The man shot and killed by Beloit police Tuesday was a Janesville resident, according to the Rock County Medical Examiner’s Department.
Montay Penning, 23, was identified as the man shot and killed after a chase. Court records list Penning’s addresses in April as an apartment in the 400 block of South Academy Street and another in the 500 block of East Milwaukee Street, both in Janesville.
The Beloit Daily News reported Thursday morning that Penning’s family and a Beloit minister said he had been working to be a better father when his life ended in gunfire.
The Rev. Michael Bell told The Gazette that family members and others suspect Penning didn’t have a gun when he was killed. They are discussing having a demonstration and a vigil.
Beloit police have said Penning was seen with a gun before the shooting but have not provided details, saying any more information must come from the investigating agency, the state Division of Criminal Investigation.
Recordings of police radio traffic posted online by the Beloit Scanner Facebook group include officers or deputies saying, “Shots fired, suspect has a gun,” and “A weapon was secured. Subject is in custody.”
Penning had served jail time but had been making progress toward turning his life around, said Bell, a minister at New Zion Baptist Church in Beloit.
Bell said Penning had attended Bell’s Life Support Group in Janesville, which provides support and counseling for people who had been incarcerated or just suffered from physical and emotional trauma.
Bell and Penning’s mother, Elizabeth Draper, told the Beloit Daily News that Penning had quit going to the group in order to take a job and support his daughter.
“He came, but he didn’t stay in the group. He didn’t complete what we had started. There wasn’t enough time,” Bell said.
Penning was the father of a 3-year-old daughter and brother of Mekieyah Draper, 14, and Malik Campbell, 21.
The medical examiner’s department reported the shooting happened in the 1800 block of Harrison Avenue, and Penning was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Preliminary autopsy results show Penning died from firearm-related trauma, according to a news release from the medical examiner’s department.
Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski said Tuesday the incident started when a Rock County sheriff’s deputy saw a vehicle he believed to be stolen and heard shots fired.
Beloit police responded to assist, and the suspect was located a few minutes later in the 1800 block of Harrison Avenue, “where he was observed to be armed,” Zibolski said.
“Three Beloit officers fired at the suspect, who received fatal injuries. The suspect was pronounced deceased at 12:25 p.m.,” Zibolski said.
No law enforcement officers were injured, Zibolski said.
As is standard procedure, the state Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating, and the three officers will be on administrative duty until the investigation is complete.
The names of the three officers who discharged their weapons have not been released.
Bell and Penning’s mother said they have questions about exactly what happened, whether Penning was armed and what might have put him on the path that led to his death that day. Although different people sent video footage to family members, his mother was unable to see enough to know what happened. She and Bell speculated Penning might have been at more risk as a young black man.
Bell said police had searched the Janesville residence where Penning and his girlfriend lived, looking for a gun, but found none.
“Montay wasn’t the type to try to kill no police officer,” Bell said. “I don’t know what he was thinking, but I know he definitely wouldn’t have tried to shoot at a police officer.
“We don’t know the whole story. But whatever the case may be, he didn’t deserve to be killed,” Bell said. “It shouldn’t be a last resort to try to kill anybody. That is why we have the law. If he did something wrong, he should have just been arrested. There is no reason why someone should be judged and tried on the streets.”
Bell said both Penning and his girlfriend had been attending his group to deal with traumatic events in their lives.
Draper said her son’s birth father had left the family, and Penning experienced abuse and other problems growing up.
“His real father wasn’t there. Montay needed help, and he needed love, and I didn’t know how,” his mother said.
Draper said her son was affectionately known as “taterhead” and attended high schools in Chicago and in Indiana. He had lots of experience with his little sister and took to fatherhood naturally, she said, taking his daughter to the park or having a tea party. He eventually moved to Janesville after his mother moved there.
Draper said her son had been studying at Blackhawk Technical College to get certified in forklift driving. He had worked two jobs, she said, at companies in Janesville.
“He got on his feet, had his own apartment and was paying child support,” she said.
Draper acknowledged her son had engaged in some risky behaviors, which she blamed on his financial struggles along with what she called his desire to help others. He often took others into his home if they didn’t have a place to stay, she said.
Bell noted many people who come to his support groups have been incarcerated and have experienced physical and emotional traumas. Although Penning had some anger in the beginning, Bell said, he was working on improving his relationship with his mother after focusing on forgiveness.
“He had been through a lot but was willing to let the past go to support his daughter,” Bell said.
Bell described Penning as intelligent and wise beyond his years when it came to facing the trauma in his past.
“If you met him, he would definitely leave an impression on you. He was helpful all the time,” and would give you the shirt off his back, Bell said.
His mother said their relationship had improved, and she was encouraging him to consider becoming a pediatric nurse.
“He was rough but gentle as a teddy bear,” his mother said. “Whatever he did, he wanted to help others.”
Bell said Penning was one of the men he won’t forget, a man who wanted to break the cycle of life he had experienced without a father and to be there for his daughter.
“When you met him, you wanted him to make it, and you could see he had the potential to do it,” Bell said.
Penning’s mother said she has drawn comfort from the fact that her son’s eyes were donated. Although he was unable to donate his organs because he wasn’t on life support, she said her son will live on through his eyes.
“I know he’s out there,” she said.
Rock County Court records indicate Penning had faced multiple misdemeanor and felony charges since November 2016, the most serious of which was a conviction for party to strong-armed robbery from a June 2018 incident in Beloit. He also was found guilty of felony theft in Lake County, Indiana, in an April 2016 incident, according to Lake County Superior Court records.
Penning was charged with armed disorderly conduct three years ago after an argument with his mother escalated. He grabbed a knife but didn’t hurt anyone, a criminal complaint indicated.
His mother told police at the time that Penning was angry at her because he had to live with other people after the loss of his father and that he had not taken the medication intended to help with the anger.
Reporters Austin Montgomery and Frank Schultz contributed to this story.