MISSOULA, Mont. — A Missoula man is in jail facing a felony charge after allegedly threatening Missoula City Council members.
Brandon Bryant, 34, was booked into jail on Feb. 11. According to court documents, Bryant exhibited threatening behavior at city meetings on Nov. 18 and Jan. 8 and threatened to “eliminate” people in a YouTube video posted Dec. 19.
“When someone says you’re going to be eliminated, that’s a serious thing,” Missoula Mayor John Engen said. “I think everyone’s actions are appropriate to the situation, and we’ll go from here.”
Bryant has recently been an outspoken participant at Missoula City Council meetings, criticizing the city’s use of tax increment financing -- special tax money used for improvement projects.
Bryant’s comments during a Nov. 18 meeting prompted Engen to gavel the meeting to recess. But Engen said Bryant’s threats -- not his public comment -- are why he was charged.
“Over the past decades, I have seen the same people come to council meeting after council meeting after council meeting criticizing us for all manner of things. Because none of what they ever said rose to the level of suggesting someone needs to be eliminated, we’ll tolerate that all day,” Engen said. “You cross a line when you make a threat.”
Others see Bryant’s arrest differently.
“I think the city is making a terrible mistake right now,” Missoula resident Rembrandt Miller said. “The optics of this look like he’s being punished for speaking out.”
Miller often attends Missoula City Council meetings and, like Bryant, speaks out against the use of tax increment financing.
Miller said he questions why Bryant was arrested in February, months after the alleged threatening behavior and video.
Missoula resident and City Council meeting regular Brian West said he agrees with Miller.
“We were curious what might happen. We wondered if there would be repercussions for speaking, but I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” West said.
Engen said public comment and participation are not why Bryant was arrested; he said public participation is an important part of City Council meetings.
“We’ve had people coming to City Council meetings for 20 years, in some cases on the same topic,” Engen said. “Provided they don’t make threatening behavior, they get their three minutes at the microphone.”
But West said he’s still apprehensive about speaking out at city meetings.
“The level of fear created by the treatment of Brandon Bryant is very effective,” West said. “I don’t want to speak out because of what they might do in response.”
Bryant is in the Missoula County Jail on $100,000 bond.