Murder suspect lands in county jail

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Daily Inter Lake | January 6, 2021 1:00 AM

A California man accused in the beating death of a Whitefish man last summer is lodged in the Flathead County Detention Center.

Twenty-two-year-old Xavier J. Chenault of Sacramento, California, is accused of negligent homicide in the death of 25-year-old Steven Speer.

Chenault was booked into the jail Sunday, Jan. 3 and is being held on $100,000 bail. Details of his arrest are not immediately known.

According to previous information from Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial, Speer died Aug. 2 of head injuries he suffered during an altercation shortly after midnight July 30, in the parking lot of the VFW Bar and Grill on Baker Avenue.

Whitefish Police officers responded to the scene for a report of an unconscious man.

The department conducted an intensive investigation, including identifying and interviewing witnesses and obtaining surveillance footage. The investigation indicated Speer had been in an altercation with a man, later identified as Chenault, and that Speer had been knocked to the ground and struck his head.

Dial said the Speer suffered severe head trauma and was taken to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where he later died.

Charging documents indicate witnesses at the scene initially said there had been no altercation and Speer, in a heavily intoxicated state, had fallen to the ground.

But after a Whitefish detective watched video footage, it allegedly revealed a man matching Chenault’s description approach another man while a woman had tried to stop Chenault.

The detective then spoke with witnesses and one said Chenault and Speer were arguing outside the VFW and walked toward each other.

Another witness said Chenault slapped Speer and he fell to the ground. She also said Speer said he didn’t want to fight. She also described Chenault as a bigger man, about 6 feet tall. Speer’s autopsy report listed him at 5-feet, 8-inches and 148 pounds.

A third witness who lives in a nearby apartment said when he heard the two men arguing he went outside. He said a man he described as matching Chenault’s description shove and hit Speer.

A fourth witness said she texted Chenault and asked him if he hit Speer. She said Chenault called her and allegedly said he hit Speer and he “was out before he hit the ground.”

She said she later texted Chenault and told him Speer was in critical condition. Chenault allegedly texted her and said “he hit me and I just reacted and he really did fall and hit his head though I barely touched him.”

Medical records indicate Speer had a blood alcohol level of .268 at the time of his initial treatment. Records also indicate Speer died of a severe brain injury. The autopsy report indicated Speer died as a result of blunt force injuries of the head.

According to a story in the Bonner County Daily Bee in Idaho, a 21-year-old man from Ponderay named Xavier J. Chenault was cited for theft and marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia Oct. 1.

Chenault is facing a maximum sentence of 20 years in the Montana State Prison.