No Homicide Charge in Drug Rip Case that Ended in Stabbing Death
After an intensive investigation, the Missoula County Attorney's Office has decided not to charge a Missoula man with homicide after a ‘drug rip’ went bad in the restroom of a local restaurant where a Hamilton area man was stabbed and eventually died of his wounds.
Acting Missoula Police Chief Mike Colyer spoke with KGVO News after the Missoula County Attorney’s Office released several affidavits in the case.
According to court documents, Benjamin Mousso and Joshua Paniagua entered the restroom of the restaurant and an altercation ensued when Mousso attempted to rob Paniagua. After a scuffle, Paniagua stabbed Mousso several times and both men left the restroom. Mousso later died from his stab wounds.
“Our responsibility is to get to the truth,” said Acting Chief Colyer. “The incident started that night at about 11:30 p.m. on January 1 when we were notified about the victim of stab wounds in the parking lot of Southgate Mall. Our initial officers responded and provided all the life saving first aid that they could and Mr. Mousso was transported to the hospital where he later was declared deceased.”
Colyer described the initial aspects of the investigation.
“An initial perimeter was set by our patrol team and they used a police dog in an attempt to locate the suspect,” he said. “Really, within 20 minutes of the initial call we had activated an investigative team from our detective division. We sent four investigators, a supervisor and a crime scene technician to the scene and began what was a non-stop intensive investigation. We notified the county attorney’s office very early in the investigation. We had investigators working through the majority of January 2, and in about 15 hours we had identified and interviewed all the people involved. We made a lot of progress in the first 24 hours and felt we had a good grasp of the facts at that point.”
Colyer said their investigation determined whether or not a charge of homicide would be filed.
“We talked through the legal requirements with the county attorney and came to the decision that the suspect, Joshua Paniagua, was eventually charged with some other offenses but would not be charged with a homicide related offense, due to his right to use force to defend himself,” he said.
Colyer laid out the facts that occurred that night.
“Three young men had agreed to meet in the 2100 block of South Avenue to exchange drugs,” he said. “They actually didn’t have any drugs to exchange and they set out to do what is commonly referred to as a ‘drug rip’ in which they planned to assault the other person and take his drugs and or money. That’s when the altercation occurred in the bathroom that eventually led to Mousso’s death.”
Joshua Paniagua is currently in custody charged with criminal distribution of dangerous drugs and tampering with or altering physical evidence, both felonies, and privacy in communication, a misdemeanor.
Bridger Christensen has been charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, a felony, and will respond to a summons to appear in Missoula District Court. The juvenile referred to as S.R. will face charges in youth court.
Colyer said the death of Benjamin Mousso was a tragedy, however he praised his officers for the thorough and complete investigation into the incident.
“There are the right charges,” he said. “It was a really solid investigation and we collaborated well with the Missoula County Attorney’s office. The fact that (Paniagua) is not charged with a homicide is not at all due to a mistake in the investigation. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. It was the thorough investigation that got to the right finding. This is the right conclusion to this case based on the facts that we have. I really appreciate the work that our people did and the deputy county attorneys that helped them sort through all the facts.”
Those involved in the case include 18 year-old Joshua Paniagua who has been charged with criminal distribution of dangerous drugs and tampering with or altering physical evidence, both felonies, and privacy in communication, a misdemeanor.
Also charged was Bridger Christensen with conspiracy to commit robbery, a felony, in addition to a juvenile referred to as S.R. who allegedly participated in the attempted robbery.
No District Court date has yet been set to hear the case.