When an online blogger who claims to be a news reporter targeted the Rock Springs Police Department and one of its officers with claims of corruption and secrecy, the department countered by publicly releasing bodycam footage that refutes the writer’s coverage.
Rock Springs Mayor Max Mickelson condemned the opinionated and inflammatory coverage of a NewsBreak writer, who goes by the handle “DMV Investigations,” in a Nov. 21 public City Council meeting, saying the writer is trying to build a reputation, but he’s not trying to help the community with honest reporting.
“So all this ‘truth-seeking’ that’s being done appears to be to be solely for the benefit of himself, to generate an income stream – and it is very sad, not only because law enforcement is rightly held to a higher standard,” said Mickelson. “When these allegations are made, we have to look into them, which is very expensive in terms of investigative resources, time, and the morale of the police department and our community.”
NewsBreak is a digital news platform that mainly aggregates news from around the internet and suggests stories for people based on location. While most of that is done via computer, there are some "correspondents" who write for NewsBreak, like the producer of DMV Investigations, which is apparently based in Maryland.
Because NewsBreak passes itself off as a news site and had targeted the city, its police department and a local officer, Mickelson said he felt it important to address the “untrue” allegations.
“It is very sad, not only because law enforcement is rightly held to a higher standard, so when these allegations are made, we have to look into them,” he said at the council meeting, adding it’s expensive, time-consuming and impacts morale when that happens.
The mayor also said that what NewsBreak passes off as journalism is “so very different from what journalists do.”
Calling the reports examples of “yellow journalism," the mayor said they’re “factually baseless and unfounded,” and that the city needed to respond “to serve the public interest.”
These Bold Claims
DMV Investigations published a Nov. 6 story to NewsBreak, claiming the Rock Springs Police Department is engaging in “seemingly unethical practices” and enshrouds itself in secrecy. The writer accused Officer Amber Siddoway of traumatizing a female sex crime victim by arresting her for DUI when the victim “had just moments earlier escaped the grips of her attacker, Charlie Mathis.”
Citing the alleged “victim,” who was anonymous at that point in the coverage, the writer claimed that Mathis attacked the woman after she tried to escape his sexual advances. He also claimed that Siddoway and her supervisor “just let him walk away while also having an open arrest warrant.”
The woman “made a brave attempt” to escape and find refuge in her vehicle, but was arrested for DUI because she’d been drinking prior, the writer claimed.
Without citing any corroboration or independent analysis of the situation, the writer also presents as fact that Siddoway is “possibly an ill-trained law officer, has traumatized a female sexual assault victim” and acted not to protect the alleged victim, but instead “in an attempt to impress her male counterparts.” Another report presents as fact that she’s “an inadequately trained, stat-driven officer.”
Mathis did not have an open arrest warrant Aug. 12 during these encounters, the Rock Springs Police Department told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office arrested Mathis Nov. 8 on a federal warrant issued Nov. 1, three months later, for alleged parole violation stemming from a 2016 conviction for bank robbery.
Public Records Spat
A DMV Investigations writer or alias made a public records request of the police department, which the department denied under Wyoming’s public records law.
The law’s language is circular with respect to the release of bodycam footage: it says departments “shall not” release bodycam footage, but they “may” if they deem it in the public’s best interest.
RSPD Chief Bill Erspamer agreed to let a DMV Investigations correspondent, Shane Browning, view the bodycam footage in person, according to a Nov. 13 opinion piece with Browning’s byline under it.
Browning equated that to being held in detention.
Now It’s Out
Amid the NewsBreak series featuring headlines like “Citizen Slams Council Over Corruption,” the city on Nov. 22 announced the public release of the bodycam footage from the woman’s arrest.
Mickelson lamented during the council meeting that it would be “embarrassing” for the residents in the video, but he said that releasing the footage was in the public’s best interest by that time in light of the troubling allegations made by the NewsBreak writer.
The NewsBreak writer’s claims that the woman was the victim of a sex crime weren’t supported by the woman’s own statements in the now-released bodycam footage pertaining to her case.
Additionally, the Rock Springs Police Department, Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and County Attorney all told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that they received no sex crime allegations or statements relating to the case at all.
What Actually Happened
The bodycam footage shows a white woman, Janice Loigoin, 56, repeatedly insisting to Siddoway that a Black man hit her. The footage then cuts to a different bodycam recording Cpl. Andrew Schiess’ police encounter with the Black man, Mathis.
Mathis said it was Loigoin who called him a racial slur and threw rocks at him, pelting him in the eye, after the pair were drinking together with friends outside a bar in town.
Mathis’ story was consistent during his interview, while Loigoin’s account was logically inconsistent.
‘Let’s Not Go There’
Siddoway approached Loigoin as the latter sat in a dark-colored truck with the engine running, according to the body cam video.
The officer asked Loigoin to turn off the truck and take the keys out of the ignition.
“But that n****r hit me right here,” said Loigoin, gesturing toward the left side of her face. “And he is a n****r.”
“OK, that’s not necessary,” said Siddoway, who spoke gently for about the first half of the interview. “Let’s not go there.”
“Well, look, ‘Black man,’ I’m sorry,” said Loigoin. She said she’d been cooking at the bar all day, and Mathis got mad and hit her.
Loigoin’s story meandered, with accounts of Mathis knocking her glasses off her face, then Loigoin searching for her glasses in a completely different area; or searching for her glasses in her truck. She claimed repeatedly she didn’t know the man who hit her “from Adam” but was adamant his name was Charlie.
At one point she said “Charlie” had hit her with an open hand, then she said he hit her three times with his fist.
How Many Drinks?
Siddoway confronted Loigoin about the running truck, adding that Loigoin had just driven her truck to where the officer found her.
“I want to make sure you’re able to safely operate a motor vehicle,” said Siddoway.
Loigoin started crying. “I didn’t ask to get hit,” she said.
Under Siddoway’s questioning, Loigoin admitted she’d had about four Bud Lights plus a shot of hard liquor that night. She said she would like emergency medical personnel to check her condition.
Siddoway called for EMS.
Meanwhile, the video cuts to Rock Springs Police Department Cpl. Andrew Schiess’ bodycam footage of his encounter with Mathis in another location.
Mathis said Loigoin called him to come drink with her and with others, but she got angry, called him names and threw rocks at him, pelting his eye.
“We was over there, we was drinkin’, she just flew off the handle, went to hit me in the eye, called me n***a — I walked away from her,” said Mathis. He insisted that walking away from her was the “best thing to do.”
Mathis said he has been friends with Loigoin, but denied any romantic involvement.
“I guess the truth come out when you drink,” he said. “I thought she was my friend.”
Mathis also handed his phone to Schiess so Schiess could review a reported text exchange between the pair.
Calling on Schiess’ phone, Siddoway spoke with Schiess and conducted a brief phone interview of Mathis.
The YouTube video of the body cam footage cuts to a note saying that Mathis was released without incident, and prosecutors opted not to charge him with battery.
Glasses Were Over There
The footage then cuts back to Siddoway’s encounter with Loigoin, whom EMS had checked out.
Siddoway’s tone toward Loigoin turned harsher and more authoritative as the officer confronted Loigoin about inconsistencies in the latter’s story.
“I asked if you knew this Charles personally and you told me no,” said Siddoway. “But you have a phone number for him. You have a way to contact him.”
“I got hit in the head, ma’am, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to lie to you,” said Loigoin.
Loigoin gave more illogical accounts of being hit and searching for her divested glasses several feet from where she was allegedly hit.
Siddoway asked Loigoin to perform field sobriety tests.
Loigoin showed poor balance and quit her tests early, saying she would fail the tests due to her head injury.
Siddoway had checked Loigoin’s pupils for signs of head injury and said the pupils appeared normal.
“You’re being arrested for DUI,” said Siddoway, handcuffing Loigoin’s wrists together behind her back.
Siddoway’s tone became gentle once again, as the officer discussed with Loigoin coordinating with someone to move Loigoin’s truck to a parking spot so law enforcement personnel wouldn’t have to have it towed.
A Deferral For You
The Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office did not charge Loigoin with battery for the alleged rock-throwing incident, but a prosecutor did cite Loigoin for DUI.
Loigoin pleaded guilty in an Oct. 10 filing, while simultaneously accepting a deferral. She announced in a Nov. 3 filing she’d completed DUI-related coursework.
A “301” deferral in Wyoming involves dismissing someone’s criminal case, often after they complete certain tasks like coursework or probation. It is not the same as a criminal conviction.
It wasn’t due to pressure from any NewsBreak stories that the prosecutor gave Loigoin the deferral. It was, rather, because she was a good candidate for one, Sweetwater County Attorney Danny Erramouspe told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
Loigoin’s deferral also came before the Nov. 6 NewsBreak story.
Erramouspe’s deputy prosecutor, John Olson, charged Loigoin on Nov. 20 with false reporting for her Aug. 12 claims against Mathis, but Olson asked the court to dismiss the charge one day later.
They dismissed that one because it likely wouldn’t have ended in a conviction in a court of law, Erramouspe said.
“Though her claims (against Mathis) were unfounded, that doesn’t necessarily make it so that you can prove false reporting,” said Erramouspe. “We had it dismissed before it could go any further.”
To prove a crime in court, a prosecutor must demonstrate all listed elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury of 12 people.
The NewsBreak writer celebrated the dismissal in a Tuesday story, claiming it was the result of media pressure and a recognition of “abuse” of the justice system that Olson dismissed the “retaliatory” charge.
Erramouspe countered again, saying the charge wasn’t retaliatory and it wasn’t dismissed due to any of DMV Investigation’s claims.
His office pursued Loigoin’s DUI citation as soon as she was arrested for it, but the false reporting charge came later because Olson was stuck in weeks of trials and trial preparation on other cases and didn’t have time to review additional case materials to compile additional charges, Erramouspe said.
“So, he was not able to review the document and charge it ‘til he was out of trial – and then he was basically playing catch-up on cases,” said Erramouspe. “It had nothing to do with Rock Springs PD. They never contacted us asking us to file charges, they only arrested her on DUI – they acted above board on this whole case.”
‘Better If There’s Some Basis’
Mickelson told Cowboy State Daily that in his personal capacity, he’s frustrated with the time and energy people have had to pour into rebutting assumptions presented as fact.
“We don’t deal in assumptions; we deal in established fact,” he said. “We do take any allegations of misconduct very seriously, so they’re all investigated. It just usually is better if there’s some basis for them.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.