By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
A Gillette couple tracked with the assistance of a Cody bond company was arrested in Utah last week after engaging in a “Bonnie and Clyde”-like three-state road trip before shooting at officers and fleeing to a nearby woods where they hid out for about 36 hours before finally apprehended.
Brett Gilman Johnson, 50, and Jamie Carol Cleghorn-Wheeler, 42 are now facing charges of attempted aggravated murder, obstruction of justice, discharging of firearms, felon in possession of a dangerous weapon, criminal trespass, and forgery. Additionally, Johnson is facing a charge of attempted first-degree murder. Both could receive life imprisonment for their alleged crimes.
Sanpete County, Utah, Sheriff Brian Nielson said two of his deputies and a local police chief were serving a warrant for arrest to a trailer the couple were staying at in Milburn, Utah, about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City.
As they approached the door, shots were fired at the officers. The officers did not return fire and the two were able to escape out the back of the residence, Nielson said.
When SWAT teams found them in some scrub oak woods nearby, Sanpete County District Attorney Kevin Daniels said they surrendered without a fight.
Nielson said the two had been engaging in “evasion techniques” to avoid arrest while ATVs, drones, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were employed in the manhunt.
Boone Tidwell, a Cody man who runs Freedom Fighter Bail Bonds with his wife Shirley, is Johnson’s bonding agent.
His employee, Casper resident James Pulver, had been working to track the pair down in Utah and was on the phone with Tidwell when the shots were fired.
“He (Pulver) said it was the scariest thing he had ever been around,” Shirley Tidwell said.
Johnson and Cleghorn-Wheeler face charges in Campbell County in connection with the September burglary of 17 storage units and the theft of 18 firearms, as well as for possessing 25 grams of meth and 23 grams of marijuana.
Daniels said the two were found with forgery devices and it is believed they were involved in a “symbiotic business” of selling meth and forgery that brought them to Montana and Elko, Nevada, before they arrived in to Sanpete.
Boone Tidwell said he made hundreds of phone calls and sent hundreds of texts during the period leading up to the shooting in his efforts to track Johnson.
From the moment the Tidwells were tipped off about the couple’s flight from Gillette, they stayed in constant pursuit of Johnson, performing most of the work from Cody.
“Once you start the hunt you can’t stop it until it’s finished,” Boone Tidwell said.
Boone Tidwell said they refused to bond Cleghorn-Wheeler because of a criminal record that included police pursuits, fraud and felony warrants.
“Thinking if she was in jail we were good with him,” Tidwell said, they agreed to insure a $25,000 cash/surety bond for Johnson.
But another bonding company decided to insure Cleghorn-Wheeler and an informant for the Tidwells soon alerted them the couple had skipped town.
“They said, ‘They’re not going to go alive. They’re going to shoot the cops and take their own lives,’” Boone Tidwell said. “Everything told to us came true.”
Despite assurances from Johnson he had not fled Campbell County, the facts spoke for themselves when he and Cleghorn-Wheeler both failed to show up in court Sept. 30.
The two had their first appearance in Sanpete County court on Wednesday and are being held without bail.
“The cooperation from Utah law enforcement was excellent,” Boone Tidwell said. “They absolutely embraced our guy (Pulver).”
Nielson said apprehending the two involved coordination from hundreds of law enforcement personnel and various agencies including the FBI, Utah Highway Patrol, Utah County Sheriff’s Office and various police agencies along with the Utah Department of Corrections and Division of Wildlife Resources.
“Not only to protect law enforcement but to protect the community if they escaped this area and there was contact with members of the public,” he said.