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During summer 2001, Burgert fought the assault charge in court and avoided prison. Meanwhile, Project 7 continued to stockpile provisions and train one another in wilderness first aid, edible plant identification and the handling of firearms. Then, over the course a few days in November, the situation changed.
On Thanksgiving Day, 2001, a 12-year-old boy named Kodi Quinn went hunting with his father, Kelly, on Stryker Ridge north of Whitefish. The day was cold and the pair became disoriented in a snowstorm. Newspaper accounts of the incident say Kodi turned “lethargic” and his father found a tree well, protected from the elements, for him to wait in while he found help. After making it back to the road, Kelly called search and rescue.
Burgert heard the call come in over the radio and contacted Sheriff Dupont saying he’d led snowmobiling trips in the Stryker Ridge area and that he could help. Dupont refused.
The search lasted through the night, but to no avail. Kodi’s frozen body was recovered the next afternoon.
Burgert’s mother, Phyllis Richards, received a call from her son the day Kodi was found.
“He was crying like a baby. He said, ‘Mom, I could have found that boy, I knew where he was,’” she remembers. “That’s when David lost it. “
Two days later, on Nov. 27, Burgert was asked by a Missoula attorney to help serve process papers to a Kalispell woman. Burgert had helped the attorney before, serving papers in the Flathead Valley. According to the attorney, who wishes to remain anonymous because of how his connection to Burgert affected his personal and professional life, he and another process server had searched for the woman all day, but couldn’t find her. They left the documents with Burgert before heading back to Missoula, but on their way out of Kalispell spotted the woman’s husband, a local doctor. They began following him and the man called 911, claiming he was being stalked. The attorney was pulled over by Kalispell police.
The attorney says he called Burgert and asked him to bring the papers to the scene, proof that he wasn’t stalking. When Burgert arrived, however, an officer immediately asked him to leave. When Burgert refused, a video recording of the incident shows one officer ordering another officer to “get [Burgert] to leave or arrest him.” The officer then douses Burgert in the face with pepper spray and puts him in handcuffs.
The Missoula attorney was let go, and a police department security camera recording shows Burgert getting booked. His face is puffy and his eyes are swollen shut. He continually tries to rub his head on his shoulders. He spits on the floor and complains about the burning in his eyes, throat and nose. He is agitated and confrontational with the officers as they process him, but Burgert complies as they pat-search his body. One of the officers then leaves the room and turns on a shower, presumably to decontaminate the prisoner. Burgert spits again just as Police Chief Frank Garner enters the room and walks past Burgert, directly to the shower. He turns it off and orders a canvas bag be put over Burgert’s head. Burgert writhes and seems to panic.
“I cannot breathe,” he says. “And I’m sick to my stomach.”
Garner responds coolly, as if talking to a child.
“Well you sound like you’re breathing to me, David.”
Burgert was released early the next morning.