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Criminal justice

Sweetwater County Officers Testing New, Less Lethal Restraints

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office is testing out a new, less lethal type of restraint in the wake of a string of officer-related deaths across the country.

The sheriff’s officers will test and evaluate a restraint called the “BolaWrap,” a handheld remote device that shoots an 8-foot long Kevlar cord with four pronged hooks, according to a post on the department’s Facebook account.

The restraint is designed to wrap around a person’s torso or legs from up to 25 feet away.

The tether keeps subjects from using their arms or legs, immobilizing them and allowing deputies to safely handle them without inflicting pain to achieve compliance.

There are more than 230 law enforcement agencies in 46 states using the BolaWrap as a restraint.

“We owe it to our deputies and the community we serve to explore and pursue the latest in public safety technology,” Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle said.

Grossnickle said he likes the minimal use of force and the fact the device doesn’t rely on pain to force compliance.

“It gives our deputies another option in safely dealing with someone who is noncompliant, without having to resort to using higher levels of force and while reducing the chance of injury to everyone involved,” the sheriff said.

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Lawsuit Against Casper Doctor Filed Too Late, Wyoming Supreme Court Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A woman’s lawsuit against a Casper doctor reached a court four days too late for her to pursue a negligence claim against him, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The court on Friday upheld a lower court’s decision against Merry Candelaria, finding her lawsuit against Dr. Mahesh Karandikar was filed four days after the statute of limitations expired in her claim against him.

According to the ruling, Karandikar performed seven surgeries on Candelaria’s spine between October of 2013 and March of 2016.

Candelaria stopped seeing Karandikar in March of 2016 and in March of 2018, she filed a claim against him with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel, which dismissed her claim.

Candelaria mailed her lawsuit against Karandikar to state district court in Casper on June 28, 2018. The record showed she tried to file her action four days earlier, but the delivery of the complaint was delayed because the address did not include a suite number for the district court.

Karandikar asked for a summary judgment against Candelaria, arguing she filed her action more than two years after her claim against him surfaced, so the statute of limitations had run its course.

The state district court ruled that to have been filed within the two-year statute of limitations period, Candelaria should have filed her action by June 25, 2018 — four days before the action was filed on June 29.

Justices unanimously upheld the district court’s ruling.

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Drug Arrest Prompted By Cracked Windshield Upheld By Wyoming Supreme Court

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A cracked windshield was sufficient reason for Wyoming Highway Patrol officers to pull over a suspected drug dealer in a stop that led to his arrest on meth-related charges, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The court unanimously upheld the conviction of Ryan Scott Simmons, who was convicted of possession, possession with intent to deliver and conspiracy to deliver meth after his 2019 arrest on Interstate 80 near Rawlins.

Justices rejected Simmons’ arguments that the evidence seized from the pickup truck he was riding in, including one-quarter pound of meth, should be suppressed because it was improperly pulled over by Highway Patrol troopers for having a cracked windshield.

According to the ruling, the state Division of Criminal Investigation had collected information indicating Simmons was selling meth in Carbon County and that his source was in Denver. DCI agents placed a GPS tracking device on the pickup truck Simmons used, which belonged to his father.

When the tracking device showed the truck had been driven from Rawlins to Denver and was returning to Wyoming, the DCI asked the troopers to stop Simmons if he committed a traffic violation in Carbon County.

Troopers watching for Simmons spotted the truck on Interstate 80 and noticed a crack in the windshield, the opinion said. Troopers stopped the vehicle, in which Simmons was a passenger, and searched it after a drug detection dog “alerted” to the presence of drugs in the vehicle.

The search revealed one-quarter pound of meth, a glass pipe with meth residue, scales and other paraphernalia.

Before his trial, Simmons asked that the evidence be suppressed because he was pulled over “for a crack on his windshield which did not obstruct the view of the road.” He argued that the troopers could not be sure that the crack obscured the driver’s view.

However, the trial court rejected the request, saying that in the opinion of the Highway Patrol troopers, the crack would have obstructed the driver’s view, a violation of state law.

The opinion written by Justice Lynne Boomgaarden agreed with the trial court’s reasoning.

“We conclude the district court’s factual findings are not clearly erroneous,” the ruling said. “(The trooper) did not need to ‘determine … .that the driver’s view was impaired.’ He needed ‘reasonable suspicion — that is, a particularized and objective basis’ to suspect the driver’s view was obstructed, obscured or impaired … and he had as much under the circumstances of this case.“

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Court: Jury Should Hear Female Wyoming Trooper’s Sexual Harassment Case

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A jury should be allowed to hear allegations by a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer that she faced a hostile work environment because of her sex, a federal court has ruled.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Wednesday ordered a jury trial in the lawsuit filed by Delsa Brooke Sanderson, agreeing there are issues of fact that should be settled by a jury.

“A reasonable jury could find that Sanderson has raised genuine issues of material facts as to the severity and pervasiveness … of her hostile work environment claim,” the ruling said.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed against the Wyoming Highway Patrol by Sanderson, the patrol’s first female K9 handler. 

According to the ruling, Sanderson joined the Highway Patrol in 2007 and received many positive reviews in her first seven years of service. 

In 2015, she was named to the patrol’s “Divison O,” a special division that provides protective services for the governor and legislators.

Upon joining the team, Sanderson said rumors circulated that she had obtained the position because she was having an affair with someone in a leadership position at the Highway Patrol.

She was also reprimanded for being too “familiar” with the deputy chief of staff to the governor and accused of flirting with a local law enforcement officer during a visit by the governor to the National High School Rodeo.

In addition, Sanderson felt ostracized by her colleagues, the ruling said, because she was ignored by fellow officers and was excluded from activities.

The ruling said in evidence submitted during the U.S. District Court hearing, some troopers expressed the view that “Division O as a whole does not accept females.”

She was demoted to her prior position in 2016 after a dispute with a dog trainer during a training exercise.

The U.S. District Court in Cheyenne granted the Highway Patrol’s request to issue a summary judgment against Sanderson, finding that her evidence of harassment did not show that harassment was severe or pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment.

But the appeals court said Sanderson’s evidence of acts that occurred before she joined Division O actually raised questions about continuing sexual harassment that should be decided by a jury.

Those acts included rumors that she had sex with many of her colleagues and that she used flirting and sex to gain advantages such as a new patrol car.

“…(A) jury could find that other hostile acts, which were not explicitly sexual in nature, were nevertheless part of the sexual harassment against Sanderson and contributed to a sexually hostile work environment,” the ruling said.

In addition, the ruling said, Sanderson’s evidence raised questions about how many people within the Highway Patrol took part in the harassment.

The court sided with the District Court in its decision to grant a summary judgment in favor of the Highway Patrol in Sanderson’s argument that she was demoted in retaliation for her actions. The appeals court found that Sanderson should first exhaust administrative avenues open to her in that allegation before proceeding to court action on the complaint.

Part of Sanderson’s lawsuit has already been heard by a jury, an allegation of sexual discrimination. A jury in 2019 found in favor of the Highway Patrol.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Hitchhiker Murderer Sentence

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Supreme Court has upheld the newest sentence for a man convicted as a teenager in the 1980s of robbing and killing a hitchhiker.

The court unanimously upheld the sentence of Donald Clyde Davis, who was convicted of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery in the 1982 death of a hitchhiker whose body was found in Johnson County. Davis was 17 at the time of the murder.

In 1983, he was sentenced to life without parole for the murder plus another 20 to 50 years in prison on the robbery conviction.

However, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Davis in 2013 asked for a new sentencing hearing in line with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but before the Wyoming court could hear the request, the Legislature changed sentencing laws to conform with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Davis’ sentence was changed to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years and in 2015, he was paroled on the murder sentence to begin serving the 20- to 50-year sentence for aggravated robbery.

Davis challenged that sentence to the Wyoming Supreme Court, saying that between the more than 30 years he had already served on the murder charge and the 20- to 50-year sentence he still faced on the robbery conviction, it amounted to a life sentence in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Wyoming justices agreed and in 2019 ordered a new sentencing hearing for Davis.

The state district court in Johnson County held a new sentencing hearing and reduced Davis’ sentence on the robbery conviction to 12 to 50 years in prison.

Davis, in his latest appeal, argued the sentence again was too long and would amount to a sentence of life in prison.But the court, in its unanimous decision, found that the sentence meets two standards to be considered constitutional — if the minimum amount of time a juvenile is to spend in prison is less than 45 years and if the juvenile could potentially be released before reaching the age of 61.

Justices agreed that the reduced minimum sentence for the aggravated robbery conviction, 12 years, would fall within those standards.

Davis also argued that the lower court abused its discretion by sentencing him to 12 to 50 years in prison, but justices said the sentence was warranted.

“The court’s … aggravated robbery sentence reflects not just the court’s belief that ‘it is not appropriate to release Mr. Davis immediately, as there are a number of services that he should receive the benefit of before being placed upon supervision’ but also a broader determination that Mr. Davis is not ready for immediate release,” the ruling said. “Under these circumstances, we conclude that Mr. Davis has not met the high bar to overturn a sentencing decision on an abuse of discretion standard.”

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National Trucking Company Announces They Won’t Deliver to Towns That Defund The Police; Wyoming Likely Unaffected

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A national trucking company announced on Wednesday that it would no longer deliver to any municipalities that are pushing to defund the police.

A cursory examination of city council action in the cowboy state shows that Wyoming would likely not be affected by the announcement although protestors in Laramie and Jackson have vocally supported the anti-law enforcement sentiment.

Mike Kucharski, owner of JKC Trucking, told FOX News that defunding police is an awful idea as the cargo on its trucks are prime targets for thieves.

“Our first priority is to support our drivers and their safety when they are on the road,” Kucharski said.

He said a secondary concern was over insurance and whether he would have coverage in areas that defund the police.

“Another issue that I am seeing in the future is I have cargo insurance, liability insurance, fiscal damage insurance, and I am very curious how when I renew my contracts at the end of the year, if there is going to be language — if I am going to even have coverage going into these places,” Kucharski said.

Although nothing official has happened in Laramie and Jackson, protestors in both towns have actively supported the concept of defunding or dismantling law enforcement.

One protest group in Laramie suggested reallocating some police funds to pay for “local school lunch debt.”

The organization also petitioned for “an immediate hiring freeze” of police officers, with the overall goal being to reduce the number of law enforcement officers in the community.

In Jackson, the group Act Now JH said its focus was “defunding the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and funding organizations that contribute to the well-being of our community.”

“We’re not trying to get rid of all police officers immediately. We’re advocating for equitable emergency response,” said a spokesman for the group.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Denies University Of Wyoming Gun Case Appeal

in News/University of Wyoming/Criminal justice

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to the University of Wyoming’s ability to regulate firearms on its property, a divided court has decided.

Justices, in a 3-2 decision, declined to review the case of Lyle Williams, who was charged in 2018 with trespass for carrying a firearm into the university’s conference center in violation of UW rules.

As is traditional, the order issued by the Supreme Court on Tuesday did not disclose the reasons why the justices chose not to review the case. However, it did note that Chief Justice Michael Davis and Justice Keith Kautz believed Williams’ petition for a review of a district court judge’s previous ruling met the standards for Supreme Court action.

The state’s rules for appeals to the Supreme Court say that for a request for review to be granted, the issue to be reviewed must involve “a controlling question of law as to which there are substantial bases for difference of opinion …”

The order means the decision of District Judge Tori Kricken upholding the university’s ability to regulate firearms on its property remains in place.

The case stems from a citation issued to Williams, an Evanston resident, in 2018 while attending the Wyoming Republican Party’s convention in Laramie. The convention was held in the UW conference center.

Williams, who was carrying a handgun in the center, was asked by university police to leave the building because of UW rules banning firearms on university property and was cited for trespass, a misdemeanor.

Williams challenged the citation on the grounds that state law forbids local governments from regulating firearms.

But Kricken ruled that the university is an “alter ego” of the state and as such can regulate firearms on its property. Kricken also rejected Williams’ arguments that the rule is contrary to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, finding that there are limits to the amendment’s reach and that universities must be able to regulate firearms in “sensitive places” to protect students.

“Simply stated, the regulation and prohibition of the possession of firearms in sensitive places falls outside the scope of the Second Amendment,” she wrote.

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Wyoming Department of Corrections To Test All Inmates, Staff For Coronavirus

in News/Coronavirus/Criminal justice

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Corrections is planning to test all of its staff, contract employees and inmates beginning next week for the coronavirus due to a spike in cases in the state.

According to a news release from the department and a notice to the inmate population, Director Bob Lampert explained there had been no reported cases in either the staff or inmates at DOC institutions as of Wednesday.

However, due to an uptick in coronavirus cases in various Wyoming communities, officials felt that mass testing was the best measure.

“We … want to continue to do all we can to prevent its introduction among our incarcerated adults and the staff who supervise them,” the release said.

Testing will start next week and initially, the staff will conduct 100% testing at each facility, beginning with the Honor Farm in Riverton, the Women’s Center in Lusk, the Honor Conservation Camp in Newcastle and then the two larger facilities, the Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington and the State Penitentiary in Rawlins.

Staff from Corizon, a prison health care company, will conduct the tests, which will be sent to the appropriate laboratory and paid for by the Wyoming Department of Health. Tests will be completed at no cost to the individual and won’t be submitted for insurance claims.

Results are expected to come back within two days of samples being sent to the lab. Movement between housing units, as well as to and from the tested facility, will be limited for a few days, pending test results.

Inmates arriving at an already-tested facility from another location that hasn’t undergone 100% testing will be quarantined and tested, even if they are arriving from another DOC facility.

If a positive test result is found, immediate action will be taken to initiate contact tracing and containment protocols, the release said.

The tests are required. Inmates who refuse testing will be placed under a mandatory quarantine for 14 days with subsequent testing opportunities, even if they don’t have symptoms.

Inmates with symptoms will be quarantined, as will inmates newly received from outside of the WDOC. These two groups will be tested twice during the quarantine process and prior to release into the general population.

Lampert said he was hopeful that the testing would be completed by the end of August. Following the completion of the first round of tests at an institution, ongoing surveillance testing of 20% of the staff and inmates will be conducted every other week until the DOH determines it is no longer necessary.

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Wyo Supreme Court: Murder Charge Properly Dismissed Under ‘Stand Your Ground’

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A state district court in Natrona County properly dismissed murder charges against a Casper man under the state’s “stand your ground” law, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The court ruled Monday that Jason Tsosie John met all the legal requirements to use the law when he asked for a dismissal of the charges filed in connection with the shooting death of Wesley Willow in August 2018.

Wyoming’s Legislature in 2018 changed its laws regarding self-defense to specify that a person who uses reasonable force to protect himself from injury or loss will not be prosecuted. The changes also said that when a person enters a home by force, it can be assumed that he or she is doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving violence. The changes also said that a person faced with an illegal intruder in their home is under no obligation to retreat before using reasonable force.

John cited these laws in asking for the dismissal of the charge of first-degree murder filed against him in Willow’s death, saying he used appropriate force to protect himself from death or serious bodily injury.

According to the ruling, Willow and a woman John had dated briefly were celebrating the woman’s birthday at a Casper hotel when John started sending the woman texts. The texts escalated in intensity and Willow ultimately called John to find out where he lived.

Willow, the woman and another man drove to the area where John lived and approached his home. As they approached, they saw John standing in front of his home, carrying a rifle.

The ruling said John warned the group to stay back, but Willow ran at him. As he neared, John fired nine shots, two of which hit Willow in the chest and six of which hit him in the back. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Prosecutors charged John with first-degree murder, saying the messages he exchanged with Willow and the fact he was waiting for Willow with a rifle showed he acted with premeditation.

But John asked that the charges be dismissed, saying he acted reasonably to protect his life against someone who had entered his home using force.

Supreme Court justices agreed that John had met all the requirements to be immune from prosecution under the “stand your ground” law.

“Mr. John reasonably feared imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury … when he used deadly force because Mr. Willow was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering … his home …” the ruling said.

The ruling also noted that John yelled for Willow to stop his advance and took several steps backward before shooting.

Prosecutors alleged John used excessive force by shooting Willow eight times, but justices disagreed, pointing to a district court ruling that the situation “escalated in mere seconds.”

“We find no error in (the district court’s) conclusion that Mr. John used necessary force,” the ruling said.

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Group opposing death penalty opens Wyoming chapter

in News/Criminal justice

By Robert Geha, Cowboy State Daily

An organization made up of political conservatives seeking an end to the death penalty opened a chapter in Wyoming this week.

Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty officially opened a chapter in Wyoming during a news conference in Cheyenne on Thursday. The group has chapters in 10 other states.

Kyle Taylor, the Wyoming coordinator for the group, described the organization as a network of conservatives who do not believe capital punishment fits within their principles.

“As a conservative, I believe in small government and I believe the death penalty is a huge government overreach and a very big failed government program,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “I believe in valuing life and we know that executing our own citizens does not value the sanctity of life.”

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, last year sponsored a bill during the Legislature’s general session that would have done away with the death penalty. The bill was approved in the House, but died in the Senate.

Olsen said the death penalty’s most vocal opponents in the past have been liberals and the Catholic church, but he added the issue actually crosses political and religious lines.

“It’s an everybody issue and that’s why you’ll find people from all faiths and people from all political backgrounds,” he said.

Mike Leman, a deacon for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, said for the church, the issue is one of the sanctity of life.

“We look at it as consistency in respecting the dignity of human life,” he said. “First of all, recognizing the difficulty of victims and victims’ families. But we don’t think (the death penalty) is something that gives victims what they’re hoping for, the ultimate healing.”

The Legislature’s budget session begins Feb. 10. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must support a review of any bill not related to the budget — like a death penalty bill — before it can be considered.

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