Kyle Huff’s Community Service (Or Lack Thereof)
In the summer of 2000, Kyle Huff, who shot and killed six people at a Capitol Hill house party on Saturday morning, got into trouble with the law in Whitefish, Montana.
Then 22 years old, Huff had used his 12-gauge Winchester shotgun to shoot up a fiberglass moose that was part of a community art project. After initially denying responsibility for the incident, Huff was caught through ballistics testing and an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers and charged with felony criminal mischief.
If he’d been convicted of a felony in the incident, local authorities probably wouldn’t have let Huff have his 12-gauge shotgun or his .40 caliber Ruger pistol back. (Both of the weapons were with Huff during the shooting on Saturday.) But the Flathead County Attorney’s office allowed Huff to plea-bargain down to a misdemeanor in exchange for $761 in fines, a written letter of apology, and 50 hours of community service, to be conducted at the Stumptown Art Studio in Whitefish. Huff was also given a 60-day suspended sentence, which he would have to serve if he didn’t follow through on the terms of his plea deal.
It’s not clear whether Huff ever paid his fines, but according to Souheir Rawlings, co-director of the art studio, Huff never did his assigned community service at the art center. And according to Whitefish Assistant Police Chief Mike Furda, on January 9, 2002, a letter was sent from the County Prosecutor’s office urging the judge in the case, David Ortley, to do something about Huff’s lack of community service.
The letter was sent on behalf of Deputy County Attorney Dan Guzynski. However, Guzynski told me this afternoon that he doesn’t remember whether he or the judge ever followed up on the Huff matter. Given that the original crime had been plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor, it’s likely Huff’s apparent failure to comply with the plea deal wasn’t pursued by county officials.
Guzynski has requested the files on the Huff case, but can’t get them out of storage until tomorrow. Speculating about what his office should have done, Guzynski told me: “First of all, our office should have done a petition to revoke his suspended sentence.”
Pushing to revoke Huff’s suspended 60-day jail sentence wouldn’t have changed the underlying crime from a misdemeanor back to a felony. (Once a felony is plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor it can’t become a felony again.) But by revoking the suspended sentence, authorities could have forced Huff into jail. Or, given that Huff was apparently living in Seattle by 2002, they could have at least issued a warrant for his arrest in Montana.
Guzynski told me that Flathead County authorities would never have moved to extradite Huff from Seattle—provided they even knew he was here—just because of a Montana warrant arising out of missed community service on a misdemeanor. Guzynski said there is a serious meth problem in Flathead County, and it means authorities there barely have the financial resources to keep the felons who live there locked up.
“We have a jail here that is busting at the seams,” Guzynski told me. “We can’t even keep felons in jail.”
That is how Kyle Huff came to be living in Seattle with only a misdemeanor on his record, the terms of his plea-bargain down from a felony apparently unmet, and his guns still in his possession, ready to be used in another much more serious crime.