The Great Falls Police Department is asking for the public's help in finding a suspect in a string of assaults on homeless people in downtown Great Falls in September and October 2021.
Police arrested one suspect, 18-year-old Caleb Lee Swanson, on Dec. 22, 2021, but they are still looking for Zachary Martin Schmitt, 20. Schmitt is described as a six-foot-tall, 170-pound white male with blond hair and brown eyes.
Schmitt has multiple warrants for his arrest, and law enforcement also wants him for questioning regarding several additional crimes. He may be armed and possibly dangerous.
GFPD was notified of these assaults recently and began investigating, according to a Thursday news release.
The Tribune was able to obtain a probable cause affidavit in Swanson's case that gives details of the assaults.
Officers responded to a call on Oct. 5, 2021, reporting an assault on the 100 block of 8th Street North.
Three people reported being assaulted by unknown suspects. The officer noted that one man's face was "swollen, badly bruised and bleeding," and his jaw was contorted and pushed to the right side of his face. A woman received a head injury that required staples and stitches to close, and another man had a minor head contusion.
On Oct. 14, 2021, police were trying to obtain video footage from a nearby church when he was approached by a man who reported he was also assaulted on the same night as the first incident.
The man said he was sleeping on a lawn near the church when he was attacked, sustaining injuries to his face and body, including a possible broken rib.
As the investigation progressed, officers obtained still photos of three men who were captured by security video from a 1st Avenue North gas station walking east toward the scene of the assaults at around 5 a.m. Tips from the public identified two of the men as Swanson and Schmitt, and police were able to confirm that they were the men in the footage.
Police arrested Schmitt on outstanding warrants on Oct. 18, 2021. When the officer told Schmitt he wanted to talk to him about the assaults, Schmitt reportedly asked, "Did you get Caleb yet?" before invoking his right to remain silent. During his arrest, the affidavit states Schmitt was wearing the same hat that could be seen on the surveillance video.
On Oct. 20, 2021, two employees of the same gas station reported that Schmitt and Swanson were yelling profanities at them as they walked to work on the day of the assaults. The witnesses said they believed the two men were challenging them to a fight. The witness statements were supported by video evidence, the affidavit states.
On the same day, investigators also received video from a nearby business showing Schmitt and Swanson approaching the spot where one of the victims was sleeping. The video camera was motion-activated, so it shut off as the two approached the victim's location. A third man that Swanson and Schmitt were with can be seen continuing east down the alley.
Just before 5 a.m., video showed three people walking west in the alley toward the gas station, one of whom was holding a bandage to her head. More video footage gives a better view of two victims leaving the porch of the church.
The affidavit stated that based on the available information, the investigator did not know what actions Schmitt and Swanson took that resulted in the victims' injuries, just that they were likely involved. The affidavit requested a warrant for Swanson for four counts of accountability to misdemeanor assault and one count of disorderly conduct for his alleged profanity toward the gas station employees.
The GFPD release said several community members have participated in a candlelight vigil for the victims, and the police department is aware of the assaults' effects on the community.
"The GFPD takes crimes against all members of our community seriously," the release said, "and appreciates the assistance of community members in helping to solve these types of crimes."
Anyone with information on Schmitt's whereabouts or about the crimes themselves should call Detective Will Fleming at 406-455-8519 or Detective Sergeant Derek Mahlum at 406-781-8926.
The public can also reach out to the GFPD Facebook page, going to P3TIPS.com. Tipsters can remain anonymous, but there may be compensation for the information via Crimestoppers.
This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: GFPD seeks possibly dangerous suspect in assaults on homeless people