Wyoming Legislator Says Highway Patrol Improperly Released Info In Trooper Arrest

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By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com

State Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, wants to know why the Wyoming Highway Patrol sent out a press release announcing that it had arrested one of its troopers before he had officially been charged with a crime.

Brown filed a complaint, which he said serves mostly as an inquiry as to why a press release was given out, notifying the public of Trooper Gabriel Testerman’s arrest, before Testerman had officially been charged.

The press release issued late afternoon Tuesday said Testerman was taken into custody by the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office for an alleged crime he had been under investigation for since May. No details about the charges were given. 

Testerman did not have his first appearance in court until Wednesday, when he officially received his charges. He is being charged with three counts of inflicting sexual intrusion on a victim.  

In Wyoming, a defendant can be arrested before they are officially charged. At an initial hearing, a judicial officer will decide which, if any, charges a defendant is charged with. 

Brown has concerns that the highway patrol may have violated Wyoming law.  When it involves certain sex crimes, the law prohibits information being made public about a person until charges are filed “Prior to the filing of an information or indictment in district court.”

Wyoming statute 6-2-319(a), which applies to charges of sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual assault of a minor and soliciting, says a public employee may not release information about an alleged perpetrator before charges are filed. Certain Wyoming counties have interpreted this to mean before charges are filed in circuit court, while others have decided this means before they are filed in district court. 

Testerman has only been seen in Laramie County Circuit Court.

“What it really boils down to me, is we have the court of law, where a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and then the court of public opinion,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, they’re not the same.” 

Brown said the release was potentially defamatory and could be cause for concern as a potential lawsuit. 

The statute also says an actor’s name may be released to the public to aid or facilitate an arrest. There was no mention made in the press release regarding any issue that took place in locating or arresting Testerman. 

Brown said he suspects Highway Patrol was trying to get ahead of media coverage of the event and be transparent but said the handling of this event was “not normal.” He said he originally suspected that Testerman’s arrest had been leaked to the media, but became much more concerned when he found out this information was given out in a press release.

 A former member of the House Transportation, Highways & Military Affairs committee, Brown said he is knowledgeable about Highway Patrol personnel and practices. 

“For an agency that struggles with retention and hiring, I have concerns if it doesn’t have its own employees’ backs and is waiting for press to come,” he said.  “I don’t like any state employee having their name released unjustly.” 

Interim Highway Patrol Colonel Shannon Ratliff told Cowboy State Daily that he does not believe anything was done wrong in the release of the information. 

“I believe it’s our duty to be transparent,” he said. “We have a much better climate in Wyoming in the public’s perception for law enforcement than it enjoys nationwide. I believe this was fairly standard. We typically release information when one of our staff members is arrested.” 

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported Testerman was released from Laramie County Jail on Wednesday after posting a $100,000 cash/surety bond.

Brown filed his complaint by mail to Wyoming Highway Patrol Interim Colonel Shannon Ratliff, Lt. Col. Josh Walther, Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner and Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday afternoon

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