When former Casper Mayor Bruce Knell resigned Thursday, it marked the end of a turbulent and controversial nine-month term as mayor and nearly three years on the City Council.
The end came quickly after a protection order was filed against Knell by his wife on Monday, who is accusing him of assaulting her and causing injuries that led her getting 13 staples and numerous sutures last weekend.
Knell told Cowboy State Daily on Friday morning and outlined in his resignation letter he’s frustrated that the public seems to have already judged him guilty of the allegations, which he says he’s “absolutely innocent” of committing.
“I feel like the public and council have all turned their backs on me and I haven’t even had my day in court,” he said.
Knell said in his resignation letter that his wife was intoxicated and suffered the injuries as a result of falling over on her own power.
On the advice of his attorney, Knell said he couldn’t say much else about the situation, but did say he believes he will prove in court that he is not guilty of the domestic violence allegations made against him in the protection order that a judge approved Monday.
“It will all become very clear about that part,” he said.
Knell also outlined in his Thursday resignation letter that other members of the Casper City Council and personal friends have abandoned him in light of the new allegations. He clarified his position to Cowboy State Daily that he feels they aren’t respecting his right to remain innocent until proven guilty, which is guaranteed under the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions.
Casper City Council member Kyle Gamroth told Cowboy State Daily that he and at least one other council member “forcefully” urged Knell to resign multiple times “for the health of the community.”
Gamroth said he had heard that Knell originally didn’t plan to.
“Innocence and guilt aside, in the context of the other controversies and comments he made on social media, we believed that he would no longer be able to work effectively in the number of duties that relate to that office,” Gamroth said.
On Friday, Ray Pacheco was named the new acting mayor of Casper. Pacheco has served on the council since 2016 and previously served as mayor in 2022 and 2018. A new mayor is typically chosen each year in Casper as the city runs a weak-mayor system, which means the elected council members choose a mayor from among their ranks.
Pacheco told Cowboy State Daily he will “let history judge” Knell’s legacy as Casper’s mayor.
“I think we need a little quieter, a little more boring leadership at this time,” Pacheco said. “We really need to focus on the city’s work and the matters that need to get done on a day-to-day basis.”
Knell finished his resignation letter on a high note, expressing pride for the work he did over his nine months as mayor and wishing the city the best.
“I am particularly proud of my work on securing $22 million over the next four years for road improvements for Casper, securing the fifth-cent sales tax which will be used for infrastructure and other programs within the city, and its anti-discrimination ordinance,” Knell wrote.
The domestic violence accusation isn’t the first controversy Knell has had as mayor or a member of the council.
Knell drew criticism as mayor in April when he posted an image of a man dancing in fire in a comment under an Oil City News story about Wellspring Health Access, an abortion and transgender treatment clinic in Casper. An arsonist set fire to the clinic last year while it was working to open, causing a reported $300,000 in damage.
Gamroth said he and a fellow council member had coffee with Knell after the post to talk about it. He believed Knell used “dehumanizing language that could potentially feed into violence.”
Knell later apologized for his comment during a city council meeting in May. Also, during that meeting, he rejected requests for his resignation and said his post was misinterpreted and that he stands by its sentiment.
In August, Knell garnered national attention when he made controversial and highly charged comments to Cowboy State Daily about the state of homelessness in Casper, comparing the situation there to a “third-world country.”
Knell did an interview on Fox News about that Sept. 5.
In response to his and the city council’s handling of the homeless situation, Knell and the council received some criticism on social media.
Knell lashed out against one of the commenters, which led to a short public spat between he and two Casper-area state legislators. It’s not often state lawmakers get involved in a public argument like this, especially when it involves local issues and other members of local government.
In 2016, Knell pleaded guilty to three counts of violating a temporary protection order and one count of threatening death over the phone to an ex-wife in Fremont County. He was jailed 54 days in relation to the incident.
Although Casper City Manager Carter Napier described the new allegations made against Knell as “concerning” during a Thursday press conference, he also stressed that Knell is innocent until proven guilty.
“I take them (accusations) for face value, that’s what they are,” Napier said.
Napier said he had a conversation with Knell and the council about the press conference, and informed all that it would not be a forum for either group to address the allegations.
He also said Casper Chief of Police Keith McPheeters informed city staff about the allegations made against Knell on Monday afternoon. McPheeters said during the Thursday press conference that he has had no communication with any law enforcement representatives from Texas about the incident.
Knell was sworn in as mayor in January after being elected to the city council in 2020.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.