2 deny charges in Columbus locker room burglary, car thefts

Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, October 10, 2019
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Two men arrested for allegedly stealing phones, wallets, keys and two students’ cars during a Columbus High School football game last month have denied all charges against them.

Dalton Cole Hilliard and Grant Russell, both 23, appeared in handcuffs and jail clothing in 22nd Judicial District Court last Thursday. Each pleaded not guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and theft by common scheme. Russell also pleaded not guilty to burglary and Hilliard pleaded not guilty to burglary by accountability.

Also in the courtroom were the victims in the case — approximately 19 Columbus High School football players wearing their jerseys, as well as some parents and Columbus Superintendent Jeff Bermes. The players and parents quietly watched each suspect appear before Judge Matt Wald.

Hilliard looked directly into the gallery as he walked from the holding box to the defense table, looking at the players. Russell held his head down throughout his appearance.

Russell is already a convicted felon out of Yellowstone County from a criminal possession with intent to distribute case in 2015, according to the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC).

Judge Wald granted a request from Deputy Stillwater County Attorney Tom English to leave Russell’s bond at $50,000. DOC has already held a hearing and remanded him to state custody for failure to abide by the conditions of his probation.

Hilliard is also being held on $50,000 bond. He currently is facing multiple charges in Carbon County, including assault with a weapon, criminal endangerment and theft, according to the Carbon County District Clerk’s Office.

As of Wednesday, both men remained jailed at the Rosebud County Jail.


Police were called to the Columbus High School at 9:31 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20, on a report of several items being taken from what appeared to be a burglary from the Cougar locker room, according to court documents. Some of the items stolen included wallets, debit cards, Apple watches, iPhones and Android cell phones and keys to vehicles.

Columbus Police Officer Aaron Uecker told the coach to have his students check to see if their vehicles were still in the parking lot. Two boys discovered their cars were missing — a 2006 Silver Audi A6 that was missing its front bumper and a black 2013 BMW X5.

As Officer Uecker was collecting information, a student told him that his stolen debit card had just been used at the Park City Zip Trip for $6.08, according to court documents.

Three Stillwater County Sheriff’s deputies immediately responded to Park City and while watching surveillance video, spotted both stolen cars at the fuel pumps. Also seen were two men, the taller of whom appeared to be wearing a gray, baggy hoodie with dark color on the sleeves. The video showed both stolen cars getting on the I-90 on-ramp, heading east at 9:23 p.m.

Through video footage provided by the Columbus schools, it was determined the Columbus football team entered the locker room around 8 p.m. for halftime. Most of the students checked their phones in the locker room. The players and coaches left the locker room at approximately 8:16 p.m.

Approximately three minutes later, a man dressed in a baggy, gray hoodie with dark color on the sleeves and wearing a ballcap entered the locker room, entering the building from the most western entrance to the gym. The video shows someone leaving the building at 8:32 p.m.

Outdoor video footage showed the black BMW leave the school parking lot at approximately 8:42 p.m. and return at 9:03 p.m. When the car pulled into the parking lot, “the lights on the parked Audi start blinking. Once the BMW entered the parking lot, a male jumped out of the passenger side of the BMW and ran toward the Audi, subsequently getting in the driver’s side of the Audi, backing out, and then both vehicles exit the parking lot,” according to court documents.

During a canvass of local businesses, Columbus Police Chief Jacob Ward found footage that showed Hilliard had been in a casino that evening.

The following day, the Rosebud County Sheriff’s Office responded to an attempted theft at a grocery store. Upon arrival, the deputy recognized the car the suspect had gotten into as one that had been stolen from Columbus on the previous day, according to court documents. While the theft suspects were still in the grocery store, the deputy photographed the car and sent it to Chief Ward to confirm it was the stolen Audi. Hilliard was photographed inside the grocery store.

Deputies waited for the suspects to get into the stolen car and attempted a traffic stop at a gas station, which led to a brief chase. Hilliard and Russell abandoned the car and were found and arrested nearby. Deputies viewed video from the gas station showing both Hilliard and Russell.

“These men appear to be the same men as the individuals shown in the Park City Zip Trip surveillance. Pursuing officers identified Hilliard as the driver of the Audi while it was fleeing from the convenience store. Defendant Russell is noticeably taller than Hilliard,” according to court documents.

Several items stolen from the Columbus locker room were found in the Audi.

Authorities believe they have recovered the keys to the BMW, but as of this early this week, had not found it.