Category archive

Crime - page 4

Idaho Woman Ordered To Pay $5K For Improper Food Storage In Grand Teton

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Idaho woman was ordered to pay a fine of more than $5,000 for improperly storing food in Grand Teton National Park.

Belinda J. Arvidson, 50, was ordered to pay $5,826.99 for improper food storage and will serve four years of unsupervised release.

While camping in Grand Teton National Park, Arvidson failed to properly store garbage and beverages, resulting in a grizzly bear receiving a food reward when it found the unattended garbage and drink at the campsite.

“Irresponsible behaviors have  consequences, and many times it is the wildlife that pays the ultimate price,” said Chip Jenkins, superintendent of Grand Teton National Park. “We all have responsibilities to preserve and protect the incredible wild animals of Grand Teton National Park and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”  

Individuals camping in the area took photos and videos of the grizzly bear while it was in Arvidson’s campsite rummaging through the trash and other food items. The campground contained multiple warning signs about bears and proper food storage as well as bear boxes in which food and other items could be stored.  

Due to the bear receiving a food reward, upon locating the bear, it was tranquilized, collared, and relocated by boat to another area of the park.

The bear could pose a danger to humans if it were to  have another similar incident, and killing the bear may become necessary, the park said.

The fine to be paid by Arvidson covers the National Park Service’s costs for relocating the bear, including the cost of a GPS collar now necessary to track the bear’s movement.

All food and items with a smell must be stored in a bear-resistant food storage locker or in a hard-sided vehicle  with the doors locked and windows closed day and night.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Police Looking For Evanston Man Who Allegedly Abandoned Truck On Railroad Tracks

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Uinta County Sheriff’s Office is currently seeking information on who may have left a pickup truck on some railroad tracks near Evanston that forced a stop to rail traffic in the area.

The maroon Ford F-150 truck was found abandoned and stuck on the railroad tracks Sunday afternoon in the area of the Aspen Tunnels.

Train traffic in the area was shut down for six hours while the vehicle was removed from the tracks and inspected for damage.

Deputies believe Robert Finney of Evanston was the driver of the vehicle. Finney is also wanted on a warrant for felony probation revocation.

Anyone with information about the incident or Finney’s whereabouts should call the sheriff’s office at 307-783-1000.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Riverton Man Sentenced To Jail For Assaulting Indian Affairs Officer At Casino

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Riverton man has been sentenced to a little more than a year in prison after being convicted of assaulting a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs officer earlier this year.

Leo Michael Duran, 26, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised released on his conviction on a charge of assaulting a federal law enforcement officer. The sentenced was imposed this week in U.S. District Court.

Duran pleaded guilty to the charge in May.

According to court information, during the early morning of Jan. 23, security staff at the Wind River Hotel and Casino were in the process of escorting Duran from the premises and a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer arrived to assist.

While the officer was placing handcuffs on him, Duran turned on him and began throwing punches and causing himself and the officer to fall to the ground, according to reports

Duran got up and ran away, heading down the highway toward Riverton.

The officer made it back to his patrol vehicle and pursued Duran, completing the arrest with the assistance of Fremont County Sheriff deputies.

“We are extremely proud of BIA Law Enforcement and recognize the dangers they face while protecting the citizens of the Wind River Reservation,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “Duran’s actions show his complete disregard for law enforcement and a lack of good decision making. This type of assault is not something we take lightly, and such cases will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

This crime was investigated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the assistance from Fremont County Sheriff’s Department.

“FBI Denver thanks our partners at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. Mr. Duran’s violent response to contact from a federal law enforcement officer jeopardized the officer’s safety and that of the community they serve,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider. “The FBI stands by our law enforcement partners against violent criminals who pose a threat to the community.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Casper Woman Beaten In Possible Transphobic Attack

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Casper woman is raising funds to pay the medical bills of her sister, who was injured in what the family believes was a transphobic-related attack.

According to a GoFundMe launched by Erin Shipley, her sister Rilee Shipley was attacked late July 15 at a dog park near her apartment in Casper. The woman was kicked in the head multiple times and left bleeding in the dark as she attempted to find her glasses and get back inside with her dog.

“Please consider helping Rilee and Theo (Rilee’s spouse) financially as they figure out how to pay some of the medical bills that will come from this horrific and senseless violence and also maintain their rental and vehicle payments,” Erin Shipley wrote on the GoFundMe.

The family did not say why they believed the attack was related to Rilee Shipley being a transgender woman.

The Wyoming Medical Center said Shipley’s orbital bone, lower sinus and cheekbone were fractured and the woman had a head wound from being kicked in the head.

Rilee Shipley has filed a police report and been in touch with a victim’s advocacy group.

The Shipleys have hit their goal of raising $4,500, hitting more than $5,100 as of Tuesday afternoon.

A few days after being attacked, Rilee Shipley took to social media to say she’d realized a few things since being beaten.

“Breaking your face really hurts. (Not as bad as the neck, but close),” she wrote. “If you’re consistently good to people, even people you don’t know, for no reason and with no expectation of being repaid or even thanked, eventually it’ll come back around and the benefits you reap are 100fold what you’ve sown. I don’t have enough words to thank everyone for all you’ve done for us. In less than 48 hours, a gofundme in mine and Theo’s name has reached its goal and is still growing. We’ve been fed, we’ve been doused in love and affection, we’ve been shown how much we mean to our community and to our friends. I’m so grateful for all my people.”

An updated posted to the campaign on Tuesday noted that Shipley would have to have emergency surgery, scheduled for the coming week, to repair her cheekbone. She will soon be meeting with an ophthalmologist to find out more about her orbital bone fracture.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

“If You Take Off With Me, I Will Kill You:” Casper Police Release Body, Dash Cam Footage Of Police Shooting

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Video footage of a man being shot and killed by a Casper police officer after the man drove off in a car with the officer inside it was released Friday, more than two months after the shooting occurred.

The Casper Police Department released body and dash camera footage of the shooting during a news conference Friday.

The officer involved in the shooting, Officer Jake Bigelow, was cleared of any wrongdoing in a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation probe, according to information provided for the news conference. The Natrona County District Attorney also declined to press charges.

The man shot was identified in May as 42-year-old Joseph Roebener.

The footage, edited so viewers could not see Roebener’s body after he was shot, was not streamed during the news conference, but was made publicly available. However, it does contain graphic images and explicit language.

According to police reports and video footage, around 4 a.m. on May 6, Casper officers stopped a vehicle and approached it to speak with its two occupants.

At one point, the driver unexpectedly exited the vehicle and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat in an attempt to flee the scene. Bigelow tried to stop the vehicle by getting into it, however, Roebener accelerated from the scene at a high speed.

“If you drive away with me, I will f–king kill you,” Bigelow told Roebener as the man attempted to put the vehicle into drive.

While inside the moving car, the officer ordered Roebener to stop the vehicle multiple times, even threatening to shoot the man if he did not stop. Eventually, Roebener drove the vehicle onto the oncoming traffic lane of Interstate 25, although this cannot be clearly seen in the video.

The officer eventually fired his times weapon four times at Roebener and safely stopped the car along the side of the interstate.

The entire incident in the vehicle lasted just over a minute, although Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters said Bigelow told him it felt like a lifetime.

An search of the vehicle later revealed an ounce of methamphetamine stashed inside.

“The rapidly-evolving events portrayed in the video abundantly show the difficulty the officer was placed into by the actions of the suspect,” McPheeters said.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Gillette Teens Charged With Felonies For Stolen Pickup, Causing $40k In Damage

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Two juvenile males now face felony charges after a late-night joy ride in a stolen pickup resulted in over $40,000 in damage to public and private property, authorities say.

Both were arrested at the Energy Capital Sports Complex (ECSC) last night around midnight, according to Gillette Police Lt. Kelly Alger, who added that the males had been sought after for a string of property damages to Fox Park earlier that same night.

Officers had been dispatched to Forge Court at 11:37 p.m. after a 26-year-old female reported seeing a white 2006 Chevrolet run into a portable toilet at Fox Park and drive through a fence in her backyard, where it proceeded to drive in circles, per Alger.

The portable toilet was pushed off its base and back approximately 25 yards into a field. The vehicle had also crashed into the Fox Park sign at the entrance to the playground.

At the park, officers recovered several alcohol bottles, broken glass, and a backpack, Alger said.

Officers were dispatched again 30 minutes later to the ECSC where witnesses reported seeing the pickup crash into a fence around the newly constructed splash pad area until the vehicle was no longer operational. The suspects then attempted to flee on foot.

When officers arrived, bystanders had taken a 14-year-old male suspect into custody, Alger said, adding that officers chased down and arrested a 16-year-old male suspect moments later.

The 16-year-old male fought with officers and was ultimately transported to the Campbell County Detention Center (CCDC). A third suspect managed to get away and has not yet been identified, per Alger.

The 14-year-old male told officers that his uncle had let him borrow the pickup but, when questioned further, became verbally combative.

He began to threaten law enforcement, ultimately claiming that he was going to kill them, Alger said, who further stated that the pickup was found to be stolen and the 14-year-old male was also transported to the CCDC.

In total, the damage to the pickup, the ECSC, and Fox Park is in excess of $40,000. The two juvenile males have been charged with felony conspiracy to destroy property and theft.

The 14-year-old male was also charged with being under the influence of drugs, according to arrest records provided by the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office.

Law enforcement will be seeking to identify and apprehend the third suspect in the coming days.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Fort Washakie Man Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison For Sexually Abusing Minors

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Fort Washakie man has been sentenced to more than 14 years in prison this week for sexually abusing minors on the Wind River Indian Reservation for 14 years.

Avery Fitzgerald Brown, 27, was sentenced to 14.5 years in prison, followed by 10 years of supervised released this week in U.S. District Court.

In late April, Brown pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact of a minor.

“The FBI and our local, state, tribal and federal partners work tirelessly to investigate and bring to justice individuals engaged in the exploitation and sexual abuse of minors. With this sentence, a dangerous child predator has been removed from the community with a clear message that sexual abuse of our vulnerable youth will not be tolerated,” said Denver FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider. “We are grateful to the dedication of our partners at the Wind River Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts in this case and our shared commitment to protecting children.”

According to court records, the abuse occurred on the Wind River Indian Reservation from March 2006 to October 2020, when one of the victims disclosed in a letter to a physician with the Indian Health Service that she had been sexually assaulted by Brown multiple times.

“This case demonstrates the incredible work performed by dedicated federal agents and community members who stood up for the victims and worked tirelessly to bring this abhorrent individual to justice,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray. “It takes courage for any victim – especially child victims – to come forward and disclose sexual abuse.  We should all be thankful that a young girl bravely spoke up and helped stop this defendant from hurting any other children.”

The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Special Agent Adrianne N. Jahnke. Assistant United States Kerry J. Jacobson prosecuted the case.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Gillette Man Guilty Of Attacking Another Man With Crowbar in Coffee Shop

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A Gillette man accused of attacking another man with a crowbar in 2020 was found guilty by a Wyoming jury after half an hour of deliberation, the Campbell County Attorney’s Office announced Friday.

Brennan Baker, 29, was found guilty of aggravated assault and battery with the habitual criminal enhancement on July 8 following a two-day jury trial relating to an October 2020 incident where he attacked a man at a local coffee shop with a crowbar.

Court documents state that Baker believed the other male had “hooked up with his old lady” at some point previously and was upset when he confronted the male at Hole in the Wall Coffee on South Douglas Highway in Gillette.

Video surveillance footage showed Baker taking a baseball bat-style grip on the crowbar and taking multiple double-arm swings at the male’s head, torso, and hips in the parking lot, per the affidavit, which adds the male put his arms up in an attempt to ward off the onslaught.

At one point, the male was able to grab the crowbar from Baker’s grip and the two exchanged blows with their fists for several moments. Baker was ultimately able to regain possession of the crowbar and swung periodically at the male any time he got near his vehicle in an attempt to leave.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Cheyenne Airman Saves Kidnapped Child, Helps Capture Fugitive

in News/Good news/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne airman has been hailed for her role in the apprehension of a fugitive and the return of a kidnapped child to his mother.

Suzanne Pedro, an installation entry controller at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, was recognized this week for her actions in late June.

According to records of the event, a man drove up to the Air Force base gate and handed Pedro, assigned to defend the gate, an unusual form of identification. The man and a boy in the vehicle refused to make eye contact with the airman, which made her suspect something was amiss.

“I had a feeling something wasn’t right,” said Pedro. “Neither the man or the child looked at me while I scanned the ID. When it flashed red for warrants, my heart began to race.”

Pedro quietly alerted her supervisors and fellow airmen on duty about the situation. She directed the vehicle out of the line of traffic at the gate to keep the man from fleeing.

Airman Frank Shaw relayed information to the base defense operations center, which verified warrants had been issued for the arrest of the man in the car and contacted local law enforcement to inform officers of the situation.

“We were told of a weapon in the car, so my heart was racing, but I wasn’t nervous,” said Pedro. “My main concern was keeping the child distracted and keeping him comfortable and happy.”

Although the investigation is ongoing, the airmen have been told the child had been missing from his biological mother since December.

Pedro and Shaw were recognized by multiple levels of leadership for their actions.

“Airman Pedro exemplifies what it means to be a Defender,” said Maj. Keil Luber, commander of the 90th Security Forces Squadron, which runs the air base. “While not yet qualified on her position, she followed her instincts and training, directly contributing to the capture of a wanted criminal and the recovery of a missing child.”

Pedro expressed excitement about her coming years in the military.

“I’ve wanted to be a police officer as long as I can remember,” said Pedro. “To have only been in the Air Force for 10 months and get this experience that most haven’t gotten in their whole careers – it’s been amazing. I am thankful for everyone on my flight who has helped teach me, and I’m also thankful to my parents for supporting me in my dreams.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Former Wyoming Catholic College Official Accused Of Running $15 Million Scam

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

A former chief financial officer for Wyoming Catholic College is accused in a federal lawsuit of running an elaborate scheme to defraud a New York asset management firm of $15 million.

Paul McCown is accused in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District court of falsifying financial documents and even posing as a bank official to convince Ria R Squared to loan him $15 million.

The lawsuit filed in late June said that within “hours or minutes” of McCown receiving the loan, he transferred most of the loan proceeds to other people — including relatives, associates and Wyoming Catholic College itself, which received an anonymous $10 million contribution through McCown’s actions.

“This is the story of a complex, calculated, methodical and fraudulent scheme, orchestrated by an individual holding a trusted and respected position with the Wyoming Catholic College, to defraud R Squared out of the sum of $15 million,” the lawsuit said.

WCC, in a statement Wednesday, said it was in the process of returning the money.

Wyoming Catholic College was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit and no claim was made that the college was involved in the scheme. 

In the statement, WCC said McCown was placed on indefinite administrative leave on June 5 because of personal financial irregularities and resigned on June 25.

“Over the past month, to experience such a profound breach of trust by a leader of our institution, has been both embarrassing and painful for Wyoming Catholic College,” the college said.

It added there was no evidence of financial irregularities at the college.

According to the lawsuit, McCown was introduced to David Kang, president and chief executive officer of R Squared, by WCC’s executive vice president, Jonathan Tonkowich.

McCown told Kang he was looking to obtain advisory services related to the college’s endowment fund.

In March of this year, McCown advised Kang he was searching for investment advisory services on his own behalf for his “substantial personal wealth.”

The lawsuit said McCown provided Kang with bank statements from Wyoming Community Bank that revealed small balances in January and February that grew in March to $750.3 million as the result of a large deposit.

He also offered US Bank statements “which appeared to confirm the large transfer …” 

McCown told R Squared to address all of its questions to a Kendall Hayford, who he identified as his bank officer at Wyoming Community Bank. An R Squared representative had a telephone conversation with a man identified as Kendall Hayford using a telephone number supplied by McCown.

McCown in May texted Kang that he needed a short-term loan for $10 million — an amount later increased to $15 million. He referred R Squared to Hayford for the necessary banking information.

The loan was made on May 11. 

Meanwhile, McCown continued to move forward with setting up an investment advisory account with the $761 million reportedly in his account. A person identifying himself as Hayford said the money had been released and a wire transfer to R Squared had been initiated on May 21.

“However, the funds did not arrive that day, or on the following Monday … (or ever),” the lawsuit said.

When looking into the situation, R Squared reached out to Wyoming Community Bank’s president and “McCown’s fraudulent activities began to become known.”

When contacted about the loan, McCown denied borrowing the money or signing any loan documents.

Further investigation revealed the bank statements provided to R Squared were forgeries and that McCown never had hundreds of millions of dollars in Wyoming Community Bank.

While Kendall Hayford is an employee of Wyoming Community Bank, the number and email given R Squared by McCown were both false and Hayford’s signature on documents was forged.

Within hours of receiving the money, the lawsuit said, McCown transferred most of it to relatives, including his father and brother- and sister-in-law, to himself and to the Wyoming Catholic College colleague who introduced him to Kang. 

He also obtained a cashier’s check payable to the state for $841,863.

“The falsity, and the great lengths Mr. McCown took to exact his plan, became known only days after funding the loan,” the lawsuit said. “Regrettably, the vast majority of the funds have now been disseminated to various entities and individuals affiliated with Mr. McCown, including his family members and his employer.”

The lawsuit said R Squared could not account for about $1 million of the loan.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction to prevent the further distribution of the money.

“Given the elusive and creative nature of Mr. McCown to date, and his blatant and brazen disregard for the consequences of his misconduct, it is imperative that Mr. McCown … be restrained from (his) ongoing fraudulent conduct, the continued dissipation of assets, including the funds fraudulently obtained, and the hindrance of justice,” it said.

A hearing on the company’s request has been scheduled for July 16.

The lawsuit accuses McCown of a number of charges, including fraud and breach of contract, and asks that the court force McCown to repay the loan plus interest, along with punitive damages to be determined in the course of the lawsuit.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Man Gets Drunk, Leads Yellowstone Park Rangers On 100mph+ Chase

in Yellowstone/News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man who led Yellowstone National Park rangers this week on a chase with speeds of more than 100 mph could face multiple years in prison or hefty fines.

Roderick B. Tillman Jr. has been charged with nine misdemeanor counts, including driving under the influence, fleeing a police officer and unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Tillman made an appearance in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, where he was advised of the charges against him.

According to court documents, officers were alerted to a collision between two vehicles near Yellowstone’s southern entry gate Monday morning. The reporting party said one of the drivers, later identified as Tillman, was belligerent and was suspected to be intoxicated.

The reporting woman also said Tillman was throwing “stuff” at her husband. Tillman reportedly left the scene in a red vehicle, traveling toward Grant Village inside the park.

An officer located Tillman’s vehicle and attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but Tillman did not pull over. At one point, Tillman had to stop the vehicle due to traffic and officers commanded him to leave his car, even using a gun convince him to do so.

He refused and fled the scene again.

Tillman began to drive more than 100 mph in a 45 mph speed zone in the park. He frequently drove in the opposing lane of traffic with vehicles coming toward him — some even had to swerve off the road to avoid hitting him — and made erratic passing maneuvers with no use of turn signals, said an affidavit filed in the case.

He also would suddenly accelerate or brake, creating a dangerous and unpredictable environment.

After turning his vehicle around at one point to avoid apprehension, Tillman turned down the Mesa Pit Road, a gravel road with a “do not enter” sign posted near it. He lost control of his car and slid down a steep sandy hill.

A ranger told Tillman to exit his vehicle, but he didn’t comply. His speech was slurred and his responses were incoherent as he made references to items including the ranger’s ancestors, rape and Christopher Columbus and making comments such as “You did this to me” and “I’m drunk.”

In his vehicle, officers found two empty alcohol containers and a pill bottle.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

YouTube “Influencers” Arrested In Rawlins After Breaking Into Hotel, Harassing Wildlife

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Five men were arrested over the weekend in Rawlins after breaking into an abandoned hotel and recording footage while “on tour” for their YouTube channel.

Dmitri Sergei Martyanov, 31, of Tempe, Arizona is charged with felony theft of a firearm and Jorge Eduardo Mendoza Aguinaga, 22, of California, is charged with possession of a controlled substance (three ounces of marijuana), according to Cali O’Hare of Bigfoot99, who originally reported on the incident.

Both men are currently out on bond, while their companions were not charged.

The five men had more than a half dozen firearms when they broke into the hotel. They documented their escapades on Snapchat, referring to it as “the projects” and “a serial killer’s house.”

The men also filmed themselves breaking windows inside the hotel, which was condemned almost a decade ago.

They were also seen harassing a female mule deer, throwing bread rolls at the animal.

The group of men run a YouTube channel that is labeled as a “shocking reality/comedy show” that “aims to expose the problem” of drug addiction in the United States. They generally film drug addicted and homeless people.

The duo have racked up more than 7 million views on their channel, but they haven’t posted a video since April.

Martyanov and Aguinaga were supposed to appear in circuit court for preliminary hearings this week, but their court appearances will be rescheduled, according to O’Hare.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Man Shot By Green River Police After Firing At Officers

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man was shot late Tuesday by Green River police after shooting at police officers and threatening other people with a gun, according to the Green River Police Department.

Around 11 p.m. on Tuesday, a Green River police officer received a report of a person who had threatened other people with a gun near a local park.

As the officer was receiving the information, a vehicle matching the description given by the caller passed by the officer’s location.

Officers conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle and the driver initially refused to exit the vehicle.

Then, the driver began to fire a weapon at officers, who returned fire. The subject was wounded at some point during the altercation and was transported by ambulance to Sweetwater County Memorial Hospital.

He was later taken to an out-of-state hospital for further treatment.

The investigation of the incident has been turned over to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, which is standard practice for any officer-involved shooting in the state.

No other details on the shooting were immediately available, since the investigation just commenced.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

14-Year-Old Cheyenne Male Shot And Killed In Apparent Homicide

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A 14-year-old Cheyenne boy was killed early Monday morning in an apparent homicide, according to the Cheyenne Police Department.

Around 1 a.m. Monday, Cheyenne police officers were dispatched to a residence on a report of a gunshot heard inside the home. Upon arrival, they found the teenage victim.

The boy was transported to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center by ambulance, where he was then pronounced dead.

The case is under investigation by Cheyenne police and no further information, including the victim’s name, has been released.

However, a GoFundMe page that was launched by an apparent friend of the victim’s family identified the boy as Daniel Barlow. The page also said he was shot in the chest.

“We are asking for anyone that feels lead by the Lord to please donate to funeral costs,” the GoFundMe’s organizer, Ashlea Bradford, wrote. “Nothing can bring my sweet cousin back but hopefully this will help the financial burden on my uncle. Whatever you can help with would be greatly appreciated by our family. Thank you.”

Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to contact the Cheyenne Police Detective Bureau at 307-637-6521. Additionally, information can be provided anonymously at 307-638-TIPS or at

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Raccoon-Hat-Wearing Maine Man Banned From Yellowstone For Trespassing Onto Old Faithful

in Yellowstone/News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Maine man who last year approached Old Faithful Geyser while wearing a raccoon skin hat and waving an American flag has been banned from Yellowstone National Park as part of his sentence on a guilty plea to charges stemming from the incident.

Aaron E. Merritt, 38, pleaded guilty to trespassing on the Old Faithful Thermal area in the park last summer. He was arraigned and sentenced on Thursday to 15 days in jail, with credit for four days served. He was also fined $230 in court costs and a $10 special assessment fee.

Merritt was also banned from the park, although it wasn’t clear if it was a lifetime ban. He was also sentenced to 15 days imprisonment with credit for four days served.

On July 7, 2020, while wearing a raccoon skin hat and waving an American flag, Merritt ran out onto the thermal area and up to the geyser at Old Faithful more than once. The thermal area surrounding the geyser is off-limits to visitors.

Merritt then failed to appear for his court hearing on July 23, 2020, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

He was arrested on June 5 in Maine and made his appearance at the Yellowstone Justice Center.

“Yellowstone National Park has rules and regulations in place to protect park resources and help keep visitors safe,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “This case ended with federal charges and time in prison, but it could have been much worse. If Mr. Merrick had fallen through the thermal feature, he would have most likely lost his life.” 

Merritt is the second person to be banned from the park this week, joining an Indiana man who fought park rangers and security guards earlier this month while intoxicated. That man was banned from the park for five years.

According to a previous Cowboy State Daily story, Merritt is not the only person to face park justice recently. Jake Adams, a comedian who thought he could increase his social media following by hitting a golf ball in all 50 states, is now under investigation for hitting one near Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Off-The-Grid Trapper Kills Himself After Law Enforcement Searches Property For Missing Woman

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A Sublette County man who described himself as a trapper who “lived completely off grid” killed himself while law enforcement authorities were searching his property for a missing woman, the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department office announced on Wednesday.

On June 19, a search warrant was served to Darrell “Pete” Petry which allowed authorities to begin the search for Vanessa “Nessy” Oren, a 61-year-old Labarge woman who has been missing since January, 2017.

During the multi-day search, Petry left his property and was found dead on June 22. An investigation determined that his death was self-inflicted and no foul play is suspected.

Authorities told the Casper Star Tribune that Petry was not under arrest and was “free to come and go.”

Petry described his property on his Facebook page as a “remote area in southwest Wyoming completely off grid.”

The self-described trapper said he was retired but still worked part-time in “predator control.”

He also said he had been raising bobcats since 2012.

“Keeping a pet bobcat in the house has been a teaching experience,” Petry wrote. “I’ve learned more about the cats and what, why and when they are attracted to some scents compared to other scents. An example being rubbing on WD40. Odd uh? And bobcats have a better sense of smell than most trappers.”

Petry appeared to be an active Facebook participant in 2015 and early 2016. His page is full of photos — some gruesome — of coyotes, foxes, and other animals caught in snares and traps.

At the same time, he posted photos of his pet bobcat lounging around his cabin.

“He is loose in the house a lot,” Petry wrote. “Spends most of his time in the house fact is. He use to not mind my girls be’n here.”

The Search warrant was executed with the assistance of multiple agencies including NecroSearch, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Game and Fish, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, and the Wyoming Highway Patrol. 

According to The Charley Project, an online clearinghouse of information for missing persons, the missing woman last had contact with her family in late January or early February of 2016. 

“She has never been heard from again,” the site said.

The disappearance of Vanessa “Nessy” Orren is still being actively investigated by the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office.  

The Sublette County Sheriff’s requests anyone with any information related to the disappearance of Vanessa Orren to please contact the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office Detective Division at 307-367-4378.  

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Drunken Man Who Attacked Yellowstone Rangers Pleads Guilty, Banned From Park For 5 Years

in Yellowstone/News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man who drunkenly fought park rangers and security guards in Yellowstone National Park earlier this month pleaded guilty to his offenses this week in U.S. District Court.

Kyle F. Campbell, 31, of Fairmont, Indiana pleaded guilty to multiple charges stemming from an incident in the park on June 21. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, a five-year term of unsupervised probation and banned from Yellowstone for five years.

He was also ordered to pay $1,550 in fines and a $50 special assessment fee.

Campbell pleaded guilty to several criminal charges: disorderly conduct; threatening, resisting, and intentionally interfering with a government employee; violating the lawful order of a government employee; being under the influence of alcohol and a controlled substance to a degree that may endanger oneself or others; and contempt of court for refusing to comply with Magistrate Judge Mark Carman’s warrant to collect a blood sample.

“We understand that people are eager to get out this summer and enjoy our national parks; however, this type of behavior is unacceptable. Thanks to the quick actions taken by park rangers and the park vendor’s security officers, no one was seriously harmed,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “Stay sober, because unruly and intoxicated behavior will only earn you a spot with the jailbirds rather than enjoying the beauty and adventure of Yellowstone.”  

According to court documents, around 5:45 p.m. on June 21, a Yellowstone ranger received a report of disorderly conduct occurring at the Grant Marina. Four people had been denied access to their kayak tour by their tour guide because of intoxication.

Campbell, who was part of the group, allegedly became agitated and hostile, according to an affidavit filed in support of the charges, yelling at the tour guide and making threats.

The group left the scene in a silver minivan towing a trailer. Law enforcement began looking for the group within the park.

A few minutes later, there was a report an incident at the Grant Helispot between Campbell (dressed only in sweatpants and socks) and a security guard. The location of the incident was in an employee RV court in an area clearly marked for employees only.

When a ranger arrived, Campbell put his hands into the air, claiming he did nothing wrong and the security guard was lying. He also kept making threatening gestures toward the security guard, which caused the ranger to detain him, the affidavit said.

Campbell continued to repeat he did nothing wrong, and the ranger noticed a strong odor of alcohol coming from the man. Campbell confirmed he had been drinking that day and only could say he “had a lot.”

The security guard said he had seen Campbell driving the silver minivan without the trailer. When he told Campbell to drive slower in the area, Campbell flipped him off.

As they kept talking, Campbell got increasingly agitated, getting within a foot of the security guard and making comments about assaulting him, the affidavit said.

Campbell also refused to comply with the ranger’s requests to stay put and stop moving while the security guard was being interviewed. He was then placed inside the ranger’s vehicle.

While the ranger asked the security guard if Campbell could have been driving under the influence, Campbell began to bang his head against the law enforcement vehicle. He was told to stop, which he did momentarily, but then resumed.

After being removed from the car and placed on the ground, Campbell began to refer to the ranger and security guard using racist and homophobic slurs, according to the affidavit.

Campbell attempted to scoot and roll toward the security guard, and the ranger ultimately placed him under arrest for disorderly conduct.

In a search of the silver minivan, officers found empty alcohol and marijuana containers.

He also banged his head against the pavement, injuring his nose and causing it to bleed. He continued to resist detainment and paramedics taking him to the hospital in Livingston, Montana, ultimately leading to him being sedated.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Bandits Rip ATM From Cheyenne Bank; Abandoned Truck Found With Obliterated ATM Attached

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Perhaps the bandit or bandits didn’t watch the episode of Breaking Bad when two meth-heads stole an ATM and tried to open it up. It’s really hard.

Last Friday night in Cheyenne, whoever tried to steal an ATM found that out.

The Cheyenne Police Department is reporting that they were called to the Platte Valley Bank in northern Cheyenne early Friday morning because of a report of an attempted ATM theft.

The tip turned out to be correct.

The police found the ATM but it was no longer in the bank. Instead the mangled machine was attached to a blue 2004 Ford F250 pickup truck.

No one was in the truck. And unlike the episode of Breaking Bad, no one’s head was crushed under the weight of the machine.

“Officers believe the abandoned vehicle had been stolen from a nearby residence a few hours prior to the incident at the bank,” a police statement said.

The big question is were the thieves able to break-open the ATM and get the cash?

It’s impossible to tell from the photo of the obliterated ATM, the Cheyenne Police isn’t saying, and no video has been released of the incident.

Authorities say no arrests have been made and the case remains under investigation.

If you have any information regarding this incident, please contact the Cheyenne Police Detective Bureau at (307) 637-6521 or the Federal Bureau of Investigation at (303) 629-7171.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Casper Animal Shelter Employee Charged With Felony Theft

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An employee of the City of Casper’s Metro Animal Shelter has been charged with theft following an investigation that indicated he stole almost $6,000 from the shelter over six years, the Casper Police Department announced on Monday.

Michael Gaylord, a kennel technician and six-year employee of Metro Animal Shelter, has been charged with two felony counts of theft.

“The citizens of Casper deserve honest, hard-working public servants,” said Casper Chief of Police Keith McPheeters. “When one of our own falls short of the high standards we set for ourselves, we feel it necessary to inform the community and make the changes necessary to prevent this type of behavior from taking place again. Our community can trust that the Department has no tolerance for employees who do not uphold the highest levels of professionalism, a standard our citizens expect and deserve.”

An internal investigation was launched in April, following a citizen complaint concerning an unissued receipt from a transaction at the animal shelter. The investigation uncovered numerous receipts that were unaccounted for and discrepancies in financial reports at the shelter.

Because the Casper Police Department took over the shelter in 2019, it turned its findings over to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation for further investigation.

Ultimately, investigators determined that over the course of six years, Gaylord stole at least $5,970 from Metro Animal Shelter, the department said.

The investigation confirmed that the theft consistently occurred through the misappropriation of small cash transactions, generally $5 or $10 at a time, occurring over time, and occurred during customer transactions for purchases of small items such as licenses, fees or other products when the customer didn’t want a receipt for the purchase.

“Over the last two years, the Casper Police Department has worked diligently and invested heavily to organize and restructure the business operations of the shelter,” the department’s Facebook post said. “This initial finding was made, in part, due to the attentiveness of the newly appointed Superintendent of Metro Animal Shelter.”

Immediately upon receipt of the citizen complaint that launched the investigation, the Casper Police Department leadership implemented new policies and procedures surrounding how monetary transactions are conducted and recorded at the Metro Animal Shelter, including increased checks and balances, oversight and accountability to ensure theft like this doesn’t happen again.

“The team at Metro Animal Shelter continues to be a dedicated group of professionals who work tirelessly to protect and serve the citizens and animals of Casper,” the post said.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Shootout Leaves Suspect Killed, Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Injured

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jimmy Orr and Bill Sniffin

A shootout in Lander during a traffic stop on Friday left a 24-year-old man dead and a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper injured.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol said the shooting occurred around 3:30 p.m. on Sinks Canyon Road in Lander. 

“The trooper conducted a traffic stop and moments into the stop, the trooper and the suspect exchanged gunfire,” a spokesman for the patrol said.

According to reports, the suspect was declared dead at the scene while the trooper was taken to a local hospital for treatment of his wounds.

The mayor of Lander, Monte Richardson, was directing traffic near the incident. He told Cowboy State Daily he heard a man was killed and an officer was down.

On Saturday, the Highway Patrol announced the trooper was released from the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

Jill Hunter, who lives in the house across from the incident, said she saw a man lying the ground and officials trying to resuscitate him.  She said the road was closed for a long period of time.

A Rock Springs resident who was visiting Lander said “the streets were screaming with sirens from every direction.”

“I thought I was in New York City for a minute,” DA Jereb said. “I didn’t realize that Lander had so many law enforcement ready to respond so quickly. I was impressed and at the time, I knew it had to be something serious.”

Andy Gramlich, a retired pilot who lives nearby, said he counted 17 various law enforcement vehicles and sirens sounded for more than an hour.

Names of those involved and details about the traffic stop have not been released.  

The matter has been turned over to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Former Casper Businessman Sued Over Sex Assault Allegations

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A woman who accused a former Casper businessman of sexually assaulting her in 2017 has filed a federal lawsuit in the incident.

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, the woman is asking for a jury trial in her complaint against Tony Cercy, now a Texas resident, which alleges he sexually assaulted her and threatened to have her killed if she told anyone about the incident.

Cercy was acquitted on two charges stemming from the incident in 2018 and convicted on a charge of third-degree sexual assault in a second trial in 2018. However, the conviction was overturned by the Wyoming Supreme Court on the grounds the jury in Cercy’s trial was given improper instructions.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, prosecutors declined to seek a third trial.

According to the lawsuit, the woman, who lives in South Carolina, was at Alcova Reservoir in June 2017 with friends and after dinner, she went with a group of friends to a party at Cercy’s lake house.

The lawsuit said the woman was was intoxicated and fell asleep on a couch in Cercy’s home fully dressed.

The woman awoke in the early morning hours to find that most of her clothes had been removed and that Cercy was performing oral sex on her, the lawsuit said.

The woman tried to get in contact with her friends to obtain help and tried to flee Cercy’s house, the lawsuit said. It added that as she walked down the driveway from the house, Cercy pulled up next to her in a “side-by-side” recreational vehicle and told her he would take her where she wanted to go.

The woman asked Cercy to take her to a trailer where she believed some of her friends were staying. He did so in a ride the lawsuit described as “frightening” due to Cercy’s “reckless and dangerous” driving.

“When plaintiff climbed out of the ‘side-by-side,’ (Cercy) told plaintiff that if she told anyone what she had just woken up to (Cercy) would have plaintiff killed,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleged Cercy called the woman’s cell phone number three days later “to get on the same page as to what had happened at the lake.” 

The woman reported the assault to law enforcement agencies that day.

In the lawsuit, the woman accused Cercy of sexual battery by having sexual contact with her without her consent or knowledge, and of assault by threatening to have her killed if she spoke of the encounter.

The lawsuit does not request a specific amount in damages.

(Editor’s note: It is the practice of Cowboy State Daily not to identify possible victims of sexual assault.)

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Man Gets Drunk In Yellowstone, Fights Rangers, Gets Charged

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man faces multiple charges in federal court after allegedly getting drunk and fighting with rangers and security guards at Yellowstone National Park this week.

Kyle F. Campbell was charged with eight misdemeanors, including two counts of disorderly conduct, in U.S. District Court. In total, he faces up to four years in prison, $40,000 in fines and up to five years of probation.

According to court documents, around 5:45 p.m. on Monday, a Yellowstone ranger received a report of disorderly conduct occurring at the Grant Marina. Four people had been denied access to their kayak tour by their tour guide because of intoxication.

Campbell, who was part of the group, allegedly became agitated and hostile, according to an affidavit filed in support of the charges, yelling at the tour guide and making threats.

The group left the scene in a silver minivan towing a trailer. Law enforcement began looking for the group within the park.

A few minutes later, there was a report an incident at the Grant Helispot between Campbell (dressed only in sweatpants and socks) and a security guard. The location of the incident was in an employee RV court in an area clearly marked for employees only.

When a ranger arrived, Campbell put his hands into the air, claiming he did nothing wrong and the security guard was lying. He also kept making threatening gestures toward the security guard, which caused the ranger to detain him, the affidavit said.

Campbell continued to repeat he did nothing wrong, and the ranger noticed a strong odor of alcohol coming from the man. Campbell confirmed he had been drinking that day and only could say he “had a lot.”

The security guard said he had seen Campbell driving the silver minivan without the trailer. When he told Campbell to drive slower in the area, Campbell flipped him off.

As they kept talking, Campbell got increasingly agitated, getting within a foot of the security guard and making comments about assaulting him, the affidavit said.

Campbell also refused to comply with the ranger’s requests to stay put and stop moving while the security guard was being interviewed. He was then placed inside the ranger’s vehicle.

While the ranger asked the security guard if Campbell could have been driving under the influence, Campbell began to bang his head against the law enforcement vehicle. He was told to stop, which he did momentarily, but then resumed.

After being removed from the car and placed on the ground, Campbell began to refer to the ranger and security guard using racist and homophobic slurs, according to the affidavit.

Campbell attempted to scoot and roll toward the security guard, and the ranger ultimately placed him under arrest for disorderly conduct.

In a search of the silver minivan, officers found empty alcohol and marijuana containers.

He also banged his head against the pavement, injuring his nose and causing it to bleed. He continued to resist detainment and paramedics taking him to the hospital in Livingston, Montana, ultimately leading to him being sedated.

Campbell faces charges in U.S. District Court in Wyoming of disorderly conduct, inference with federal agency functions, being under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, driving while under the influence and trespass.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyomingites Featured On TV Show About Solved Cold Case Uden Murders

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Bill Sniffin, publisher

The famous unsolved murder case involving Virginia Uden and her two sons is the topic of a TV show on the Oxygen Cable TV Network Monday night at 6 p.m..

Called “Killer Couples,” the series is about gruesome murders by couples over the years.  The Uden case was a murder case that was unsolved for 33 years.  It was finally solved in 2013. It occurred in Lander and Fremont County.

I owned the Lander newspaper at the time and am interviewed on the show. Virginia Uden was a part-time employee of our newspaper. 

Other Wyomingites including former Fremont County Sheriffs Larry Mathews and Tim McKinney were interviewed.  Former DCI investigator Andy Hanson is featured along with Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Ann Manlove. 

One of Wyoming’s most famous native son authors, Ron Franscell, is prominent. He wrote a terrific book about the case called “Gerald and Alice, A Homicidal Love Story.”

This is the second time a cable channel has done a show on this murder case. The channel Investigative Discovery did one about 10 years ago and it pops up once in a while.  I was on that one, too, and occasionally get emails or phone calls from friends saying they had just seen me in on TV.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Eastern Wyoming College Still Disabled Following Cyberattack

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington was still operating at a limited capacity on Wednesday after being hit by a cybersecurity attack earlier this week.

Unknown persons attacked the school’s administrative network, disabling its computer, phone and email system sometime early Tuesday morning. All three systems were still down as of Wednesday afternoon and there was no estimate as to when they might be restored.

“We are still investigating and digging through things,” Tami Afdahl, EWC director of college relations, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “We’re honestly just trying to process what happened.”

All EWC employees at both of the college’s campuses in Torrington and Douglas have been affected by this cyberattack, with no one able to access their email or use their phones or computers.

Officials are continuing to investigate the incident and are working to restore service to the campus.

People can visit either the Torrington or Douglas campuses or leave a message at the college’s general voicemail at 307-532-8200 if they are trying to get in touch with the school. Afdahl said employees are still working, albeit without access to certain critical equipment.

She was unable to share any information about how the attacked happened.

“We’re still looking for concrete information, so it would be premature to share anything,” she said.

This is the second time a higher educational institution in Wyoming has been hit by a cyberattack this year. In February, the University of Wyoming was hosting a virtual Black History Month event when people began sending racist and pornographic messages to disrupt the event.

Apparently, the UW was one of many schools across the country to have Black History Month events disrupted by such attacks. Institutions including the University of Southern California, Washington’s Gonzaga University and Rutgers University in New Jersey were “Zoom bombed” with similar hateful, violent words and images.

Cybersecurity attacks have been popping up across the United States this year.

In one incident, hackers shut down an East Coast pipeline in May.

Earlier this month, the Greeley, Colorado, meat processing plant JBS was attacked and its servers in North America and Australia were targeted.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Eastern Wyoming College In Torrington Hit With Cyberattack

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Eastern Wyoming College’s computer, phone and email systems were disabled Tuesday by a cybersecurity attack, the Torrington college announced.

Investigations are currently underway to fully determine the extent of the attack. College officials are working with local law enforcement agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and local and state IT professionals.

No further information about the cyberattack had been released as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.

This is the second time a higher educational institution in Wyoming has been hit by a cyberattack this year. In February, the University of Wyoming was hosting a virtual Black History Month event when people began sending racist and pornographic messages to disrupt the event.

Apparently, the UW was one of many schools across the country to have Black History Month events disrupted by such attacks. Institutions including the University of Southern California, Washington’s Gonzaga University and Rutgers University in New Jersey were “Zoom bombed” with similar hateful, violent words and images.

Cybersecurity attacks have been popping up across the United States this year.

In one incident, hackers shut down an East Coast pipeline in May.

Earlier this month, the Greeley, Colorado, meat processing plant JBS was attacked and its servers in North America and Australia were targeted.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Highway Patrol Record 29% Surge in Drivers Speeding More Than 100mph

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

On the one hand, drivers in Wyoming should be applauded for obeying the law more (or at least, not getting caught) as speeding citations in the state were down by 15% in 2020.

On the other hand, those who did speed really sped. And a lot more often.

According to the Wyoming Highway Patrol, there were 1,481 citations issued for drivers speeding in excess of 100-plus mph, which is a 29% increase from 2019.

Although the department didn’t offer a reason for the increase, it speculated it could have something to do with the pandemic.

There were definitely fewer vehicles on the road in 2020 as traffic in the state dropped by 6.5%.

The National Highway Safety Transportation Administration reported speeding by scofflaws across the country in 2020. And it wasn’t just your average hoodlum violating the rules of the road.  Some lawbreakers are the ones entrusted with keeping the laws.

In Atlanta, a police officer who was supposed to be home in self-quarantine after coming down with COVID-19 was pulled over for driving 130 mph — twice the speed limit.

The Office of Traffic Safety in Minnesota reported that early on during the pandemic there was “half the traffic and twice as many fatalities.”

“We have more available lane space for drivers to use and abuse and people are really, really abusing,” the director of the office told the Washington Post.

And some people are more stupid than others. Take the 33-year-old Minnesota man who filmed himself driving his Lamborghini 213 mph in January. He went to jail after posting the video on YouTube.

Here in Wyoming, the highway patrol will join other western state law enforcement agencies in conducting an Excessive Speed Enforcement Safety campaign from June 25 – 27 in hopes of raising awareness of the dangers of excessive speed.

Scientists at Switzerland’s Dynamic Test Center report occupants have little chance of surviving a 100 mph car wreck. An episode of Mythbusters demonstrates why.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Men Sentenced to Prison After Being Busted For Drug Trafficking In Sweetwater County

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Arizona man and Mexican man who is undocumented were convicted and sentenced to prison in U.S. District Court this week after they were caught last summer trafficking drugs through Sweetwater County.

Jose Luis Urrea, 35 of Tucson, and Mario Vera-Sandoval, 51 of Mexico, were each sentenced for their involvement in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Urrea received more than five years in prison, while Vera-Sandoval was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by five years of supervision.

“We know the interstate system is widely used by traffickers,” said Criminal Chief Nicole Romine. “That is why state agencies and local law enforcement in communities along the interstates, along with federal partners, work collectively to pursue and prosecute this type of criminal conduct. Simply put, we will not tolerate the use of our interstate system to transport drugs to or through the State of Wyoming.”

Vera-Sandolval was also convicted of illegally entering the United States, for which he received a sentence of time served.

On Aug. 14, 2020, the men were stopped by a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer in Sweetwater County for a routine traffic stop. After they pulled over, the men quickly exited the vehicle and began “aggressively” checking the tires and couldn’t give a definitive answer as to their travel plans.

During questioning, Urrea admitted he thought there was something illegal in a backpack the trooper saw in the car.

The trooper searched the vehicle, finding five pounds of methamphetamine. Urrea said he was paid $3,000 to deliver the backpack to unknown persons in another state.

Vera-Sandoval was aware that the reason for the trip was to transport methamphetamine and law enforcement discovered he was in the United States illegally. Both men were taken into custody.

Special agents with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration further questioned the men and gathered enough evidence through their phones, dash cam footage and their own admissions to charge them with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.  

“On behalf of the DEA I’d like to commend the sharp eye of the Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers who made this significant seizure,” said Deanne Reuter, Special Agent in Charge, DEA Denver Field Division. “Officers like these are the real force multiplier when combating the trafficking of these dangerous drugs.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Judges Accuse Laramie County DA Leigh Anne Manlove Of “Incompetence” & Violating Rules Of Conduct

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Laramie County’s district attorney should be the subject of a disciplinary hearing regarding a list of alleged violations of the rules governing the actions of attorneys, according to a charge filed with the group that oversees complaints against lawyers.

Leigh Anne Manlove is accused of a variety of violations of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys in the report filed with the Wyoming Board of Professional Responsibility by W.W. Reeves, a special counsel for the Wyoming Bar Association.

Most of the violations, the complaint said, stem from Manlove’s “failure to competently perform the duties of her office” that prompted all of the judges in Laramie County to write a letter expressing concern about her performance.

The actions that prompted the complaint include Manlove’s exaggerating budget pressures faced by her office to justify the dismissal of almost 1,000 cases in circuit and district court in Laramie County and violating federal labor laws.

Manlove is also accused of misrepresenting the facts surrounding the case of a man accused of killing two people five days after being released from police custody on misdemeanor charges because of a procedural error.

Manlove, a Republican, was elected district attorney in November 2018, defeating Democrat Lynn Boak to replace former District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg.

The charge filed against her with the Board of Professional Responsibility stems from three separate disciplinary investigations, it said, including one prompted by the “unprecedented” letter from Laramie County’s four district court and three circuit court judges in December.

The letter said the judges had “serious concerns about Ms. Manlove’s ability to fulfill her professional responsibilities and her responsibilities to this community.” 

On Manlove’s first day in office, she fired all but one of the office’s prosecutors and several other staff members, starting a pattern that made the office a difficult place in which to work, the complaint said.

“Owing to Manlove’s incompetence and a lack of professionalism, the office was an unhealthy workplace from the beginning of her administration,” it said.

After firing all but one prosecutor, Manlove’s office filed a series of motions to delay court proceedings because the office lacked the attorneys necessary to pursue all the cases.

Those motions falsely blamed Sandburg for the delays, the charge said.

The complaint indicates that Manlove did something similar in 2020, when she dismissed hundreds of cases between October 2020 and January 2021 and reduced the services provided by her office, claiming that budget cuts had made it impossible for her office to fulfill all of its duties.

“The real reason Manlove’s office could not function was not furloughs, but employees quitting because of workplace conditions,” the complaint said. “Only one of the new lawyers hired in January of 2019 is still on the job. Eight lawyers and nine support staff resigned between April of 2019 and November 2020. Those interviewed by the special bar counsel uniformly cite Manlove’s hostile and demeaning behavior as the reason they left their jobs.”

In August 2020, the state announced that attorneys in district attorney’s offices would have to take one unpaid day off per month to help satisfy a need to cut state spending by 10% because of state budget shortfalls.

In a letter distributed throughout the county in September 2020, Manlove made the “false claim” that each of her attorneys would have to take two unpaid days off every month, leaving her office unable to fulfill many of its duties.

Manlove used the letter to justify the dismissal of 132 cases in district court and almost 800 cases in circuit court between October 2020 and February 2021, often filing the letter as a part of her requests to dismiss charges.

She also suggested that law enforcement officers act as prosecutors in non-priority offenses, refused to prosecute misdemeanors or non-violent felony offenses and refused to prosecute violations of game and fish laws.

In another incident, the complaint said Manlove’s office failed to file the proper paperwork in time to bring formal charges against Andrew Weaver, a man who was arrested in September 2019 on misdemeanor charges. As a result, Weaver was released. Five days later, he was accused of killing two people in a Cheyenne shooting.

Weaver was arrested on Sept. 8, 2019. By law, a person taken into custody must be charged within 72 hours or released. Weaver was released on Sept. 11, a little more than 72 hours after his arrest, after charging documents from Manlove’s office were not filed.

Manlove’s office manager documented the event and said the proper filing documents were not sent to the court in time to charge Weaver because they were placed in a “mail run area” for documents to be delivered to the court. The documents were not delivered to the court until after Weaver had been released. The office manager said in such situations, it makes sense to simply walk the documents to the court offices, which are in the same office complex.

Manlove, in a news release, maintained the documents had been received by the circuit court on Sept. 11, but not in time to stop his release.

However, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported the time stamp on the documents indicated they had been delivered to court on Sept. 12 — one day after the 72-hour limit to hold Weaver.

“The press release gave a plainly false account,” the charge said.

The charge also looked at two other complaints against Manlove, both stemming from the release of two men accused of dangerous crimes.

“Manlove’s ongoing incompetence and lack of diligence pose an immediate threat to public safety in Laramie County as demonstrated by … two felony cases brought to the office of bar counsel’s attention by mothers of female victims of dangerous crimes perpetrated by men whose return to the community (without the period of incarceration their crimes warranted) was later endorsed by Manlove,” it said.

In one case, Manlove negotiated a reduction in charges against a man accused of assaulting a woman after being ordered to stay away from her. 

In the other, Manlove agreed to recommend that a man with a lengthy criminal background be placed on probation on charges of stalking, sexual exploitation of a child and aggravated assault. The recommendation to release the man to and put him on probation came after Manlove told one of the man’s victims that she “was dedicated to getting him a long prison sentence.”

“When asked by the mother of one of (the man’s) victims why she made a deal to release (him) from jail, Manlove said ‘Because I can,’” the charge said.

The complaint also said Manlove ordered the legal assistants in her office not to report any overtime they worked, a violation of federal labor laws.

“”This willful violation of the (Fair Labor Standards Act) will result in civil and criminal penalties,” the complaint said.

The document asks the Board of Professional Responsibility to conduct a formal disciplinary hearing into the allegations and impose or recommend that the Wyoming Supreme Court impose appropriate discipline.

If the board conducts a hearing, it will issue its own findings of fact and recommendation for action to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Among the actions the board can recommend are a censure, a form of public reprimand, suspension of the right to practice or disbarment.

Manlove has 20 days to respond to the complaint, which was filed Friday.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Story Of Wyoming Couple Convicted Of Multiple Murders To Be Told On Oxygen Show

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The story of a Wyoming man and woman accused of multiple murders will soon be told in an Oxygen television show.

The story of Gerald and Alice Uden will be featured in an episode of the network’s “Killer Couples” program on June 25, according to a Facebook post by author Ron Franscell, a former Wyoming resident himself.

Franscell’s book “Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story” looks at the investigative work that went into the filing of charges in 2013 against the Udens for  crimes that occurred in the mid-1970s and 1980.

“The bloody story of homicidal husband and wife Gerand and Alice Uden is coming to a TV near you,” Franscell, a former Wyoming newspaper publisher, wrote on a Facebook post. “Ther sordid tale will be featured on Oxygen Network’s ‘Killer Couples’ series at 8pm on June 25 and you might even get a glimpse of the crime-writer guy who wrote ‘Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story.”

Alice Uden was convicted in 2014 of shooting her third husband in the head while they were living in Cheyenne in 1974 or 1975. Gerald Uden pleaded guilty at about the same time to killing his ex-wife and two adopted sons in Fremont County in 1980.

None of the bodies were ever found.

Alice and Gerald Uden were both serving their sentences at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington. After Alice’s death, Gerald tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his confession in the death of his ex-wife and adopted sons. 

Gerald Uden remains in the Medium Correctional Institution.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Rock Springs Accountant Sentenced to Jail For Filing Fake Tax Returns

in News/Crime
Wyoming taxes

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Rock Springs accountant has been sentenced to four months in jail for filing fake tax returns on behalf of Sweetwater County restaurant owners with the Internal Revenue Service.

Paul Edman, 53, was sentenced on June 7 in U.S. District Court, and his jail time will be followed by one year of supervised release. He pleaded guilty in March to aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns.

In February 2017, agents from the Internal Revenue Service, Homeland Security and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations interviewed Edman about several of his clients, Sweetwater County restaurant owners who were believed to be hiding cas sales.

After a thorough investigation, including the use of a grand jury and interviews, the government determined Edman had willfully counseled the restaurant owners in the preparation of a false 1040 form for calendar year 2014, knowing that the form was false.

Edman made significant adjustments to both personal and business expenses related to the family-owned restaurants to reduce their tax bill, which totaled nearly $645,000.

In emails, he recommended ways they could deduct expenses in a fashion that would not stand out in an audit. This communication was easily traced and proved that Edman willfully provided the advice in an effort to defraud the United States government, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

“All certified public accountants must be held to a higher standard when working with the taxpaying public in preparing income tax returns,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge Andy Tsui. “By disregarding this duty and preparing a client’s tax return knowing it contained false deductions, Paul Edman is now a convicted felon and will spend time in prison for his criminal actions.”

Ultimately, Edman reduced the amount of his client’s tax bill by $72,000, signed and filed the tax return electronically.

“Some may argue that tax evasion is a victimless crime, but that could not be further from the truth. We all end up paying when someone unlawfully evades our tax system,” said Acting U.S Attorney Bob Murray. “Edman’s aiding and assisting certain clients file false tax returns is an outright theft of the American taxpayer.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Torrington Murder Case: Defendant’s Competency Questioned

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A case against a former Park County resident accused of murdering a Torrington woman has been put on hold, after questions were raised about his competency.

Last week, a judge ordered personnel from the Wyoming State Hospital to evaluate Sean L. Pettus and determine whether he is mentally fit to proceed.

Pettus, 32, is alleged to have murdered 20-year-old Madison Cook in April by stabbing and suffocating her. He is alleged to have later set fire to the building that housed his business and to have stolen a vehicle. Pettus is being held in jail without bond.

Police found Cook’s body on April 20, with trauma to her head, multiple stab wounds to her chest and a ligature around her neck, and say the evidence points to Pettus as her killer.

“The injuries to the deceased … demonstrate an extended and intentional series of actions taken by Pettus that required multiple steps and more than a brief moment in time to end the life of Cook,” Torrington Police Det. Rebecca Wakamatsu wrote in an affidavit supporting a charge of first-degree murder.

Police say that as they arrested Pettus, he made a series of strange statements. According to the Scottsbluff Herald, Wakamatsu testified at a court hearing last month that Pettus “thinks everyone in Torrington is against him,” thinks the city is filled with ninjas and reported hearing whispering in the adjoining business that he reportedly set on fire.

Not long after that preliminary hearing, Pettus’ court-appointed attorney, Jonathan Foreman, asked that his client be evaluated, saying there was “reasonable cause to believe that [Pettus] has a mental illness or deficiency.”

Deputy Goshen County Attorney Zach Leininger opposed the motion, saying the defense had provided “no evidentiary or factual basis to show reasonable cause to believe the defendant is unfit to proceed.”

However, Foreman pointed to the “symptoms” described at the preliminary hearing and indicated that Pettus has a documented history of mental illness. According to a filing, Pettus was previously diagnosed with schizophrenia and has been admitted to the Wyoming State Hospital multiple times.

On June 2, District Court Judge Patrick Korell ordered personnel from the state hospital to examine Pettus and determine whether he’s fit to stand trial.

Pettus and Cook had been in a relationship for months and had described themselves as married on their Facebook pages. Her family later told police there had been a pattern of violence.

Following an argument on April 17, Cook moved the majority of her items out of their shared apartment, charging documents say, but she returned the following day. She was last seen alive on the night of April 18.

Two residents of the apartment complex reported hearing a woman screaming and loud thumping coming from the area of Pettus’ apartment between 8:30 and 9 p.m. 

“The noises lasted for about 10 to 15 minutes,” Wakamatsu wrote, adding that Pettus admitted to being in the apartment during that time.

Around 9:30 p.m., police say, Pettus recorded a video in the apartment’s bathroom, holding a knife and a bottle of alcohol.

“… Pettus appears to be sober and lucid and looks into the camera and states at one point words to the effect [of]: ‘I don’t care if she hurts or not, this is going to happen. I probably got f—ing miles of f—ing footage,’” Wakamatsu wrote. “Pettus smiled when making this statement and then got in the shower. Pettus then stepped out of the shower and turned off the camera.”

Area residents told Torrington police they saw Pettus acting strangely over the next day. For example, Pettus’ landlord spotted him with a duffel bag containing antifreeze and gasoline, among other items. Police later found the bag, which held cleaning solutions, table cloths, paper towels, cloth towels, latex gloves and a hand saw — items that Wakamatsu said could be used to dispose of a body.

Shortly after 6 a.m. on April 20, a fire was reported at Pettus’ business and — after getting reports that Pettus had been spotted at the scene smelling strongly of gasoline — Torrington police went looking for him. When they entered his apartment, officers found Cook’s blanket-wrapped body in a bedroom, with a plastic bag and two T-shirts around her neck.

Cook was a Torrington native.

Pettus previously lived in Powell, Cody and Florida, among other places. He was paroled last year after serving prison time for a Powell burglary, in which he stole various items from an acquaintance’s apartment in 2016.

In addition to first-degree murder, Pettus faces charges of first-degree arson, theft totaling more than $1,000 and two counts of burglary. He has not yet entered a plea to the allegations and will not do so until the Wyoming State Hospital completes its evaluation. The report is due in 60 days, though extensions are fairly common.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Lander Man Charged With Possessing, Distributing Child Porn Via Social Media

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Lander man has been charged with both possessing and distributing child pornography through a social media application, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court this week.

Garret Thomas Findlay, 23, of Lander, has been charged with one count each of possession and distribution of child pornography. He faces up to 20 years in prison for each charge, as well as a $250,000 fine for each count.

According to the court documents, in October, a tip was submitted to the CyberTip Report — a service that collects tips about possible crimes against children — about a user on the social messaging app Kik who shared 14 files of suspected child pornography with another user or group of users sometime between Aug. 26 and Aug. 28, 2020. All of the files depicted prepubescent girls being made to participate in sexually explicit content.

Kik supplied law enforcement with information about the user’s account, including IP addresses and that the person was using a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus cellphone to access their account through the Verizon network.

Law enforcement contacted Verizon, which provided a phone number for that particular phone, which was Findlay’s number. The company also confirmed Findlay had that same type of phone.

Officials tracked down one of the IP addresses to a residence in Laramie. There, they spoke with the property owner, who rented an apartment to Findlay from July to mid-December. Following this, Findlay moved back into his parents’ home in Lander.

Another IP address connected to the Kik account was found to be at Findlay’s mother’s home in Lander.

Police executed a search warrant of the home in early March, where they obtained Findlay’s cellphone and detained the man. He was transported to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, where he made several admissions to possessing child pornography on his phone, using Kik to send and receive child pornography and ultimately admitting the account under investigation was his.

When accessing his phone, investigators found 22 images and 10 videos of child pornography. Findlay advised the last time he viewed the material the previous night, when he’d received “some” images via the social media app Whisper.

He told agents he’d used Whisper numerous times to send and receive child pornography.

It was found that on or around March 1, Findlay used Whisper to send 18 images of child pornography to another user on the app.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming Park Rangers Track Down Michigan Man Who Ventured Too Close to Old Faithful

in Yellowstone/News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It is 2,488 miles from Old Faithful in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park to Madison, Maine. One would think that would be a safe distance for a Michigan resident seeking to avoid a Wyoming court appearance.

And this might be true if any normal law enforcement agency were involved. But not for the intrepid agents of the National Park Service.

A Michigan man learned that lesson the hard way when he was arrested earlier this week in connection with a charge he ventured too close to Old Faithful last summer.

Like the man who selected Yellowstone as the perfect location for a golf shot, Aaron Merritt learned firsthand of the tenacity of the Park Service.

It’s a lesson the Park Service applies with vigor when it sees flagrant violations of the rules that make the country’s national parks special places, said Rob Wallace, who until January oversaw the National Park Service as the assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

“When people show up and do these crazy stunts and then advertise them, they’re basically flaunting what national parks are about, and perhaps encouraging other followers on social media, to one up and do something even more, you know, crazy or stupid or dangerous,” Wallace told Cowboy State Daily. “So I think the Park Service is selective about what they decide to pursue. But in cases that are pretty egregious, they want to discourage that kind of use.”

Merritt was cited for thermal trespassing after allegedly walked too close to Old Faithful on July 7, 2020.

View Post

Merritt was wearing a raccoon fur cap and carrying an American flag when he allegedly stepped off the boardwalk at the park. He was 50 feet off the path and approaching the backside of the geyser when a park ranger called him back. Merritt was cited, and scheduled to appear in federal court two weeks later.

But he skipped out — so a warrant was issued for his arrest.

And on Monday of this week, the Michigan resident (who has since garnered a few facial tattoos) appeared remotely before a federal judge from the Somerset County Jail in East Madison, Maine.

Merritt is not the only person to face park justice. Jake Adams, a comedian who thought he could increase his social media following by hitting a golf ball in all 50 states, is now under investigation for hitting one near Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring.

Wallace said special laws are in place to protect the country’s national parks and the federal government takes violations of those laws seriously.

“There’s different rules in a national park from a state park or BLM land,” he said. “You can’t take driftwood out of the park, you can’t grab a handful of flowers and take, take them apart, you can’t throw coins in the Grand Prismatic pond, for obvious reasons of corrosion.”

Wallace said it has been relatively easy to find such offenders when they speak about their exploits on social media.

“When they post their exploits on social media, that right away suggests how to find these people,” he said. “They leave clues all over the internet about what they’re doing, and it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out how to track them down.”

He added that the public plays a part in apprehending offenders as well.

“When you see reports from people that are doing things that are clearly out of balance, the public is pretty good in terms of grabbing a license plate number, taking a video, reporting it to the nearest ranger,” Wallace said. “So there’s lots of ways that information comes in. And in certain cases, the Park Service or the U.S. Attorney’s office looks at something and says, ‘That is so problematic that we’ve got to pursue this further.’”

Wallace adds that the Park Service’s relationships with other government agencies helps the process.

“The Park Service works very closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, because they are a federal agency,” he said, “and the U.S. Attorney, whether it’s in Wyoming or Maine, represents the interests of the Park Service, and looks at these cases, and makes a decision whether to take them or not.”

And when someone flaunts the rules and then disregards the consequences, Wallace says they just might find a U.S. Marshal at their door.

“They show up at their door, or they contact people and say ‘You’re in violation,’ and quite often people will cooperate,” he says. “A lot of it is ignorance. People don’t know what they don’t know. But then when they decide to put that ignorance in full display on social media, it catches people’s attention.”

“If people are smart and they are caught, they would likely agree to come back and appear before a magistrate and take their medicine,” he added.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyo Attorney General Wants Agent’s Name Cleared In Censure Case

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s attorney general is asking the state Supreme Court to remove mentions of a law enforcement agent from an order censuring a Cheyenne attorney.

A petition filed with the court by the office of Attorney General Bridget Hill asked that the name of Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jon Briggs be removed from the order censuring David Singleton, a former Laramie County district attorney.

In the report and a news release announcing the censure, Briggs was accused of making false statements during a hearing in the case of Laramie County hemp farmers charged with conspiracy to manufacture, deliver or possess marijuana and cultivation of marijuana.

But the motion said the Wyoming Board of Responsibility and the Supreme Court had no authority to determine whether Briggs engaged in wrongdoing and added the fact his name was included in the report has hurt his ability to do his job.

“While Agent Briggs may not have been the ‘target’ of action by the (BPR), the Wyoming State Bar and this court, he has and will continue to suffer serious consequences from the report and recommendation that was incorporated into this court’s order and the subsequent press release in this matter,” the filing said. “These statements may in all practicality mean an end to Agent Briggs’ career as a law enforcement officer.”

The case stems from charges filed in November 2019 against hemp producers Deborah Palm-Egle and her son Joshua Egle. 

Raising hemp is legal in Wyoming, but if it contains more than 0.3% of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — it is considered marijuana and is illegal.

At the time hemp samples were seized from Palm-Egle and Egle, a man working at their ranch showed Briggs test results from the crop that showed the plants contained less than 0.3% of THC. During a preliminary hearing in July 2020, Briggs testified he had seen a report at the time of the incident that showed the hemp contained more than 0.3% THC.

During a break in proceedings, the attorney for Palm-Egle and Egle contacted Briggs and Singleton to suggest they correct the testimony.

According to the BPR’s report, Briggs testified he had not read the email from the attorney and Singleton failed to correct the statement.

However, the motion said a DCI investigation revealed that Briggs did not make false comments about the email.

The investigation revealed that Briggs was on vacation when he received the email and he forwarded it without reading it to the attorney general’s office and Singleton.

Despite the DCI’s finding, Briggs “is suffering significant consequences” because his name was included in the report, along with the allegation that he made false statements in court, the motion said.

“Within 30 minutes of the Wyoming State Bar’s press release (about the censure), prosecutors began contacting Agent Briggs’ direct supervisor stating ‘I don’t want (Agent Briggs) on my cases simply because I don’t want him to be cross-examined about this,’” the motion said.

Briggs was never given the opportunity to defend himself against the allegations, was never contacted during the BPR’s investigation into Singleton and was denied the right to due process by the BPR and the court, the AG’s office wrote.

“This was not justice for Special Agent Jon Briggs,” the motion said. “This is not justice for any individual who, while not an attorney, is associated with the legal system and seemingly happened to draw the ire of Bar Counsel.”

Even though the BPR and Supreme Court had no authority to take against against Briggs, putting the allegations in the report amounted to discipline, the motion said.

“The (BPR), the Wyoming State Bar and this court’s jurisdiction … was limited to disciplining a member of the Wyoming State Bar — David E. Singleton,” it said. “While the this process did not impose ‘formal discipline’ against Agent Briggs, the report and recommendation and subsequent press release approved by this court have accomplished the equivalent of formal discipline.”

The motion asks that Briggs’ name and allegations against him be removed from the censure order, that a statement be made specifying the order is “not a finding or conclusion of any misconduct on the part of Agent Briggs” and that a news release be issued explaining that the censure order “is in no way a finding that Agent Briggs engaged in misconduct of any kind.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Driver in Fatal Sublette County Wreck Pleads Guilty To Aggravated Homicide

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Joy Ufford, Pinedale Roundup

PINEDALE – Earlier this month, Jade S. Jewkes, of Jackson, signaled a change of mind – or heart – about going to trial for aggravated homicide by vehicle while intoxicated after she collided with a Pinedale man on New Year’s Day.

Jewkes was arrested Jan. 1 after her northbound Jeep Cherokee crossed Highway 191 and struck a southbound plow-truck driven by Shane Deal near Granite Creek Road, causing severe injuries. Deal died later that night at St. Johns Hospital in Jackson.

She was charged with two felony counts of aggravated homicide ­– one based on her having a blood alcohol concentration over .08 and one that she was intoxicated. Jewkes was also charged with driving while intoxicated. On March 10 in 9th District Court, she pleaded not guilty to the three charges and requested a jury trial. The trial was set to begin Sept. 20.

She was released on $150,000 cash/surety bond with restrictions on driving, drinking or contacting the Deal family.

However, on May 4, Pinedale attorney John LaBuda filed a motion to set Jewkes’ change-of-plea hearing “at the earliest convenience of the court and counsel.”

Judge Marv Tyler set the hearing for Thursday, May 27, at 3:45 p.m., requiring Jewkes to be “personally present at said hearing.” No other documents including a plea agreement were filed before the change-of-plea hearing.

Thursday, about a dozen family and friends accompanied Jewkes and attorneys LaBuda, Rives White and John Robinson into the 9th District Courtroom, masked but sitting close together behind the defendant. Judge Tyler asked them to confirm they did not want to be socially distant.

The Deal family watched the proceeding from home, appearing on the courtroom’s large-screen monitor tilted toward the defendant.

Judge Tyler asked everyone attending to refrain from speaking aloud or recording the hearing.

He addressed the defense table: “This is unclear to me because there are three charges, essentially what charges the defendant intends to change her pleas on?”

Robinson said, “There is no plea agreement in place. She will plead ‘cold’ to counts I and III and my understanding is the state will remove Count II.”

Sublette County Attorney Mike Crosson called that “accurate.”

Judge Tyler questioned Jewkes’ understanding of maximum consequences of her convictions on the aggravated homicide felony and DUI misdemeanor – jail time of 20 years, six months and fines of $10,750.

“Are you sure you want to go forward today by pleading guilty to these charges,” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

Jewkes pleaded guilty and was sworn in to provide a factual basis by relating each element of each crime. She testified that she “drank too much and made a horrible, horrible decision – to drive to Jackson and I crossed over the centerline and hit a vehicle driven by Shane Deal and he died as a result of that decision.”

She said her BAC was .22 after drinking mimosas and other drinks she could not remember. Judge Tyler conditionally accepted her guilty pleas and ordered a presentence investigation report and substance abuse evaluation. That process could take six to eight weeks, he said.

“You may have to pay restitution as a result of the criminal conduct on your part,” he told Jewkes. “The victim’s family, for example.”

With “cold pleas” and no plea agreement, Crosson and Robinson will argue their recommendations for Jewkes’ sentences at a later hearing, with Judge Tyler making the final decision.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Cheyenne Carjackers Sentenced to Prison After Posting Crimes On Social Media

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne man and Colorado teen whose criminal exploits were tracked on social media have been sentenced to prison in connection with a violent carjacking in Cheyenne last year.

Oscar Alfredo Ortiz, 20, of Cheyenne, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of supervised release, while Jacob Nathaniel Hopkins Trigg, 19, of Colorado, was sentenced to nine years in prison and five years of supervised release in connection with the April incident.

They were each ordered to pay $5,089 in restitution and $200 in special assessment fees.

Last April, a man driving in southwest Cheyenne encountered Ortiz and Trigg while they were standing on the roadway.

After the victim stopped to help the men, Ortiz brandished a rifle and demanded the victim turn over control of his vehicle. Trigg pointed a handgun at the victim and demanded he empty his pockets. The two then ordered the man out of the car at gunpoint and fled in the vehicle.

The next day, the car was found in Longmont, Colorado. Witnesses saw the two men and a woman dump the vehicle and cover it with a tarp, an action also recorded by video cameras in the area.

Meanwhile, officers in Longmont were tracking the duo on social media and found several posts related to their crime spree, which also included a high-speed chase on Interstate 70 near Evergreen, Colorado.

The Colorado State Patrol ultimately stopped pursuing the vehicle after speeds reach more than 96 miles per hour in a heavy traffic area.

The FBI ultimately arrested the two following a search warrant of Ortiz’ Cheyenne home, where the firearms were also located. Both firearms were traced to the two men.

“I want to send a clear message to would-be carjackers: Committing a senseless act of violence like carjacking will earn you a home in federal prison for a long time,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray.  “This office and our law enforcement partners will always fight for crime victims and do our job to hold accountable violent criminals.”

The case was investigated by the Cheyenne Police Department, F.B.I., the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and Longmont Police Department in Colorado.

“Today’s sentence highlights the successful collaboration between the FBI’s Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force, Cheyenne Police Department, Longmont Police Department, Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The CPD’s integration into the RMSSTF directly impacted the efficiency of the investigation,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider. “We work diligently with our partners to identify, investigate, and prosecute violent criminals such as Trigg and Ortiz to protect the public and keep our communities safe. FBI Denver is grateful for all our task force participants as these strong partnerships continue to bring justice to those who commit violent crimes.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Natrona County Sheriff Investigating Strip Club Shooting; Left Man In Critical Condition

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Natrona County Sheriff’s Department is currently investigating a shooting at a Casper strip club over Memorial Day weekend.

Around 12:30 a.m. Monday, the sheriff’s office received a 911 call regarding an adult man who had been shot in the parking lot of Northern Dreams, a strip club that is around 8 miles outside of Casper, NCSO spokesman Sgt. Taylor Courtney told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

The victim was taken to the Wyoming Medical Center with critical injuries, but he is now in stable condition.

While no one has been charged in the shooting yet, police executed a search warrant on a building in a residential area of Casper on Tuesday evening. One person was arrested during this time, but it was for unrelated charges.

There was a heavy police presence in the area where the search warrant was being executed.

Courtney couldn’t reveal much information about the shooting, the victim or a motive, as there is “still so much under investigation.”

“We have no specific information about a threat to the public at this time,” Courtney said.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Torrington Man Accused of Uploading 102 Files of Child Porn to Internet

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Torrington man faces federal charges in connection with allegations he had more than 100 files of child pornography on his computer, with some images depicting children as young as 4 in sexual situations.

Andrew Bryan Culligan, 35, is charged with one count of transporting child pornography, which comes with a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison if he is convicted.

According to court documents, federal investigators received multiple cybertips from Google regarding an account that contained 102 files of child pornography on the company’s Google Drive and Google Photos system. Many of the files showed prepubescent girls engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Investigators traced the IP address of the computer where the files were uploaded and revealed a Torrington address. Google also provided information about one of the email addresses registered to the Google Drive/Photos account, which was tracked to Culligan.

During the investigation, it was discovered that Culligan is a registered sex offender, having been convicted in 2013 of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor. The computer used to upload the child pornography was traced to his home in Torrington.

In April, a search of the home was done and investigators interviewed Culligan’s girlfriend, whose name the home’s internet service was listed under. She confirmed to police that Culligan did use one of the email accounts reported through the cybertips and that he was “protective” of the account.

However, the girlfriend was allowed to use Culligan’s other email account, which was also reported in the cybertips, to file his taxes.

Culligan was contacted while the search warrant was being executed, and while he confirmed one of the email accounts reported was his, he asked for a lawyer. Investigators then terminated the interview.

Based on his admission, Culligan was arrested on a state charge of child sexual exploitation and transported to the Goshen County Detention Center. He was formally charged in early April, but posted bond two days later.

Also according to the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court, last week, Culligan’s girlfriend took her 14-year-old daughter to the local emergency room to be examined for assault after finding a letter Culligan to the girl.

In the letter, Culligan made sexual remarks to the girl and expressed a desire to impregnate her. The girl has disclosed “multiple” incidents between Culligan and herself, but this is still being investigated, the affidavit said.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Gubernatorial Candidate Rex Rammel to Appeal Brand Inspection Conviction

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Rock Springs veterinarian who has been battling one of Wyoming’s brand inspection laws as unconstitutional plans to appeal his recent conviction on charges he failed to have brand inspections for horses he was moving between counties.

Dr. Rex Rammell told Cowboy State Daily he will appeal his convictions to hopefully force a change in the law he maintains violates constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure.

“If I don’t run out of wind before it’s over, I will prevail and the law will be ruled unconstitutional and the Legislature will be forced to take up the whole issue and modernize the law,” said the gubernatorial candidate.

The move will be the latest in a case that has gone on for almost two years because of delays caused by coronavirus and competing court orders.

Rammell’s conviction in circuit court in Pinedale last week came almost two years after a Sublette County Sheriff’s deputy pulled him over in June 2019 while he was moving horses from Rock Springs to Sublette County.

The deputy cited him for failing to have brand inspections for the horses in his trailer.

State law gives law enforcement officers the authority to “stop any vehicle carrying livestock, poultry or carcasses” so they can check for documents proving ownership of the livestock. 

However, Rammell, who has served as his own attorney throughout the case, argued the law is unconstitutional because it does not require that there be a reasonable cause for law enforcement officers to stop a vehicle. The vehicle only needs to be hauling livestock.

“The irony of the whole thing is when you are in the courthouse, you are innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “But the second you step out of the courthouse and put a horse in a trailer you are guilty until proven innocent.”

Rammell has argued throughout the trial that because his traffic stop was unconstitutional, the evidence collected against him during the stop — the lack of brand inspections — should be suppressed.

A Sublette County magistrate ruled in Rammell’s favor early on in the proceedings, but the county attorney appealed the decision and it was overturned — not because the decision was faulty, but because the magistrate was found to have been improperly appointed to his position. As a result, his ruling had no impact on the case.

Throughout the case, Rammell has not argued about the requirements for brand inspections, which prove ownership of livestock, but of the law giving law enforcement officers the right to stop vehicles without reasonable cause.

“I believe in brand inspections,” he said. “When people cross state lines, when there is a change of ownership, at sale barns, I am 100% behind brand inspections. But all of these unnecessary rules are burdensome, they’re unconstitutional and should be removed.”

The jury in Rammell’s trial convicted him on four counts of failing to have the proper brand inspections and the judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail and suspended the sentence. He was ordered to serve two years of unsupervised probation and pay fines and fees of $1,255.

Rammell said he will appeal the conviction to state district court, where he will be able to raise the issue of the constitutionality of the state brand inspection laws.

Rammell said he intends to follow the case through as far as he can.

“I’ve always been a principled man,” he said. “I’ve paid for I don’t know how many brand inspections that haven’t been necessary. I was just moving horses to pasture.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Man Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Investors In Wyoming Natural Gas Schemes

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Colorado man has pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from two schemes to defraud investors in Wyoming and elsewhere in the United States, officials announced Friday.

On Tuesday, Robert William Mitchell, 52, of Centennial, Colorado, entered guilty pleas related to an indictment alleging separate, but related, investor frauds.

First, Mitchell pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud investors in a  Wyoming natural gas production venture.

According to court records, Mitchell solicited investments he claimed would be used to create a publicly traded natural gas production company in Wyoming.

Instead of developing any company or protecting the investors’ money, Mitchell used the money to pay his personal expenses and continue financing the scheme.

Mitchell stole over $1.3 million from about three dozen investors, most of whom lived in and around Gillette, according to the indictment.

Second, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud in relation to the common stock of NuTech Energy Resources Inc.

According to court records, Mitchell conspired to artificially inflate the market price of NuTech common stock by manipulative trading and by releasing to the public false and misleading information about NuTech’s business prospects. 

Mitchell then sold his worthless NuTech shares to unwitting investors in the public market.

The indictment also charged three other men with crimes arising from the alleged conspiracy. Their jury trial will begin on Sept. 20 in Cheyenne.

As a result of his guilty pleas, Mitchell may be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison, along with three years of supervised release.

In addition, he faces fines up to $250,000, as well as possibly being ordered to pay restitution to the victims.

Mitchell is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District  Court Judge Alan Johnson in Cheyenne on Aug. 4.

These crimes were investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service and the United States Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Jury Finds Gubernatorial Candidate Rex Rammell Guilty Of Not Having Brand Inspections

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Joy Ufford, Pinedale Roundup

Almost two years after being pulled over and cited by a deputy for not having proper brand inspections for four horses and a colt, Rock Springs veterinarian Rex F. Rammell was found guilty Wednesday in a one-day Circuit Court trial presided over by 3rd Circuit Court Judge Gregory Corpening.

Later, Rammell said he will appeal to 9th District Court, where months ago he filed a civil petition asking Judge Marv Tyler to rule on the constitutionality of Wyoming Statute 11-21-103(a) that authorizes an officer to stop anyone hauling livestock to check for current brand inspections.

The six-person jury returned the verdicts after about 40 minutes of deliberation, with the trial taking place in the larger 9th District Courtroom. Rammell had sought a jury trial on the June 26, 2019, misdemeanors – this was the first in Sublette County since the COVID-19 pandemic severely restricted in-person attendance at court hearings.


Rammell’s arguments, limited by previous rulings, brought a handful of objections from Cannon, most sustained by the judge as Rammell questioned Deputy Ty Huffman, who stopped him that day.

During those sidebars, the jury heard “white noise” static as the three talked at the bench. Under Supreme Court-approved rules, jurors sat several seats apart, microphones were sanitized, attendees’ temperatures checked, Plexiglas installed and everyone wore facemasks.

Rammell represented himself; deputy county attorney Stan Cannon prosecuted the case. Each made opening and closing statements with very different perspectives on the Wyoming law and circumstances.

The only other witness was Wyoming brand inspector Mike Vickrey, asked to explain the basics of brand inspection and three livestock forms.

Rammell argued that Deputy Huffman couldn’t prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” the horses themselves came from Rock Springs into Sublette County.

Cannon used the deputy’s video and testimony to prove the charges’ basic elements. Rammell argued unsuccessfully that Cannon had stated he was not using the video at trial so he had not studied it.


Judge Corpening considered Cannon’s and Rammell’s arguments before imposing four sentences.

The judge asked Cannon if Rammell had any relevant criminal history. “The defendant has a pretty clean record,” he said.

“When I think of the hours my office has had to go through for a ticket, I would ask for the maximum,” Cannon said.

He asked the judge to impose four maximum sentences of six months in jail with all but four days suspended – “one for each horse.” Cannon also requested Rammell pay maximum $750 fines “on each horse,” or $3,000.

“One of the issues I’ve had in this case is (Rammell) believes he doesn’t need a brand inspection,” Cannon said. “… I don’t know if he ever got a brand inspection on these horses.”

He asked that Rammell undergo four consecutive six-month terms of unsupervised probation – two years total– “and to not violate this (brand inspection) law or any other law.”

Judge Corpening told Rammell he had the right to make a statement if he wished.

Rammell pointed to trial elements that he felt were unfair or incomplete – Deputy Huffman “admitted he hadn’t stopped to check many people” at that time.

“There are people all over this county that don’t get brand inspections,” Rammell said. “I’m not the only one who believes this law is unconstitutional.”

He referred to another brand-inspection case where a Farson woman was cited for bringing at least 30 calves to her property in Sublette County; it was reduced to one charge and one fine.

Rammell said it was the Sublette County Attorney’s Office that “took (the case) a lot farther than it needed to go.” 

Two years

On Dec. 10, 2019, Sublette County Magistrate Clay Kainer ruled in favor of Rammell’s evidence motion to not allow the deputy’s report, in effect leaving no case to prosecute. That led county law enforcement to curtail livestock checks and angered some local ranch families that support the stops.

“I won this case originally and Judge (Curt) Haws certified, ratified it,” Rammell said.

However, the county attorney’s office appealed Kainer’s ruling, arguing he was not properly appointed at that time. Another district judge ruled Kainer’s order withdrawn and the case remanded to Circuit Court for a different legal analysis.

Judge Haws transferred the case to Judge Corpening.

Rammell has represented himself at every court hearing and in every filed document.

“(Cannon) talks about these hours – he didn’t have to appeal this,” Rammell said. “He’s gone beyond what he needed to do to settle this case. … If it costs you a bunch of work – that’s your job.”

Further, he said, if he knew Cannon was introducing the 2019 video, he would have proceeded differently.

“I don’t always (travel without brand inspections),” Rammell said. “I’ve got a stack of brand inspections; he wants me to be on probation for three years? I bet everyone here has done that.”

Rammell turned to Huffman – “Including you.”

Rammell said the drawn-out case dragged his name and reputation “through the mud” and cost him time, money and lost business.

“I have paid a big price already. I know you’re a fair judge,” he said. “I mean, four days in jail for not getting a brand inspection? I rest.” 


Judge Corpening said the jury determined the violations were “willful” but he did not feel jail time was important.

He sentenced Rammell to 30 days in jail for each count, to run at the same time, then suspended them. He ordered four rounds of six months of unsupervised probation, also concurrent, and fines and fees of $1,255.

Payment would be suspended pending Rammell’s anticipated 9th District Court appeal of the verdict, the judge added, which he should file within 30 days. He then ended the hearing.

Outside in front of the courthouse, Rammell and Cannon, both angry, faced off on the sidewalk. Both walked away – but Rammell said he plans further court action including the appeal. Those could include a federal-court lawsuit “for all the things they’ve done to me” and a complaint about Cannon to the Wyoming State Bar.

His biggest goal is still to overturn the Wyoming brand-inspection law as unconstitutional.

“I think if ranchers really understood what the law was, they’d change their tune,” Rammell said. “They think it’s only on out-of-county (vehicles) – under that law if you run a calf or a horse up the road, you need a brand inspection.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Dispute Over Song On Radio Leads To Shooting On Reservation

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Federal charges have been filed against a man accused of shooting another over a song on a pickup truck radio.

Ronald Blaise Jenkins was charged Wednesday in U.S. District Court with assault with a dangerous weapon and assault resulting in serious bodily injury in connection with a shooting that occurred on the Wind River Indian Reservation in January.

According to an affidavit filed by Michael Shockley, a Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent, his investigation into the shooting of a man identified only as “W.S.” revealed that the shooting occurred as the result of a disagreement over a song on the radio.

According to the affidavit, Shockley learned W.S. had been riding in a pickup truck with three other men, including Jenkins, drinking alcohol and listening to music on the radio.

Two of the men said W.S. and Jenkins began arguing about a song on the radio and then prepared to fight over the issue.

The two said at that point, Jenkins shot W.S.

Jenkins told investigators W.S. had played a song on the radio he did not like and the two began arguing. He said W.S. got out of the back seat of the pickup truck, opened the door to the seat where Jenkins was sitting and punched him in the face.

Jenkins said he had broken his neck several years earlier and the attack made him afraid for his life. He said he found a gun on the floor of the pickup truck and was pointing it at W.S. when “it just went off.”

W.S., meanwhile, told investigators he did not remember what the argument was about, but that both he and Jenkins got out of the truck and were preparing to fight when Jenkins pulled a pistol.

W.S. said he charged Jenkins in an attempt to take the pistol away from him, but he was unsuccessful and Jenkins fired the weapon.

The affidavit said W.S. was helped into the emergency room at SageWest Hospital in Riverton by two men who then left and did not return.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Authorities Continuing To Investigate Death Outside Of Frannie, Wyoming

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

One month after a 47-year-old man was found dead on a rural road outside of Frannie, authorities are continuing to investigate what happened.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office has said it appears Donny Pearson “exited” a moving vehicle that was being driven by another man. However, authorities may never know what led to Pearson’s fatal fall on April 26.

Court records show the sheriff’s office has been probing whether the driver of the vehicle, 33-year-old Joshua Klebenstein, might have caused Pearson’s death by driving impaired. However, Sheriff Scott Steward said Tuesday that “we just don’t have any evidence right now to suggest foul play.”

Pearson had been living in the Frannie area — where he was apparently known as “Texas Donny” — but the sheriff said Pearson was from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In the wake of his death, it took Park County Coroner Tim Power days to confirm Pearson’s identity.

“[He] just never left any trail of any family ever,” Power said, adding, “you hate to see that.”

It was around 2 p.m. on April 26 that a citizen found Pearson’s body on Lane 5N, about a half-mile from the route’s intersection with Road 2N, between Frannie and Deaver. Judging by marks in the dirt, the man’s body had slid and rolled for approximately 110 feet, “indicating that the deceased male had exited a vehicle while it was moving,” Park County Sheriff’s Investigator Jed Ehlers wrote in an affidavit. An autopsy later concluded that Pearson suffered a fatal skull fracture when he hit the ground, Power said Tuesday. He said standard toxicology results remain pending.

The citizen who came upon Pearson’s body reportedly told investigator Ehlers that, roughly 10 minutes earlier, he’d seen Pearson and Klebenstein on the side of Road 2N. The witness said he saw Klebenstein’s 1997 Toyota Tacoma stuck along the road and heard Klebenstein tell Pearson to get in the truck, the affidavit says.

As deputies and other emergency responders from Park and Big Horn counties were working the scene, authorities got a new report — that a truck had just crashed into a nearby fence, sped away, then crashed into a ditch.

On the other side of the county line, at the intersection of Lane 5 and Road 2, Big Horn County sheriff’s deputies found Klebenstein and his stuck Toyota Tacoma.

“Joshua Klebenstein had blood on his hands when he was contacted, but no apparent injuries to his person,” Ehlers wrote in a later application for a search warrant. He said that Klebenstein “was uncooperative and did not answer questions.”

Klebenstein was ultimately arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. He has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge.

At the scene on April 26, Klebenstein allegedly told Big Horn County Sheriff’s personnel that he’d drank alcohol 30 minutes before the crash. Additionally, “Klebenstein told us that he had used illegal drugs, but would not tell us what he was on,” Big Horn County Sheriff’s Deputy Darold Newman wrote in an affidavit.

The deputy said Klebenstein showed multiple signs of impairment: His speech was slurred, his breath smelled like alcohol, his eyes were watery and bloodshot and he was crying, while displaying a range of emotions, Newman wrote.

“He had a hard time maintaining his balance, used a lot of profanity, [and] wanted to fight,” Newman wrote.

The deputy said Klebenstein eventually had to be taken to the ground and handcuffed, after he refused to follow orders. That violence and safety concerns ruled out field sobriety tests, Newman said, leading deputies to seek a blood sample for chemical testing. Klebenstein “told me that he would never give us his blood,” Newman wrote, but the deputy obtained a warrant for a sample.

Ehlers, meanwhile, obtained warrants to search the Tacoma about a week after the incident, collecting swabs of material, a bottle of Nikolai vodka and a couple of pipes.

Klebenstein is currently free on a $10,000 bond as he awaits a trial on the DUI allegations in Big Horn County Circuit Court.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Gillette Residents Launch Private Investigation Into Stolen Pickups

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

As Gillette police ramp up their investigation into a trio of pickups stolen and found abandoned Monday, one group of residents have decided to take the investigation into their own hands.

The pickups were all taken from residences in and around Gillette sometime between May 21 and May 24, according to reports from the Gillette Police Department (GPD).

One, a 2005 Dodge Ram taken from a business on Lakeway Road, was found running and abandoned on Redrock Road by Campbell County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) deputies; its ignition had been tampered with to allow ignition using a screwdriver, per Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds.

Another, a 2002 Ford F-150 stolen from apartments on Express Drive, was likewise abandoned and recovered on Grandview Drive.

The third, a white 2002 Ford F-250 taken from a residence near Foothills Boulevard, was found near Lakeway Road and Cedar Street. Like the Dodge Ram, the F-250 had its ignition tampered with. Unlike the others, however, the pickup’s dash had been ransacked with the suspects removing the stereo and a set of speakers from the back seat, according to GPD Lt. Kelly Alger.

A picture of the 2002 Ford F-250 stolen from the area of Foothills Boulevard. (Photo credit: Tyrel Martinson)

Gillette police have started investigating the incident to identify and apprehend the suspects responsible and have put together a pretty strong case, Alger said May 26.

But friends and family of Kameron Martinson, the owner of the F-250 stolen from Foothills, feel Gillette police efforts are not enough to bring the culprits to justice and don’t feel the police are prioritizing the case as they should be.

“That pickup is my brother’s pride and joy,” Tyrel Martinson, Kameron’s brother, said in a recent County 17 interview. “He practically lives out of that thing.”

The detective who checked out the F-250 didn’t seem like he cared and was just doing his job, according to Rhett Beard, Kameron’s roommate, told County 17 May 25.

Beard, along with Tyrel and Kameron’s sister-in-law Savannah Martinson, expressed frustration for what they see as a slow-moving investigation and have decided to look into the issue themselves.

“The police, they acted like they couldn’t care less, that’s why we’re doing this,” Savanna said May 25, adding that an owner of one of the other stolen pickups urged them to investigate themselves if they really want to find out who was responsible.

As of Tuesday, their investigation has turned up surveillance footage from the Kum & Go on Highway 14-16 and Foothills Boulevard that shows Kameron’s truck turning south followed by one of the other stolen pickups.

The surveillance footage, according to the group, shows that there are at least two suspects responsible for the thefts. They further deduced that it had to be multiple suspects because Kameron’s pickup, a loud and large vehicle, was stolen from outside his residence while he and Beard were home with the windows open.

They had to have pushed it away before starting it, Beard speculated, otherwise we would have heard them taking it.

The group planned on gathering other surveillance footage later that day that could help them identify who stole the pickups.

On May 26, Tyrel messaged County 17 to report that their efforts had turned up information that could identify the suspect vehicle, though he didn’t specify what that information was as of press time.

But regardless of whether the group is able to turn up possible suspects in the case, their actions could have some adverse effects on the police investigation, according to Alger, who expressed frustration and confusion at the news that the group was not satisfied with the police response and had taken it upon themselves to look into the case.

The detective assigned to the case, from the moment he got the call to the moment he went home, ran all over Gillette pulling surveillance footage and processing evidence, Alger said, adding that a low priority case wouldn’t have garnered the same investigative response that this one did.

The GPD has solid evidence and, given how fluid the case is, it makes more sense to get moving quickly with what we have, Alger said.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Casper Businesses Being Targeted By Phone Scammers

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Thieves posing as corporate officials in a phone scam have stolen money from at least six Casper businesses in recent weeks, the Casper Police Department announced this week.

Over the last two weeks, the department has responded to multiple reports of local businesses being victimized by scammers.

In at least six of the incidents, scammers have called a business, identified themselves as a representative from the company’s “corporate office” and directed an employee to take money from the business, purchase a gift card and send it to an address.

In nearly all the situations, around $1,500 has been sent from the targeted business to the scammer.

The scammers typically call during peak hours to catch employees who are busy and may not otherwise have time to look into the matter, the department said.

The scams are targeting both national chains and locally-owned businesses.

“If you have any doubt, verify it with your manager before taking any action,” the department wrote on a social media post Tuesday. “If you are a business owner or manager, talk to your employees as soon as possible about this scam and take steps to protect your business.”

People contacted by someone claiming to be from a company’s corporate office should ask for verifiable information, such as the caller’s place of business, a website, email address or a callback number.

After that, hang up the phone and take time to speak with someone else about it or investigate the information provided, the department said.

“You can always give us a call here at the Casper Police Department and we can help you through the situation,” the department said.

This is the second time the Casper area has been affected by phone scams in at least a month. In April, some Rocky Mountain Power customers received phone calls from scammers who claimed to be a part of the company’s disconnection department (which doesn’t exist) and began threatening them for money.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Lander Woman Sentenced For Making False Sex Assault Accusations

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Lander woman was sentenced to prison this week for making false accusations about being sexually assaulted.

Rachael Myla Stagner, 36, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne to just under two years in prison, 21 months in total. She was indicted in September and pleaded guilty in January to allegations she made false claims that she was sexually assaulted by a white man on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Her initial report of the assault initiated an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, since the FBI has jurisdiction over the reservation. During the course of the investigation, Stagner maintained her claims in an effort to extort money from the victim, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI take any allegation of sexual assault seriously,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray.  “The resources our offices have to investigate and prosecute crimes on the Wind River Indian Reservation are limited, and false reports hinder and delay other investigations.  Not to mention how actions like this belittle the crime of sexual assault and those who are true victims,” concluded Murray.

Upon completion of her prison sentence, Stagner will serve three years of supervised released. she was also ordered to pay a $100 special assessment.

“The FBI and our law enforcement partners take seriously acts of violence and sexual assault targeting our Native American community. False claims of such crimes, in this case meant to extort the alleged perpetrator, result in the diversion of valuable law enforcement and victim service resources away from actual victims,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider. “The FBI thanks our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs – Wind River Police Department, Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, and Montana Department of Corrections – Adult Probation & Parole for their work in this matter.”

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Gillette Man Pleads Not Guilty To Abusing Infant Son, Breaking 31 Bones

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A Gillette man accused of breaking dozens of his infant son’s bones pled not guilty to 31 counts of felony aggravated child abuse in District Court this week, according to his attorney.

Tyler Martinson, 28, was arraigned on the charges before District Court Judge Stuart S. Healy III on Tuesday, May 18, approximately two weeks after waiving his preliminary hearing in Campbell County Circuit Court on May 4.

During the arraignment, Martinson pled not guilty to all 31 counts of felony abuse, confirmed Criminal Defense Attorney Denise Urbin, who is representing Martinson in the case and declined to comment on the reasons behind her client waiving his preliminary trial in Circuit Court.

Martinson’s case will now be subject to a pre-trial conference, given his plea. Once that is concluded, a date for a trial will be set. If convicted during his trial, Martinson could face up to 25 years in prison for each count filed against him, a total of 775 years.

The charges against Martinson were filed in January 2021 after Martinson and 28-year-old Keasha Bullinger took their then 3-month-old son to the emergency room at the Campbell County Memorial Hospital.

An affidavit of probable cause filed in the case states that Martinson and Bullinger were concerned because the infant’s ribs were popping and swollen and he wasn’t using his right leg, which was splayed to the side.

Medical examinations revealed the baby suffered from 26 separate fractures on his ribs and five leg fractures, all of which were in various stages of healing that indicated the injuries had been inflicted over time, per the affidavit, which adds that a doctor noted the force necessary to break the bones was equal to forces experienced in a violent car crash.

The injuries came from “high speed, brute force trauma” such as extreme squeezing or shaking of the baby’s torso and twisting or snapping of his legs, the affidavit states.

When asked by medical examiners to explain what had happened, Martinson reportedly admitted that he “might have been a little rough” when handling the baby, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit further states that Martinson stated he did not know how to pick up or handle a baby and may have injured him several times over the course of three months.

In a separate affidavit of probable cause filed against Bullinger relating to the case, investigators reportedly were informed that the baby would scream in terror whenever Martinson walked into the room.

Bullinger also allegedly described an incident from several weeks prior of her walking into a room, while Martinson was supposedly changing the baby’s diaper, to find their son making “gurgling sounds” from blood in his mouth, per the affidavit, adding that the baby had defecated on Martinson moments before.

“You need to understand that, at this point, he’s so used to you hurting him that he sees your face and he feels like he’s about to get hurt. He’s not dumb, they can’t do a whole lot, but I think he’d be able to recognize that,” Bullinger recalled telling Martinson, according to the affidavit.

While being interviewed by investigators, Martinson reportedly said that he would often get irritated at the baby and squeeze him; bruises that were consistent with fingertips were observed across the baby’s chest and back, per the affidavit.

Bullinger also admitted to observing the bruising, according to the affidavit, and told investigators that she would often “get up in Tyler’s face about it” whenever she saw them.

She herself had been initially charged with a felony for endangering the baby by leaving him in the care of Martinson despite knowing of the alleged abuse. The charge was later changed to reflect the prosecution’s belief that she had coached her other child on what to say during a forensic interview regarding Martinson’s case

That charge was ultimately dismissed on Feb. 26 by Circuit Court Judge Wendy Bartlett, who deemed Campbell County Attorney Mitch Damsky had satisfied the state’s burden of proof to support the charge.

Social media comments on a story written about Bullinger’s court proceedings have indicated that the baby is in her custody, despite her facing several charges for misdemeanor counts of child abuse.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter*** 

Suspect Escapes Cops During Early Morning Pursuit In Gillette

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Deputies will continue their search for a suspect that got away during a downtown pursuit early this morning, Campbell County Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said Wednesday.

The pursuit was initiated after the suspect, a 32-year-old male, fled from a traffic stop near Brooks Avenue and Railroad Street at approximately 1:35 a.m. May 19, per Reynolds, who added that the suspect misled deputies in an attempt to conceal his identity by providing a false date of birth during the stop.

The suspect, however, was recognized by a deputy, formerly a detention officer, who was familiar with the suspect’s identity through multiple contacts with him in the Campbell County Detention Center.

As the deputies approached the vehicle, a 2000 Jeep Cherokee, and called the suspect by his real name, the male put the vehicle in drive and fled at a high rate of speed, Reynolds said.

Deputies pursued the male as he fled through the downtown area, traveling 60 mph in posted 30 mph zones and failing to stop at multiple stop signs.

As the suspect continued to flee through residential areas, deputies terminated the pursuit due to public safety concerns, Reynolds said.

Given the fact that the male would most likely be facing a handful of misdemeanors, the pursuing deputies ultimately made the call that continuing the pursuit was not justifiable, Reynolds stated.

Deputies will be seeking a warrant for the suspect’s arrest on charges consisting of eluding, reckless driving, driving under suspension, driving without an interlock device, and no insurance, according to Reynolds.

The name of the suspect was not released on May 19.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Casper Man Sentenced to 10 Years For Making, Uploading Child Porn

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Casper man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for making, uploading and possessing child pornography.

Liam Van Damme, 21, was sentenced this week to 10 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised released in U.S. District Court. He was also ordered to pay a $200 special assessment fee and may be ordered to pay restitution through a separate court order.

Van Damme came to the attention of law enforcement after he uploaded child pornography while using Google and Flickr accounts.

A probe conducted by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation showed Van Damme had images of children as young as toddlers being violently sexually abused. He also recorded a young child he had access to while the child was being changed, editing the video to focus on the child’s genitalia.

“The sexual exploitation of innocent children has to be the most heinous crime imaginable,” said Acting United State Attorney Bob Murray. “Predators like Van Damme create a demand that only leads to more kids being abused. It must stop. We will investigate, prosecute, and lock up anyone in possession of child pornography so we can put an end to this disgusting practice.”

This case was pursued as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the United States Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Sweetwater County Sex Trafficking Sting: Ex-Legislator Arrest Just Tip Of The Iceberg

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Like many other Wyoming communities, Sweetwater County has a problem when it comes to sex trafficking. 

It’s been a long-standing issue, according to Detective Sgt. Michelle Hall with the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), which is why she initiated a training session and subsequent sting operation last month that led to the arrest of four men, including a former state legislator.

The four-day session was by led by human trafficking detective Joe Scaramucci of Waco, Texas, who is leading the charge nationwide to stamp out trafficking. 

After attending one of Scaramucci’s Wyoming training sessions in December, Hall reached out to the event’s organizer to see about setting up a session in Sweetwater County.

“There is a huge issue with sex trafficking here,” she said. “And there always has been. I attended Scaramucci’s training, and it inspired me to do more.”

Scaramucci’s training session in Rock Springs was organized by Terri Markham, the co-founder of Uprising, a Sheridan non-profit group focused on human trafficking education and outreach.

Both Scaramucci and Markham stress the importance of having law enforcement agencies work with victim advocates and anti-trafficking groups to address the problems by offering its victims the resources they need to escape their traffickers.

Typically, law enforcement agencies work alone on sex trafficking cases, but the Sweetwater County session involved law enforcement and victims’ advocates groups that went on to work together on the sex trafficking sting that capped the training.

Markham described the event as one of the most successful she’s ever been involved with. 

“It was less about the sting operation as it was about the training,” she said.

Hall agreed, saying it was groundbreaking because it showed law enforcement how sex trafficking differs from what most define as prostitution.

Most consider prostitution a situation in which a person is willingly selling sex for profit, Hall said, but such cases are actually rare. Most often, victims are forced into selling sex by some form of coercion from their trafficker to benefit that person financially.

“I believe that historically law enforcement has arrested prostituted people (and buyers) in an attempt to help them,” Hall said. “But this training provided different insight in that prostitution and human trafficking are one in the same. I saw several officers that really realized this during the training.”

Debunking the myths

The first step in combating trafficking involves debunking the myths surrounding it — mainly that it doesn’t occur in Wyoming, and when it does, it involves nefarious men in dark vans abducting women and children in parking lots. 

The truth, however, is that it’s usually much more personal, with victims often being groomed by people posing as friends or boyfriends met by the victims over the internet.

Also not true is that human trafficking is not a problem in Wyoming.

Cara Chambers, director of the Division of Victim Services for the Wyoming Attorney General and also a member of the state’s human trafficking joint task committee, said trafficking is indeed a problem in Wyoming. And is one that the state continues to take seriously. 

Although Wyoming was the last state to make human trafficking a felony, since it did so in 2013, it has been steadily strengthening those laws.

Up until around eight years ago, Chambers said law enforcement didn’t aggressively pursue prostitution charges because the crime was perceived to be a pretty straightforward transaction between two consenting adults, a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $750 and up to six months in jail.

Now, however, with the introduction of human trafficking training across all levels of law enforcement and the courts, definitions surrounding prostitution have started to change. 

Most people who are being prostituted, experts say, are working against their will and are giving the profits to someone else.

Just ask Megan Lundstrom, who was on hand at the Sweetwater County training and sting to share her story with law enforcement officers, who until recently had always been on the other side of the law from her.

After 11 arrests of her own, she was used to being treated like a criminal in the same vein as the buyer.

Lundstrom is the co-founder and director of research at The Avery Center in Northern Colorado, an agency that provides direct support for adult survivors of commercial sex training.

She said there is definitely a deficit of knowledge about the difference between prostitution and trafficking, as well about as those victims who find themselves wrapped up in it. 

In her case, she was trafficked for five years by a man claiming to be her boyfriend. 

She was 23 when she met her trafficker at a gas station in Denver. After a brief conversation, she gave him her phone number.  

In retrospect, she sees now that she was an easy target. A single mom of two small children who had recently escaped a physically and emotionally abusive husband through divorce, she wore her vulnerability on her sleeve.

The new ‘boyfriend’ showered her with compliments and attention, fixating on her beauty and how she might use that to her advantage. She could make a killing as a stripper, he told her. In fact, his ex-wife had been an illicit masseuse at a massage parlor and made bank. 

He wouldn’t be jealous, he explained, because it was money. A means to an end. It would help them retire early, he said, at which point they’d spend their lives traveling and at beach resorts happily ever after.

He claimed to be a business owner with his hand in many different investments and said she could help them meet their goals. 

This is what grooming looks like, Lundstrom explained. 

“It’s like a fast-tracked relationship,” she said. “They use the fairy tale of a soul mate, showering  victims with compliments and presents. It’s not often the kidnapping in the parking lot. In fact, it feels amazing at first and not at all suspicious from the outside.”

It didn’t take long before he’d completely broken her down. At the time, Lundstrom had been working full time and going to college at night. Money was tight but she could meet her family’s needs.

Her tipping point came when her ex-husband defaulted on their mortgage at the same time he stopped paying child support. When her car broke down, it pretty much sent her over the edge. 

“It was a perfect storm,” she said, “which is often the case for many victims.”

Her boyfriend convinced her to post an ad on “Backpage,” a classified advertising website with an “adult services” section. The ad was immediately answered by an interested buyer. 

After the first time, Lundstrom wanted to kill herself as she drove home from the hotel. The only thing that stopped her, she said, was the fact that her trafficker was home with her children and the consequences of leaving them would be much worse. She gave in.

Less than six months later, she was completely isolated from family and friends, had quit her job and dropped out of school. Working seven nights a week, she gave the boyfriend all her money. In return, he paid her bills and gave her just enough money for meager meals and to buy gas. 

Her kids, meanwhile, went to school and lived an otherwise normal life. Her trafficker stayed at her home – when he wasn’t with his other victims – acting as a babysitter and caregiver. During her five-year tenure, she was trafficked through 23 states.

“People always want to know why victims stay,” she said. “They don’t understand the extent of the exploitation.”

In some cases, traffickers get their victims hooked on drugs. That wasn’t the case for her. Instead, she went on autopilot and just tried to survive. Four or five times she tried to leave him, but lack of resources always drove her back, including her isolation as well as the gap in her employment history and battered self-esteem. 

“The hold on victims is real,” she said.

She compared it to the way cults attract and retain members. They beat their victims down systemically so that remaining feels like a choice, she said, keeping victims in line by building them up and beating them down, forming trauma and financial bonds.

Five years later, the ‘boyfriend’ sold Lundstrom to a “CEO” pimp in Las Vegas.

Like anything else, there’s a hierarchy in pimping. Boyfriend pimps are small potatoes, targeting a handful of individuals by pretending there’s a relationship with the victims. They’re known as “Romeos,” Lundstrom said. 

High up on the rungs is the “CEO” pimp, who run fleets of victims of 20 or more. They buy them from the Romeos for a small retainer fee.

Luckily, they also don’t bother to court their victims, which worked in Lundstrom’s case after she started missing her daily quota. She was burned out, so her pimp took her off the streets in punishment. 

In desperation, Lundstrom went as far to order a book on pimping, not because she thought she was a victim, but because she genuinely wanted to do better in order to regain her paltry funding for meals. Instead, she recognized herself in the descriptions and something snapped. It gave her courage to call her trafficker and tell her she was done.

Surprisingly, he let her go, threatening only that there would be trouble if she stayed in Vegas and started working for someone else. 

She didn’t. She hightailed it out of there and went home, telling her family and friends what had happened as she slowly began to rebuild her life.

This is the lesson she wanted to teach law enforcement officers. When victims are treated like criminals, there’s little hope for getting the services needed to help them escape trafficking. This lesson hit home with the law enforcement officers, many of whom later confessed to Lundstrom that they’d never considered prostitutes to be victims and described the revelation as life changing.

Supply and demand

On the other side of the equation is the issue of demand, which in Wyoming, as in other states, is fairly staggering.

Todd Scott, a 23-year veteran agent and crisis negotiator with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Wyoming, recounted his first joint sex trafficking operation between the FBI and the Cheyenne Police Department over six years ago. 

After advertising sex with a prostitute on a couple of different web sites, officers set up decoys on the main road through town, then sat back and waited. Within hours, traffic was so backed up that officers had to close the operation and remove the decoys.

Tackling demand is not as easy as it might seem, according to Dr. Angie Henderson, co-founder of the Avery Center and a sociology professor at the University of Northern Colorado who was also on hand for the training and sting in Rock Springs in April.

Henderson specializes in gender differences and participates in “John school,” classes that must be attended by those convicted of soliciting prostitution. During the training session, she discussed the pull of pornography on men, which typically starts at any early age and leaves a lasting impression. 

Meanwhile, paramount to gender differences is the way that men express their feelings. As one officer told her during the training, the extent of a man’s emotional range typically vacillates between “anger and horniness.”

Henderson said men who seek sex might not be doing so simply for sexual gratification, but rather for another underlying emotion or void they are attempting to fill.

This Rock Springs sting was the first time Henderson was able to ask a buyer his motivation in the moment of vulnerability following his arrest. 

Without exception, despite being in relationships, all said they were there out of loneliness. They also admitted they’d never made the connection between prostitution and trafficking.

“Unless we tackle some of the underlying issues contributing to men buying sex, we can’t alleviate the problem of sex trafficking,” she said.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Three Wyoming Residents Sentenced For Distributing Meth Through Mail

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Three Wyoming residents have been sentenced to multiple years in prison for their part in a scheme to use the U.S. Post Office to mail methamphetamine.

Louiz Serbando Pena-Hermosillo, 35, of Casper, Ashley Nichole Bullock, 35, of Gillette, Sheila Ann Rohovie, 33, of Dubois were all convicted on charges stemming from a conspiracy to distribute meth. A fourth individual, Angel de Jesus Duarte-Toledo, 34, of Arizona, was also convcted in the operation.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, in April 2020, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation began looking into a drug distribution ring engaged in circulating meth throughout Wyoming. The investigation began when DCI notified the USPIS that its agents believed people in Wyoming were using the postal service to mail meth.

Acting on this information, the USPIS recovered a packaged containing just under a pound of meth. Investigators determined Duarte-Toledo was mailing meth from Arizona to Wyoming for further distribution.

After his co-conspirators in Wyoming received the packages, the drugs were then distributed throughout the Gillette and Glenrock communities.

Duarte-Toledo and Rohovie were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, Pena-Hermosillo received a 12-year sentence and Bullock received a 6.5-year sentence.

“As this case demonstrates, bolden methamphetamine traffickers are using every possible method to sell this poisonous drug to the people of Wyoming. In order to stop this dangerous and illegal trade, we will closely coordinate with all of our law enforcement partners, including the USPIS to identify, arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate those responsible,” said acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. 

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Woman Found Dead In Goshen County, Police Investigating As Suspicious

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The death of a woman whose body was found in Goshen County is being investigated by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the Goshen County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the sheriff’s office, officers were called Monday morning to a home in Goshen County where a woman’s body was found. No indication was given as to where the home was, whether it was Torrington, Lingle, La Grange or another town in the county.

Her death is considered suspicious, the sheriff’s office said, but no more information was available as of Tuesday morning, including the woman’s name or manner of death.

Since this is an ongoing investigation, no further details could be released.

However, if police do determine the woman’s death a murder, it would be the second in the county in less than two months.

Shawn Logan Pettus was charged in April with first-degree murder in the death of Madison Cook, 20, a Torrington resident.

Cook’s body was discovered in a Torrington residence in April as the result of an investigation into an arson-caused fire at Pettus’ tattoo shop.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Golfer Who Hit Golf Balls in Yellowstone & Mount Rushmore Apologizes

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A golfer who has apparently achieved his goal of hitting a golf ball in all 50 states is apologizing for teeing off in Yellowstone National Park and in Mount Rushmore.

Jake Adams is under investigation for both acts as the National Park Service has said that his actions constitute an “illegal act.”

Speaking to his followers on Instagram Friday, Adams said he thought using a biodegradable golf ball would make the act of hitting a golf ball in a national park (or national memorial in the case of Mount Rushmore) acceptable.

“It was never my intent to disrupt, you know, the environment or anybody’s day, you know, I just never realized the magnitude of hitting a golf ball in any of our national parks,” Adams said.

“If I can do anything on this platform and just encourage everybody to not do what I did, and do not hit any golf balls biodegradable or not does not matter, in our national parks,” he said.

To his credit, Adams did not tee up a golf ball and smack it into a crowd of thousands watching Old Faithful erupt or into a group of flag-waving senior citizens exiting a bus to see the presidents’ faces at Mount Rushmore.

In both cases, Adams appeared to hit the ball into unpopulated areas. But that makes no difference to the National Park Service.

“He violated regulations designed to preserve Yellowstone and protect the experience of other visitors,” a Park Service spokesperson told Cowboy State Daily in April.  “[He] showed a lack of judgment and common sense.”

Whether his apology will satisfy the National Park Service thus nullifying the investigation is uncertain. As of press time, the National Park Service has not provided an updated comment.

As for Adams, following his apology he did release a compilation video of his many golf shots in different states and both the Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore footage were not present.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

5 Gillette Residents Arrested In Felony Aggravated Assault, Kidnapping Conspiracy

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Four Gillette men and one Gillette woman have been arrested in connection to a conspiracy that resulted in a man being severely beaten outside his girlfriend’s residence last month, according to multiple affidavits of probable cause.

Prosecutors have charged James Whitten, Aaron Morris, Felicia Hess, Christopher Melofsky, and Shandon Hildreth with felonies for allegedly planning and executing an assault where a man was forced out of his girlfriend’s apartment and beaten with a baseball bat in the early morning hours of April 19, court records state.

Investigators believe the plan was ironed out around 3:15 a.m., after Whitten contacted Morris and Hess to inform them that several attempts to contact the female that morning to check on her were not successful, according to the affidavits.

Court documents further state that Whitten and Hess believed the man was being physically abusive to the female and grew concerned that they could not reach her, at which point Morris offered to contact two other individuals, Melofsky and Hildreth, both of whom “wanted to get a hold of (the male)” for an unrelated matter.

The five of them traveled to the female’s house in a black 1997 Ford F-350, ultimately making the decision to assault the man with a metal baseball bat acquired from another vehicle before they left, per the affidavit.

On the way, Melofsky reportedly made several statements regarding the plan and how he wasn’t afraid of going back to prison, court documents state.

Suspect statements obtained by police reveal that Whitten, who possessed a key, and Hess entered the apartment to find the man and female sleeping in the bedroom. The pair were awoken, and the female was escorted out while Whitten screamed at the male to get out, according to the affidavits.

The male reported to police that he gathered his belongings, left the apartment, and was followed down the stairs by Whitten. Melofsky and Hildreth were allegedly waiting at the bottom of the stairs and the victim, fearing he may be assaulted, attempted to run but slipped on ice and fell, court documents state.

When he fell, the male reported that the two individuals at the bottom of the stairs rushed at him and began striking him with a baseball bat until he started screaming, per the affidavits, which further state the five suspects fled with the female in the pickup driven by Morris.

The metal baseball bat was allegedly flattened during the assault, according to the affidavits, which add that the male sustained a large “goose egg” on the back of his head and had severe swelling on his hands that were consistent with defensive wounds from trying to protect himself.

Police were notified of the incident around 3:45 a.m. that morning by a witness who had been approached by the male, bloody and beaten, who asked him to get the license plate off a fleeing Ford whose occupants had just assaulted him.

Court documents state that the five suspects noticed the vehicle following them and discussed how they could get away from it while Melofsky reportedly bragged about how hard he hit the man on the head with the bat, which was tossed out of the window by Hildreth.

As they drove, the suspects reportedly turned on a police scanner to see if law enforcement had been able to identify them, according to the affidavits.

Hess allegedly admitted to investigators that the five of them returned to her house, at which point the female was taken to Whitten’s house and the truck was hidden in Morris’ garage, the affidavits state.

Testimony from a third-party witness who knew details regarding the case alleges that Whitten had not been concerned with the female’s safety, but was upset that she had invited the male to her son’s birthday party, according to court documents.

The witness stated that during a recent phone conversation with Whitten, the suspect allegedly admitted that he and several others had beaten the male victim with a bat after hearing the female crying in the dark when they entered the apartment.

Gillette Police Detective Julianne Witham, who investigated the case, wrote in the affidavits that the evidence made it abundantly clear that all of the suspects planned and executed an assault with the intent to inflict serious bodily injury to the victim.

Witham adds that despite finding the victim asleep in the apartment, the suspects forced him to leave the apartment and go outside, where he was badly beaten.

Morris, Whitten, Hess, and Hildreth were all arrested between May 6 and May 10 for felony conspiracy to commit a kidnapping and felony conspiracy to commit an aggravated assault.

Melofsky was arrested on May 9 for felony conspiracy to commit a kidnapping, felony aggravated assault, and felony aggravated robbery, according to court records.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Cody Couple Pleads Not Guilty To Murder Charges Of Two-Year-Old

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

At a court appearance last week, a Cody man and woman formally denied allegations that they fatally abused a 2-year-old child.

Moshe Williams, 30, and Carolyn Aune, 28, each pleaded not guilty to a count of first-degree murder. The couple is charged in connection with the April 4 death of Williams’ daughter, Paisleigh Williams.

Authorities say Paisleigh appeared to have been dealt a forceful “gut punch” sometime between the night of March 25 and the afternoon of March 27, when Williams took her to the hospital. The blow was severe enough to separate her intestines and eventually caused her death, police say in charging documents; medical professionals also reportedly found evidence that the girl suffered broken bones and other injuries in the weeks and months before her death.

Charging documents quote Williams and Aune as both telling police that they did not abuse the child. Aune and Williams reportedly offered various theories as to how Paisleigh might have been injured — while also casting suspicion on one another.

The murder charges allege that both Aune and Williams intentionally or recklessly inflicted physical injuries and killed Paisleigh. However, police have not yet been able to determine how the child was injured or who was responsible. At preliminary hearings for the two defendants, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters noted the ambiguity around the child’s death. The Cody Enterprise quoted Waters as saying there are some “issues” with the case brought by the Park County Attorney’s Office.

Ultimately, the judge found there was enough evidence to demonstrate “probable cause,” and he allowed the case to advance toward a trial in district court. However, for Williams and Aune to be convicted, Park County prosecutors will face a much higher bar — needing to convince 12 jurors of the couple’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Aune and Williams are presumed to be innocent.

“You don’t have to prove anything,” District Court Judge Bill Simpson reminded the couple during Wednesday’s arraignment, as he went over their constitutional rights. “The burden is on the state.”

Simpson will not be presiding over the case, explaining that he handled a previous, unrelated court case involving Williams. The case will instead be assigned to fellow Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield of Thermopolis. However, in order to speed the case along, Simpson handled last week’s arraignment.

Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield offered that “if arraignment is a critical stage, and if the court [Simpson] believes it has a conflict, it would make more sense to have Judge Overfield do it.”

“But the state definitely understands and thinks it’s appropriate to start the speedy trial clock,” Hatfield added. “We don’t want to prejudice the defendants in any way”

“So do you have an objection on behalf of the state?” Simpson asked.

“No objection, your honor,” Hatfield said.

Now that Williams and Aune have been arraigned, Judge Overfield will need to schedule a trial within the next 180 days. The couple remains incarcerated at the Park County Detention Center, with bail set at $1 million cash for each defendant. Simpson indicated that Judge Overfield may hold a hearing to consider lowering their bonds.

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

Wyoming to Receive $500K In Magazine Scam Lawsuit

in News/Crime

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will receive a settlement of $500,000 in a lawsuit alleging two companies targeted customers nationwide by selling overpriced magazine subscriptions using deceptive mailers designed to look like renewal notices for customers’ legitimate existing subscriptions.

Wyoming joined Colorado in this lawsuit against Atlantic Publishers and Publishers Partnership Services and will also receive $500,000 in the settlement.

Both states’ attorney general offices, as well as the Better Business Bureau, received hundreds of complaints, mainly from people over 60, about the mailers.

One customer, a 94-year-old woman, reported to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office that she sent more than $60 to Atlantic Publishers when she received what she thought was a renewal notice for her “Time” magazine subscription, but when she received the real renewal notice the next month, she called the magazine and was told they had not received her payment. 

Colorado filed a lawsuit in November 2019, and Wyoming filed its lawsuit in January of this year. 

The lawsuits stated that from 2016 through 2019, Atlantic Publishers Group and Publishers Partnership Services sent millions of these deceptive mailers to consumers across the country.  

“Overcharging and misleading older consumers into thinking that the mailers were renewal notices  is unconscionable,” said Colorado AG Phil Weiser. “We are pleased that we were able to work with Wyoming to stop this practice that caused financial stress for many consumers and hurt the operations of legitimate  magazine publishers.” 

Because Atlantic Publishers operated out of Colorado, and Publishers Partnership Services operated out of Wyoming, people from across the U.S. filed complaints with the attorneys general offices in both states.

“This settlement highlights the value of interstate coordination,” said Wyoming AG Bridget Hill. “Working together as  equal partners, Colorado and Wyoming have halted and held accountable those whom we allege used our states as home base for misleading consumers nationwide.”  

Under the terms of the joint settlement, the alleged organizers of this scam, Dennis Simpson and John Ackermann, and their companies will pay $500,000 to each of the attorneys general offices to support consumer protection efforts in Colorado and Wyoming.  

They are also banned from operating magazine subscription businesses in both states and from sending the deceptive mailers to Colorado and Wyoming consumers. 

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***