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Ronan man sentenced for his part in woman’s death

POLSON — A Ronan man was sentenced to 15 years in the Department of Corrections last week with 10 years suspended for a drunk driving incident that resulted in a woman’s death. 

Roland James Brown, 40, pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal endangerment stemming from an Aug. 20, 2017, incident in which he drove a woman’s Jeep sport utility vehicle at high speeds from a Hot Springs bar to St. Ignatius and turned off on East Post Creek Road. He got 10 years with five suspended on one charge and five years with all suspended on the second. 

Tara Cutfinger, the Jeep’s owner, jumped out of the vehicle safely when Brown slowed down, a court document states, but Jessi Qualtier wasn’t as fortunate.  

According to the court document, Qualtier texted a friend at 5:33 p.m. the night of the incident and said they were in Ravalli. “Will you call the cops .... RJ is driving tryna kill us,” she said. Qualtier also said that Brown had blacked out, was driving over 100 mph and had splashed Black Velvet whisky all over her. 

Brown recently received a 10-year sentence in DOC with five suspended in Missoula County District Court for a robbery, prosecuting attorney Brendan McQuillan said. He said Brown stole $15 worth of food from a deli and brandished a knife when confronted by a grocery store employee. 

A plea agreement worked out between McQuillan and defense attorney Robert J. Long called for Brown to receive concurrent sentences between the cases from separate counties, but Judge James A. Manley didn’t agree. Instead he made the sentences consecutive, which resulted in cumulative 25-year sentence with 15 suspended. The Missoula judge, Dusty Deschamps, also wanted the sentences to run consecutively, McQuillan said. 

Prior to Brown’s sentencing, four women testified, including Qualtier’s mother, Francine Antoine.

She said that Qualtier left behind five children ages 16, 15, 11, 9 and 5. 

She asked that the sentences run consecutively. “Running concurrently gives him a break that she didn’t have,” Antoine said of her 36-year-old daughter. “Her last afternoon was an afternoon of terror.”

“He’s not an amateur to the court system,” she said of Brown. “Jessi has bailed him out on charges due to drugs and jumping bail (in CSKT tribal court).” 

She said he was demeaning to women. “I’d be scared for the next woman he may have. A slap on the wrist … isn’t going to do him any justice,” she said. 

Cutfinger said she can hardly care for her own family due to the impact of Qualtier’s death. “That was the worst day I’ve ever gone through,” she said. “I asked you to stop. I did,” she said to Brown. “I lost a very good friend who I spoke to every day.”

“She gave me good advice for our kids,” Cutfinger said, noting that she and Qualtier both have sons with autism. 

Qualtier’s older sister, Bonnie Asencio, also testified. 

“We’ve seen this over and over and over on our reservation,” she said. “There’s a time when you’ve got to dig way in there and do something with yourself.” 

Asencio said she also has struggled with wrong choices in life. “We know that picking up that drink is going to make us not Bonnie, not Roland,” she said. 

“I would like to see you change. There are children involved here,” she said, noting that Brown also has a child. 

“We made a mistake to start drinking that day,” Brown said. “Drinking had everything to do with this. Doing drugs and drinking has harmed my life.”

He said he misses Qualtier and her children, and added that he tried CPR on her after he found her on the side of the road. “I had no bad intentions,” he said. “I’m sorry that any of this has happened. Please forgive me.”

Manley gave him credit for 186 days in jail and ordered that he have no contact with Cutfinger and no unwanted contact with Qualtier’s children. 

Manley noted that Brown was out on bail when he drove drunk last August, and said he was not going to give him a “free ride” for the robbery conviction in Missoula County. “I’m persuaded by the victims’ (testimony),” he said. 

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