By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming prosecutors would not hesitate to press charges against police officers who violate state law, according to the president of the Wyoming County Attorneys Association.
John Worrall, Washakie County’s attorney, took exception Friday to statements made during a debate over a firearms rights bill that prosecutors would hesitate to file charges against police who violated the law by enforcing unconstitutional firearms rules.
“I know of not a single county attorney in this state that isn’t going to prosecute a violation of law if one is demonstrated – whoever it is that committed that violation,” he said.
The issue stemmed from debate over Senate File 102, the “Second Amendment Protection Act,” which won final approval from the Legislature this week.
The bill will prohibit state or local law enforcement officers from enforcing unconstitutional rules and regulations having to do with firearms. Any officer who violates the law could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, fined up to $2,000 and sentenced to up to one year in jail.
During the House SAPA debate on Wednesday, Rep. Bob Wharff, R-Evanston, said he doubted county prosecutors would be willing to charge police officers under the new law.
Wharff recounted two anecdotal examples in which, he said, prosecutors refused to charge officers implicated in wrongdoing.
“Individuals went to their local county attorneys and asked for assistance,” said Wharff, “and in both instances they were told ‘I can’t help you; I have to work with those guys; I can’t bring charges against them.’”
In a later interview with Cowboy State Daily, Wharff described the instances in greater detail – saying one was a thwarted cattle theft investigation and one was a failure to prosecute Highway Patrol agents for allegedly forging a false accident report. Wharff said he knows both alleged victims personally.
Worrall told Cowboy State Daily that without more information, Wharff’s claims of prosecutorial negligence should be considered “hearsay.”
“I know of no legal exceptions to hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay – which is what Representative Wharff was quoted as saying in the debate in the Legislature,” said Worral. “If the people who claim (they were wronged by county attorneys) want to step up and be identified, that would be something to talk about.”
Worrall also insisted that as far as he knows, the prosecutors of Wyoming would not hesitate to press charges against law violators, regardless of status.
“We investigate (alleged crimes by) law enforcement all the time,” said Worrall. “Throughout our state, the various prosecutors – and I know of these things because I’ve done a few myself – we refer any of that stuff to outside counsel: an outside attorney who has no dog in the fight, to review whether somebody has done something incorrect or not.”
Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun also told Cowboy State Daily that he would be willing to file charges under SAPA.
“If it’s an intentional violation, that clearly violates the statute, yes, I’ll prosecute it. But like anything else, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or not,” said LeBrun.
He added that because of the way people in Fremont County vote, “This is not a place where (gun-grabbing) is an issue. That just doesn’t happen in Fremont County.”
Fremont, like Niobrara, Johnson, Hot Springs, and other Wyoming counties, has proclaimed itself a Second Amendment sanctuary county.
Rep. Dan Laursen R-Powell, also worried aloud Wednesday that county attorneys may not charge their law enforcement colleagues for gun-rights infringements.
Laursen clarified in a later interview that state law enforcement of COVID health orders contributed to his outlook.
“They went overboard, and we shouldn’t have allowed it,” Laursen told Cowboy State Daily.
Wharff, Laursen and Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, were all supporters of a similar bill, SF87, which would have allowed residents to sue law enforcement officers if they felt those officers enforced rules or regulations that unconstitutionally infringed on Second Amendment rights.
All three urged the House to vote against SF102, saying it was weak in its protection of Second Amendment rights.
Law enforcement organizations across the state had supported SF102 rather than SF87.
Fortner, during floor debate, referenced a “lobbying group” working on behalf of law enforcement to oppose gun bills like SF 87 because “they thought police officers and the sheriffs of the state – all the law enforcement – should have an upper hand to control we the people.”
But Rep. John Bear countered Fortner’s statements, saying law enforcement agents are generally accountable to the people they serve.
He also warned legislators against speaking badly of Wyoming’s law enforcement officers.
“We need to be careful that we don’t become like the crowd that wants to defund the police – and that’s what this sounds like,” he said.