Fremont County Sheriff Denies Tribal Members Mistreated

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Fremont County’s sheriff is denying claims that members of the Northern Arapaho and Shoshone Indian tribes were put in the back of pickup trucks to be transported for treatment of the coronavirus.

Sheriff Ryan Lee, in a news release issued Wednesday, said the allegations made by Lee Spoonhunter, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, were not true.

“Mr. Spoonhunter’s statement is completely false and without any merit whatsoever,” he said. “The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office did not, would not, and has not transported any Fremont County citizen in the back of a pickup truck.”

During a briefing before the Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Affairs earlier this week, Spoonhunter testified that potential coronavirus patients from the Wind River Indian Reservation were refused care at a Riverton hospital and then were transported in the back of pickup trucks to Wind River Health Clinic facilities.

Lee, in his statement, said the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office worked hard with the tribes to coordinate shelter, supplies and safe and reliable transportation after being asked for assistance by the tribes.

Lee said his office tried to work with an ambulance company to move patients back and forth between the reservation and Riverton, but the service would have been too expensive.

As a result, Lee and an undersheriff modified a county vehicle to install a screen between the front seat and back seat to keep the drivers and occupants of the vehicle safe from the spread of coronavirus. The vehicle was loaned to the Wind River Cares staff for its use.

A van was eventually purchased by tribal authorities, but the county vehicle equipped with the shield is still in use, Lee said.

“At no time did any Fremont County Sheriff’s Deputy transport any citizen of this county in the back of their truck — period,” Lee wrote.

SageWest Health Care, the company that runs the hospital, denied in a statement to the Casper Star-Tribune that the hospital refused to care for patients from the reservation.

“This information presented today is without merit,” SageWest told the Star-Tribune. “SageWest Health Care follows all appropriate regulatory and compliance guidelines for patients seeking care at our facility. To deny care is a violation of federal and state law — as well as our mission of Making Communities Healthier.”

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