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Coram man arrested for criminal endangerment entangled in family dispute

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | July 7, 2022 12:00 AM

A Coram man accused of threatening his brother and another individual last month, and later was arrested allegedly with multiple firearms, has pleaded not guilty to a felony criminal endangerment charge.

Joseph Thomas Oliver, 36, entered the plea before Judge Dan Wilson in Flathead County District Court on June 30. He also made a failed bid to see bail lowered from $100,000 that revealed new details about the circumstances leading up to his arrest.

Deputies with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office arrested Oliver on June 10 after receiving a call from his relations, who said they had tracked him down and confronted him after hearing he was in the area. Oliver allegedly admitted that he had gone by their house several times in recent days, observing them doing chores and putting them in the “crosshairs of his gun.”

When authorities located Oliver near the intersection of Smith Lake Road and Windsong Court about 9:52 p.m., they found a semi-automatic rifle with several magazines and a handgun in his vehicle, court documents said.

DURING A subsequent bail reduction hearing, Oliver’s mother testified that her other son — one of the victims in the case — was untrustworthy.

“[He] has a history of lying and making up stories,” said Jodi Oliver from the witness stand. “And this is very typical of what he’s done in the past.”

Jodi Oliver said the death of her ex-husband, the father of both boys, had created a rift in the family. Prior to his death, Joseph Oliver’s brother made up a new will, putting him in charge of the estate. He received all of it following his father’s demise, Jodi Oliver said.

At the older man’s funeral, Joseph Oliver attempted to hug his brother, she recalled. In response, the victim pushed him off, pulled out his phone and called 911, Jodi Oliver said.

“[His] credibility problem goes way back,” Jodi Oliver said. “It’s not anything new with [him].”

The family was unable to afford bail, she testified, meaning that Joseph Oliver would remain in the county jail and be unable to work. She asked for his release on his own recognizance. Were he set free, he would live in one of her brother-in-law’s cabins in the Coram area, she said.

Deputy County Attorney John Donovan pushed back on Jodi Oliver’s description of the defendant, asking whether he had a substance abuse problem.

“I think he is an alcoholic,” she acknowledged, describing him as a “happy drunk.”

As she tried to recall his attendance at 12-step meetings, Joseph Oliver interjected from the defendant’s stand, leading to Judge Dan Wilson shutting him down.

Following Jodi Oliver’s testimony, Donovan called one of the victims, Jami Benz, to testify to the threat she felt Joseph Oliver posed to her and his brother. When Donovan asked if she was scared for her safety, she said, “Yes.”

“That I might die. Or [Joseph Oliver’s brother] might die or I might get injured or even my neighbors might sue,” she said.

Months prior to his arrest, the two had received a phone call from the Columbia Falls Police Department alerting them to threats Joseph Oliver allegedly made against them, she testified. Authorities in Columbia Falls learned about the threat from Jodi Oliver, Benz said, who had contacted the police department there.

Like Jodi Oliver, Benz said she thought Joseph Oliver suffered from a substance abuse issue. They only ever saw him when he “shows up at the house drunk,” she said.

Daniel Wood, Joseph Oliver’s defense attorney, similarly probed Benz’s version of events asking if she knew of any investigation into the alleged threat from months back. She did not. Police officers never made direct contact with her regarding it either, Benz said.

WILSON ULTIMATELY denied the motion to lower bail, pointing to the presence of firearms in Joseph Oliver’s vehicle, the differing levels of credibility of the witnesses and the thorny matter of his father’s estate.

He described Joseph Oliver’s weaponry and the fact that his mother allegedly reported him to authorities once previously over threats as “troubling.” It also cast doubt on Jodi Oliver’s testimony, Wilson said. At the same time, he acknowledged the difficulty of untangling an ongoing family dispute.

Wilson also expressed doubt that Joseph Oliver would be unable to get his hands on firearms were he released.

“The court is concerned largely with public safety in this case,” he said prior to denying the motion.

Wilson scheduled an omnibus hearing in the case for Nov. 16 with Joseph Oliver expected back in court for a Jan. 4 pretrial conference. If convicted, he faces up to decade in the Montana State Prison and a $50,000 fine.

News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or dperkins@dailyinterlake.com.

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