Authorities are tight-lipped about the man who died Aug. 11 following a police shooting on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The Fremont County Coroner’s office and the police agencies involved with the investigation declined Tuesday to release the man’s name publicly. Chief deputy coroner Erin Ivie said her office will release the man’s name after the coroner’s investigation is complete – which could take weeks or months.
The FBI declined to give further details altogether, and a Bureau of Indian Affairs spokeswoman deferred to the FBI.
“We will gladly complete that request as required by State Statute at the completion of our case,” Ivie wrote in a Tuesday email to Cowboy State Daily.
Ivie said the decision not to release the name is “more in line” with state law than prior coroners’ policies. She works under Coroner Larry DeGraw, whose predecessor, Mark Stratmoen, would release victims’ names to the public after the victims’ next-of-kin had been notified of the death.
Bruce Moats, Wyoming media attorney, said the older method is the tradition, typically, throughout Wyoming.
“The practice all across the state is to release the name once the victim’s family and relatives are notified,” Moats told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “Because what’s the harm to the public interest here? Why not release it?”
Under Wyoming law, coroners must release a deceased person’s name to the public after the coroner has signed a verdict on the public docket, or death summary.
The law does not forbid a coroner from releasing a deceased victim’s name before that point. Because of this, Moats said, he disagrees with the interpretation that withholding a victim’s name for weeks or months while a docket is pending is “more in line” with the statute.
“The statute does not prevent (Ivie or DeGraw) from releasing the name,” Moats continued. “That would be my question to the coroner’s office: Why can’t the citizens of Fremont County know the name of the person who has died once you’ve notified the relatives?”
There have been at least five officer-involved shootings in Fremont County in the past three years. Four of the civilians involved died. One civilian, Wolfe Willow, survived following a shooting on March 14 on the reservation this year.
Two of those shootings – the one that Willow survived in March and the one that occurred Aug. 11 – involved the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has jurisdiction on the reservation.
One shooting involved a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer; two involved Riverton Police Department officers.
Shooting, Then Death
The FBI confirmed Aug. 12 that a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer had “fired his weapon” on the day before, Aug. 11. The agency would not confirm that a fatality had occurred and has declined to release further details.
The coroner’s office on Aug. 12 said it had responded to a death that evening on the reservation at around 5 p.m., the same time police were called to an officer-involved shooting.
Neither the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, who prosecutes felony-level crimes on the reservation, had given the name as of Tuesday. U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Lori Hogan noted that her office almost never identifies victims, and wouldn’t file a public case unless it determined a crime had occurred.
It is the U.S. Attorney’s responsibility to determine if the shooting was justified, after reviewing the FBI investigation.