Friday, Oct. 15, was University of Montana custodian William Montaven’s 24th birthday, so he went out drinking with his buddy Gene Hermanson, 21, a senior economics student. They hit the Oxford and then the Missoula Club, where they met Montaven’s bother Bob Ranney, 39. Hermanson says he had a buzz from a beer at each place, and Monthaven was feeling no pain.
A little after 11 p.m., Montaven and Hermanson left the Missoula Club on foot and walked down East Main Street toward the Union Club. On the 100 block, between Higgins Avenue and Pattee Street, they came across a crowd of late-teens estimated by the two at about 20, and by the police who came later as closer to 40. Montaven walked away with a concussion from what happened next and says he can’t remember any details.
Hermanson says he was walking ahead of his friend when he heard words pass between Montaven and a guy in the crowd—he didn’t know what, or who started it—and then Montaven was up against a glass window and punches were landing on him. Three or four guys, Hermanson remembers, knocked Montaven down and continued kicking him. One turned on Hermanson and blackened his eye and bloodied his mouth. A guy told Hermanson to just go; a girl insisted he turn his T-shirt, which happened to read “Fuck Bush,” inside out. Hermanson objected and turned away. Someone pushed him in the back. He finally took the shirt off and threw it in the street and walked down the block, where he called 911 on his cell phone.
When the police arrived, Montaven apparently told them he didn’t need medical attention. In fact he was splattered with blood and had multiple fractures to his nose and a concussion. When Montaven proved unable to describe a specific suspect, Hermanson says, the cops let him wander off on his way home to the University Villages apartments, off South Avenue.
Hermanson also could not identify his attackers and asked for a ride home. The police, Hermanson says, told him “we’re not your babysitters,” but offered to call a cab if Hermanson wanted to pay the $10.
Hermanson found a bus instead. As of when he left the scene, Hermanson says, the officers had not addressed the nearby crowd of 20 to 40 teens.
Hermanson got home and went to Montaven’s nearby apartment to check on him. He wasn’t there. That’s when Hermanson grabbed a neighbor, got in a car and went out looking. They found Montaven on the North Side, at the corner of Phillips and Holmes streets, when he finally answered his cell phone. They picked him up and drove him to the St. Patrick Hospital emergency room.
Sgt. Travis Welch knows big groups of kids hang down on the 100 block of East Main Street on Friday and Saturday nights, drinking, smoking, maybe some pot, showing off for girls. Fights are rare, he says. There’s not a “pattern of assault.” But there’s “lots of activity.”
In fact there was an almost identical assault, by members of a similarly described crowd, in the same spot, just a few weeks before. At first Welch can’t recall the date; later he confirms that it was Saturday night, Oct. 2., just east of Higgins Avenue on East Main Street, when another downtown pedestrian was taken to a doctor with a mild concussion.
Welch is unaware of any reason to believe that the attacks were related.
Normally what the police would do in a situation like this, Welch says, is increase patrols in the area, which he says has happened. “It seems we may have a public safety issue,” Welch says.
The police report describes the crowd only by quantity, but notes that the victims were “very intoxicated.”
Montaven doesn’t even know why he was hit. His nose was caved in, though, and last week he had surgery to fix it, and had his nose stuffed with bloody gauze for days. He still can’t breathe out of his left nostril. “I don’t remember feeling any pain until the surgery,” he says. His hospital bills are running into the thousands. Luckily, he’s got insurance. He’s waiting for the doctor’s okay to go back to work.
He hasn’t been downtown since.
“It’s a wake-up call for me. I’ve got to stop going out on weekends and drinking.”
He wonders if the police were really on his side. If it happened again, he says, “Why would I even call the cops? It didn’t really do us any good.”
But most of all he wonders why he got hit.
“I just want to ask the guy, ‘What the hell did I do?’ My mom said he must have had a lot of anger inside him. I guess he let it out on me.”