The Thermopolis Police Department sergeant who shot a suspect to death in April was justified under criminal law, but he entered the man’s home illegally to force the fatal confrontation, according to an analysis by a special prosecutor.
Because of a contradiction in Wyoming’s self-defense laws, the sergeant may face civil consequences, but he will not be prosecuted criminally in this case.
At about midday April 28, Sgt. Mike Mascorro broke into the Thermopolis home of Buck Laramore, 33, a McDonald’s employee whom Mascorro had questioned earlier that day on suspicion of methamphetamine use.
Laramore shot Mascorro with a .45 pistol during the break-in, dropping Mascorro to the floor. Mascorro returned fire, killing Laramore.
The Thermopolis Police Department did not respond to Cowboy State Daily requests for comment by publication time Thursday.
In a Sept. 21 decision Hot Springs County Attorney Jill Logan released Wednesday to Cowboy State Daily, Sweetwater County Attorney Daniel Erramouspe, whom Hot Springs County appointed as a special prosecutor on the case, analyzed the shooting against Wyoming’s self-defense and criminal laws.
While the special prosecutor ultimately found Mascorro was justified in shooting Laramore, the encounter didn’t have to happen at all.
“This was a completely avoidable incident,” wrote Erramouspe. “(Mascorro) felt that breaking into a person’s domicile was the best course of action for the misdemeanor of interference with a peace officer.”
But, Erramouspe added, his job as prosecutor was not to determine Mascorro’s potential civil culpability for the break-in, but instead to decide whether the sergeant was justified to fire back under Wyoming’s self-defense laws.
And he was, the decision concludes, after a painstaking analysis of conflicting portions of the state’s Castle Doctrine and its Stand-Your-Ground law. The two laws contradict each other in parts, which drove Erramouspe eventually to consult Wyoming case law as well.
“Despite his poor judgment that day, when it came down to the shot that killed Laramore, Mascorro acted as a reasonable person would in defending his own life,” wrote Erramouspe.
How It Happened
Erramouspe’s decision gives a detailed account from evidence the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation compiled.
It started about 9 a.m. on April 28, when the Hot Springs County health inspector told police someone was using methamphetamine inside the McDonald’s restaurant.
Mascorro met the health inspector at the McDonald’s, along with Hot Springs County Deputy Sheriff Shayna Cox and her drug-detection K-9.
Cox deployed the dog in the men’s restroom, and the K-9 alerted to drug presence in the baby changing station.
Agents searched the changing station and found plastic containers with suspected meth in them, says the decision.
Mascorro noted that the last person to exit the men’s room was Laramore, a McDonald’s employee.
Mascorro spoke with Laramore.
During this interaction, Laramore misspelled his own last name as “Larimore” and gave his year of birth as 1988, though he was born in 1989.
Mascorro asked Laramore multiple times to submit to a drug test and Laramore repeatedly refused. The sergeant then asked for Laramore’s home address, and Laramore refused to give that.
The two men parted ways and Laramore went back to work.
Sometime during his shift, Laramore left work without his manager’s approval. Someone witnessed him driving away.
At about that same time, Mascorro learned that Laramore had lied about his surname spelling and age.
In Wyoming, it is a crime of interference to obstruct police officers who are in the lawful performance of their duties.
Mascorro called the county attorney’s office to ask if his questioning of Laramore had been lawful.
The questioning was lawful, deputy attorney Kelly Owens confirmed.
Mascorro said he was going to arrest Laramore for obstructing that questioning, under the state’s interference crime.
Owens countered, saying Mascorro should just issue a citation, and that Laramore would probably avoid arrest by not answering his door.
Back-And-Forth At The Door
At 12:34 p.m., Mascorro arrived at Laramore’s home.
The front storm door and inner door both were shut, says the special prosecutor’s decision.
Brandi Laramore answered the door.
Mascorro asked to speak to “Buck.” Eventually, Laramore did come to the door, keeping the storm door shut and the inner door partially opened.
The sergeant told Laramore to step outside.
“No, sir,” answered Laramore.
Mascorro told Laramore he was going to jail, and Laramore asked why.
Mascorro repeated that Laramore was going to jail, and that he would “break the door down” if he had to.
Laramore asked again what Mascorro’s legal grounds were.
The sergeant told Laramore that he’d “interfered,” and ordered him again to step outside. Laramore asked how he’d interfered.
“(This can go) one of two ways,” Mascorro said. Either Laramore would come out willingly or Mascorro would “break the door down,” the decision relates from body camera footage of the confrontation.
Asked again how Laramore interfered, Mascorro told the man he’d given the wrong surname spelling and birth date.
“Buck Laramore, 12-17 of ’89,” Laramore said, while shutting the door on Mascorro – with Mascorro still telling Laramore come out.
‘Stop Breaking My Door’
Immediately, Mascorro grabbed the storm door through an open glass pane and pulled it open. The sergeant then tried the inner door, but it was apparently locked, the decision says.
Mascorro shoved at the door with his left shoulder. It stayed shut. He then rammed the door with his right shoulder and on his second try broke through and into the home, says the decision.
“Stop breaking my door,” shouted Brandi Laramore, moving backward as the door flew open.
Mascorro turned to the right and encountered Laramore holding a pistol.
Laramore fired, hitting Mascorro, and the sergeant fell backward to the ground.
Laramore approached the downed sergeant.
“A possible second gunshot is fired; however, it is hard to determine from the body cam as it is covered at this time,” wrote Erramouspe. “Mascorro is yelling for Laramore to stop repeatedly.”
Then Mascorro returned fire, shooting seven times while he was still on the floor.
Mascorro then stood.
“It is obvious that he is hit due to the sounds he is making and the blood dripping/squirting to the floor,” the decision relates.
A footnote in the decision says the investigation later revealed that Laramore had two rounds in his .45 pistol and he fired them both.
Backed Into The Kitchen
Mascorro retreated to the kitchen of the trailer-house home, a short distance from where he’d fallen. The sergeant was standing near the refrigerator, training his gun on the hallway where Laramore was last seen.
Laramore appears to lean out of the corner, exposing his upper body.
Mascorro shot one round from his pistol, striking Laramore. Then he fired a second shot, and Laramore dropped to the ground. Mascorro fired a third shot and looked down the hallway, the decision relates from the body camera footage.
“Stop, stop,” said Laramore, briefly lifting his hands upon Mascorro’s command of “show me your hands.”
“It does not appear that at this point in the interaction that Laramore was armed,” reads the decision.
Ailing from his own injuries, Mascorro then fell once again. Then he stood and struggled to the trailer’s back door, which was opposite the door in which he’d entered.
First responders arrived and treated Mascorro.
Mascorro had life-threatening injuries, including a bullet to his right lung and severe blood loss, his wife later told Cowboy State Daily.
Laramore was dead on scene.
All These Laws
Erramouspe involved multiple state laws to break down those three hours leading to Laramore’s death.
First, the prosecutor contemplated whether Mascorro had probable cause to believe Laramore had interfered with a police officer.
Mascorro did, in fact, have probable cause to believe Laramore had violated the law, though Erramouspe called it “questionable” that a jury would have ultimately convicted Laramore under that same statute.
Police only need probable cause to implicate someone in a violation, whereas juries need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict someone.
Is He Going To Run?
When it came to whether Mascorro had grounds to arrest Laramore, the law has a few more requirements.
For felonies, probable cause is enough to make an arrest without a warrant.
But for misdemeanors — like interference — the arresting officer needs more than probable cause to arrest someone without a warrant if the arrest isn’t happening right after the alleged crime. He also needs to demonstrate that the suspect would have fled justice, would have injured people or property, or would have destroyed or hidden evidence if not arrested immediately.
During the DCI investigation into his shooting, Mascorro told DCI Special Agent Kiel Holder that he thought Laramore would flee justice since the man left work without telling anyone.
Erramouspe countered, saying that’s not enough evidence that someone will skip town.
“There is no evidence other than this assumption by Mascorro to indicate that Laramore would essentially quit his job, pack up his belongings, leave the area, possibly defaulting on his home lease, just to avoid a possible misdemeanor interference charge for allegedly lying to law enforcement,” wrote Erramouspe.
“The body cam evidence is clear that Laramore refusing to submit to the drug test or give his address bothered Mascorro,” the prosecutor continued.
The sergeant spoke to multiple people after that interaction, talking about Laramore’s motives and demeanor. He ultimately disregarded the deputy county attorney’s advice that he write a citation, announcing “hours after his interaction with Laramore” that he was going to arrest him, says the decision.
Don’t Shoot Cops Who Break In
Erramouspe turned to Wyoming’s self-defense law.
The Castle Doctrine says a person can use defensive force if he believes someone is entering his home unlawfully and forcibly, because there’s a presumption that the person breaking in by force is there to commit violence.
At first glance, it looked like Laramore was justified to shoot Mascorro under the Castle Doctrine.
But then another statute, 6-2-602c, says that presumption of violence doesn’t apply to police who are performing their official duties.
Erramouspe hit a quandary here.
The statute exempts police who are performing their official duties, but it doesn’t stipulate that those duties must be lawful.
Erramouspe hinted that lawmakers can fix this discrepancy.
“By leaving the term lawful out of this statute, the Legislature has decreed that the officer does not have to be acting lawfully, but only in the performance of his ‘official duties,’” he wrote. “Mascorro was not acting lawfully by forcing his way into Laramore’s habitation; however, he was indeed in the performance of his official duties.”
If Laramore had survived, that portion of Wyoming’s self-defense laws wouldn’t have justified him to shoot Mascorro, Erramouspe added.
Can You Shoot Back?
The prosecutor then pivoted to examine whether Mascorro was justified to fire back.
Mascorro backed into the kitchen after Laramore shot him. Thirty seconds passed before Mascorro returned fire.
Wyoming’s Stand-Your-Ground law says that people don’t have a duty to retreat from an attack if they were at the site “lawfully.”
“The statute contradicts itself,” wrote Erramouspe. On the one hand, Laramore couldn’t fire on an officer who barged into his home while on duty; but on the other hand, Mascorro couldn’t justify his actions under Stand-Your-Ground because he wasn’t there lawfully.
The contradiction drove Erramouspe into “common law,” or the body of court decisions interpreting scenarios like this one.
Before Wyoming passed self-defense laws, the state Supreme Court asserted that people have a duty to retreat from a deadly situation only if retreating is a reasonable alternative.
By firing back from the floor, Mascorro had a little time to retreat through the back door, but to do so he would have compromised his cover. And he would have faced other unknowns, such as whether Laramore had more bullets and more guns, and whether the back door was even operable and unlocked on both sides.
(The investigation later revealed that Laramore did have other loaded guns in the house, but he hadn’t grabbed them.)
“Mascorro, wounded, was in a precarious position,” wrote Erramouspe. “The reasonable option would be to hold position and return fire if the opportunity presented itself.”
When Laramore did return from cover, it was difficult to determine whether he was armed.
Pausing the body cam video reveals that Laramore wasn’t armed. But the rapidity of the events in real time, coupled with the fact that Laramore had already shot Mascorro, “leads to the reasonable presumption that Laramore was armed when Mascorro (fired) from his position in the kitchen,” wrote Erramouspe.
It was the shot from the kitchen that killed Laramore, the decision says.
The prosecutor added: “The fact that (Brandi) Laramore was not shot in the crossfire, or that both men did not die, is a blessing in this calamity.”
Not Going To Go There
Erramouspe’s analysis focuses only on criminal culpability and justification. It hints there may be civil issues, but characterizes that realm as outside the prosecutor’s scope of consideration.
“The final determination of whether Mascorro committed criminal homicide or acted in a criminal manner when firing the shot that killed Laramore ultimately resides in self-defense,” reads the decision.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.