Already the felony capital of Wyoming, Riverton is seeing a crime wave this summer, its police chief said Thursday.
In the past week alone, Riverton has had multiple alleged stabbings, an assault with a handgun, and a homicide investigation that began as a trailer house fire, Riverton Police Department chief Eric Murphy told Cowboy State Daily.
Before that, the town’s first shooting of the year was reported April 16. There was another reported April 23 and another on the 26th – all non-fatal.
On June 18, an unknown suspect shot two brothers behind the Loaf N’ Jug gas station on Riverton’s busiest thoroughfare, Federal Boulevard, police documents state.
The brothers were life-flighted to Casper and questioned in the hospital there, but they refused to say who shot them, Murphy told Cowboy State Daily in June.
The shooting remains unsolved.
There have been numerous stabbings and 23 weapons offenses in the past six months as well.
A weapons offense can range in severity, from a kid bringing a knife to school, to a violent act with a weapon. The majority of Riverton’s weapons offenses in past months have been violent in nature, Murphy said.
Although Murphy acknowledged the apparent crime wave now occurring in Riverton, he said upticks like these occur frequently and aren’t out of the ordinary.
With a population just under 11,000, Riverton outstrips bigger Wyoming cities such as Cheyenne and Gillette for total crime per capita.
“Oh yeah, we’re by far ahead of the whole state,” said Murphy.
According to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation’s 2021 uniform crime report, Riverton residents reported 1,944 crimes total that year, compared to the Cheyenne Police Department’s total of 5,811. Although Cheyenne showed a greater figure, the big city’s crime percentage was less than half the size of Riverton’s.
There were 18.2 crimes reported per 100 Riverton residents in 2021, compared to Cheyenne’s 8.8 crimes per 100 residents.
Gillette was on par with Cheyenne, with 2,893 crimes reported across its 34,267 population for a percentage of 8.4 reported offenses per 100 people.
Riverton also has a higher percentage of felonies across all offenses, Murphy said, referencing a 2019 FBI report showing felony crime percentages. About 68% of Riverton’s crimes were felonies, that is, offenses punishable by more than one year in prison.
Casper, Gillette and Cheyenne reported about 42% of their offenses as felonies that year, said Murphy.
But Murphy said criminal activity seems to be on the rise statewide, not just in Riverton, according to his observation.
“It’s not just us,” he said. “Lately, crime has just gone up in Wyoming totally and I think everybody is seeing it right now.”
He said he has “no idea” why the uptick is occurring.
“I wish I could tell you, because I would fix it. I literally have no answer to that,” he said.
Huge Party, Then Fire, Then Death
Last week, Aug. 24 at about 4 p.m. a fire alarm sounded inside a blue trailer house in residential Riverton, a couple blocks from two private elementary schools. At first reported to be unconscious, a 31-year-old woman was found deceased at the scene, according to the department’s call log.
Her death is being investigated as a homicide.
There was a “huge party” at the tiny trailer house earlier that day, with as many as 30-40 guests, said Murphy. But the deceased woman is the only person found to have suffered harm in the incident, so far, he added. The outside of the trailer house does not appear to be burnt.
A man and a woman, found intoxicated on scene, were taken into custody on public intoxication charges.
Riverton has its own ordinance against public intoxication, but state law doesn’t forbid it – unless the intoxicated person finds himself in a roadway.
The two detainees are now out on bond, according to Riverton Police Department detective Kingston Cole, who is investigating the homicide.
Three-Woman Knife Fight
Hours after the fire, police responded just after sunrise Aug. 25 to a knife fight involving three women in home a few blocks away.
Court documents allege that 18-year-old Autumn Yellowbear stabbed another woman’s fiancée, Catherine Topaum, in the chest and hand with a knife, after the pair got into a physical fight.
While Yellowbear was stabbing Topaum, Topaum’s fiancée got between them to stop the fight and the fiancée was stabbed in the leg, court documents state.
Yellowbear has been charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangering.
At about 1 p.m. that afternoon, Riverton officers were summoned to find a person with a “mottled foot” fleeing a motel after a reported threatening incident involving a handgun, according to the call log.
Motel staff had found four people in a motel room “in which they didn’t belong,” the log continues. Staff members told the alleged squatters to leave.
“A short while later when they were again told to leave a female subject, Nichole Yellowplume, became agitated and produced a loaded Glock 9 mm handgun and pointed it at (staffers),” the log said.
Yellowplume, 37, was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault, which in Wyoming includes the act of pointing deadly weapons at others, and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
One of the people who was with Yellowplume is reported to have taken the gun away from her before they all left the motel.
“After the dust had settled,” the narrative continues, two men also were arrested on municipal warrants: 48-year-old Martin Gutierrez from Casper and 41-year-old Daniel Manzanarez from Arapahoe.
Whose iPad Turn Is It?
The stabbing incidents continued this week.
A 16-year-old girl reportedly got into an argument with her 26-year-old sister Tuesday morning, regarding “the use of the iPad,” according to the call log from that date.
Then there was name-calling, the log said, after which “the 16-year-old grabbed a knife and stabbed her sister twice.”
The girl was arrested; police recommended a charge of aggravated assault.
“Condition of the victim is unknown for sure but it does not appear serious,” the log said.
Juveniles’ court records are not public unless prosecutors choose to charge those juveniles as adults. The decision does not hinge entirely on discretion: there are limitations in the law on charging minors as adults, depending on their ages and the severity of their alleged crimes.