell police after officers found him face down in a gas station parking lot “bleeding profusely,” according to the affidavit. One officer said it appeared that Bryan’s nasal cavity had been crushed, with “lacerations and exposed bone.” Bryan was declared dead around 3 a.m.
Chris Krager of the Samaritan House said in an interview a recent letter from Flathead County Commissioners and related ordinances in part created an environment “where some folks obviously feel emboldened.” He said people have been yelling and making threats towards the unhoused community.
In January, Flathead County Commissioners penned an open letter titled “Stop Enabling Homeless Population” that called homelessness a “lifestyle choice for some.”
The Kalispell City Council not long after passed an ordinance that, in part, restricted the use of tents and limited “excessive” personal property allowed in public spaces. The council also approved an ordinance that would criminalize panhandling, as reported by the Daily Inter Lake.
Flathead County Commissioner Brad Abell in a response to emailed questions from the Daily Montanan said he did not have comments about the possible effect the letter had in the incident, but he said “violence by anyone should not be condoned and will not be condoned.”
Commissioner Randy Brodehl said in an emailed response that what took place over the weekend was tragic and should never happen in any community.
“Flathead County currently has nine homicide charges, and multiple attempted homicide charges against inmates in our jail. Every one of these homicides has a terrible impact on our families and our community,” Brodehl said. “At no time will I ever condone these acts of violence and I am committed to protecting our citizens and visitors, and to holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.”
City Manager Doug Russell declined to comment on the Samaritan House statement, citing the ongoing investigation.
Detective Lidstrom confirmed the aftermath of the crime was recorded on the social media platform Snapchat.
According to the affidavit, a female witness showed officers an eight-second video that panned between Fleck and Bryan’s body lying motionless on the ground, with the other man who was also arrested saying “You f–ked that guy up dude,” and Fleck responding “Step up. Step up b-tch.”
Krager said the community is appalled the video was put on Snapchat.
“And if you think about it, he would not be doing that unless he really strongly felt that his audience on social media really kind of wanted to see it,” Krager said.
Lidstrom said the number of investigations into violence against the homeless community has been on the rise recently, noting there have been increased reports and ongoing investigations, but also an uptick in the transient population in the area.
Multiple compounding issues are at play with homelessness in the community, with a weekly affordable rental hotel closing and nothing to replace it, no day center for the unhoused, shrinking mental health services and higher housing occupancy in the summer in the Flathead, Krager said.
“All of this creates a community that is now seeing homelessness more visibly,” Krager said.
The Samaritan House is in the process of building affordable housing units, as well as housing dedicated for veterans. The Flathead Warming Center, which recently gathered to mourn Bryan, is open during the summer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Montana also recently passed $5 million in grants for shelters through House Bill 5.
Krager said Bryan had received some services from the Samaritan House, and although he didn’t know Bryan well, he described him as quiet and respectful and someone wrestling with health issues.
“He absolutely without a doubt was not the kind of guy who would be looking for a fight,” Krager said.