Written by Devon Boen
Gunshots, a high-speed chase and mass quantities of drugs outline not the events of an action movie, but the dangerous real-life scenario that occurred the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 5, near Wolf Point.
Robert Belton, 48, of Poplar, allegedly fled from law enforcement after a traffic stop which resulted in multiple counts of assault and drug-related charges.
Belton currently faces misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest, obstructing a peace officer, fleeing from or eluding a peace officer and failure to remain at the scene of an accident. He also faces felony counts of assault on a peace officer, criminal endangerment, tampering with evidence, criminal distribution of drugs and criminal possession with intent to distribute, bringing his charges to nine in total.
The police report stated police were tipped off by an employee at the Cenex East Convenience Store in Wolf Point that a drug deal may have occurred outside the business. It was later confirmed the transaction was captured on a surveillance camera.
Roosevelt County Deputy Tim Lingle and Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice Officer Patrick O’Conner, both assigned to the Big Muddy River Drug Task Force, were called to handle the situation.
Belton was identified as the possible suspect in the drug transaction and was located driving a red Dodge 4x4 pickup traveling eastbound between Wolf Point and Poplar. Lingle and O’Conner conducted a traffic stop, which quickly turned dangerous.
Court documents said Belton hesitated to get out of his vehicle when asked, but complied and officers patted him down for safety purposes. Soon after, Lingle received a cell phone call and moved away from Belton and O’Conner. The report said during this time, Belton began moving back toward his vehicle despite the officers’ orders to remain where he was.
It also said Lingle attempted to turn off the ignition to the truck after Belton entered the driver’s seat. During the scuffle, Lingle’s right hand became threaded through the steering wheel making him unable to exit immediately. O’Conner pulled out his firearm and shot at the driver’s side front tire, but the vehicle was still drivable for the time being.
With the driver’s side door open, and Lingle still partially in the vehicle, Belton began driving east on U.S. Hwy. 2 directly toward a tractor-trailer in the westbound lane.
The court documents said Lingle feared for his life when Belton crashed into the tractor, causing the deputy to be thrown from the truck into the middle of the highway.
Lingle quickly recovered, paged for backup and began pursuing Belton. Both Belton and pursuing law enforcement officers reached speeds upward of 90 MPH and several cars had to pull over because Belton was swerving into other lanes. A Goldwing rider was forced to lay the motorcycle down in the westbound lane to avoid being struck by Belton, reports court documents.
Documents said during the chase, police noticed a Crown Royal bag flying through the air.
Belton’s tire was also beginning to fall apart, which resulted in Belton pulling over to the side of the road near mile marker 606 on U.S. Hwy. 2 west of Poplar and opening his door.
O’Conner parked alongside the pickup in order to block Belton from escaping. The officers brought Belton to the ground and, although he resisted, were eventually able to handcuff and arrest him. Shortly after Belton attempted to abandon his truck, the Dodge pickup burst into flames.
Ambulances arrived on scene and tended to Lingle who had injuries including lacerations on his knees and elbows and was experiencing overall body pain.
After the pursuit, Belton received medical attention and was arrested. The Crown Royal bag was recovered and contained what was later identified as 3.25 ounces of methamphetamine and $12,190 in cash.
Belton faces a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $500 fine for his resisting arrest charge as well as his obstructing a peace officer charge, one year in prison and $2,000 for fleeing or eluding an officer and 20 days in prison and a $300 fine for failure to remain at the scene of an accident.
He also faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for his charge of assaulting an officer. He faces the same punishment for criminal endangerment and tampering with physical evidence. The charge of criminal distribution of drugs carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $50,000 fine, and criminal possession with intent to distribute carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Belton is currently being held on $505,000 bond in Roosevelt County Jail, and his initial appearance date was set for Sept. 12 in the Montana 15th Judicial District Court.