A Cody Police Officer placed on paid leave in May following questionable conduct during a traffic stop is back on the job, the city of Cody and its police department have announced.
The controversy erupted after Cowboy State Daily reported on a YouTube video showing Officer Blake Stinson shouting angrily at a teen driver, then trying to pull the teen out of the vehicle by his arms in front of a school Jan. 24.
Stinson said during the video that he had stopped the 17-year-old for nearly hitting someone in a crosswalk, a statement the narrator questions as alleged embellishment during the video.
Then-police Chief Chuck Baker warned viewers in May to be careful when watching the video, since its publisher stitched it together from dash cam and body cam bits and layered a voiceover onto it.
No Word On Cop Reviews
Whatever the city of Cody and its third-party consultant learned during their investigation into Stinson is private by Wyoming law, under which personnel findings are not public records.
“However, based on the internal investigation, the Cody Police Department has taken action to address concerns raised by the complaint, and to ensure compliance with Cody PD policies in the future,” reads a joint statement by the city of Cody and the Cody Police Department, released Thursday to Cowboy State Daily.
The third-party consultant on the case also recommended several changes to Cody Police Department policies, which the department said it will review and implement.
“With the completion of the investigation, Officer Blake Stinson will return to duty and be placed in the normal rotation schedule,” the statement concludes.
Cody Police Chief Jason Stafford told Cowboy State Daily the third-party consultant was Daigle Law Group of Connecticut, which specializes in best practices for police departments. Stafford said the department sent its internal affairs complaints and allegations policy along to the firm in part because it had been considering revising the policy even before the complaint against Stinson.
"We’re always kind of wanting to update our policies and make sure they’re current," Stafford said. "It was just a good opportunity for us to have someone else look at it."
The Park County Attorney’s Office charged the teen one day after the traffic stop, Jan. 25, with misdemeanor interference with a peace officer, misdemeanor marijuana possession, driving heedless of a pedestrian in a crosswalk and not having a driver’s license.
But the case prosecutor requested May 12 that Cody Circuit Court Judge S. Joseph Darrah dismiss the case, to serve “the best interest of justice.”
Darrah dismissed the case five days later, without prejudice, meaning the prosecutor can bring it again if the evidence compels him.
Papa Murphy’s Wastes No Time
The teen’s employer, the manager of Papa Murphy’s, wrote a letter to the court on the teen’s behalf Jan. 24, even before the case was officially charged.
“He has done a wonderful job for me at Papa Murphy’s Pizza in Cody. He is a team player and his fellow employees enjoy working with him,” reads the letter. “(He) is a very good young man; he is needed as a valued employee and success to our business.”
Stinson wrote an evidentiary affidavit accusing the teen, who turns 18 sometime this year, of almost hitting a pedestrian and of possessing more than 2 grams of marijuana.
Also, Stinson wrote, because the teen interfered with the lawful course of the traffic stop, Stinson couldn’t conduct sobriety tests to prove what he suspected — that the teen was driving two other juveniles to school while under the influence of marijuana.
Stinson wrote that he recognized the teen from prior law enforcement encounters and knew the youth didn’t have a valid driver’s license from an encounter the week prior.
“I immediately smelled the overwhelming odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle and called for backup,” the account reads.
The affidavit relates an argument similar to the one shown in the video about whether the youth had a right to have his mother there for the traffic stop since he was a minor at the time.
He did not have that right, but he called his mother multiple times during the stop to get her to come to the parking area in front of the school where he was stopped.
‘I Grabbed His Right Arm’
Stinson’s affidavit also describes his physical struggle with the youth. The struggle happened after the teen locked the doors to the Nissan Juke he was driving, the document alleges.
“I grabbed his right arm while Detective Burlingame grabbed (his) left arm,” says the affidavit. “(He) braced his leg against the arm rest of the vehicle to keep officers from unlocking the door.
“Detective Burlingame and I struggled with (him) for some time before I was able to hit the unlock button and Detective Burlingame was able to open the door.”
Stinson then arrested and handcuffed the teen for interfering with a police officer’s duties.
The affidavit alleges that officers found a marijuana grinder, a glass pipe, three vape modules and 2.85 grams of marijuana near the driver’s seat. The video confirmed this finding vaguely as well.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.