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Drug Arrest Prompted By Cracked Windshield Upheld By Wyoming Supreme Court

in Criminal justice/News

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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

in Criminal justice/News

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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

in Criminal justice/News

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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

in Crime/Criminal justice/News

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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 Criminal justice/News/University of Wyoming

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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 Coronavirus/Criminal justice/News

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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’

in Criminal justice/News

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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 Criminal justice/News

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.

Death penalty repeal supporter sees chance for bill in 2020

in Criminal justice/News

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure aimed at repealing Wyoming’s death penalty may stand a better chance of winning approval in the Legislature’s 2020 session than it has in the past, according to a supporter.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said as people have become more aware of the problems associated with the death penalty, they have been more prone to discuss it with their legislators.

“The community is much more aware of what’s going on and they’re much more involved,” he said. “So I think with that involvement and more personal conversations with our senators to make them understand particularly the fiscal consequences of not repealing the death penalty, I think we have a better shot of getting it all the way through this time.”

Olsen proposed a measure during the Legislature’s general session earlier this year that would have abolished the death penalty and replaced it with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The bill was approved in the House on a vote of 36-21, but was defeated in the Senate, where it received only 12 “yes” votes from the state’s 30 senators.

The 2020 session is a budget session, which means all bills not related to the budget need to win a two-third majority vote to even be considered by the Legislature.

Olsen’s main argument in opposition to the death penalty has been the expense involved in the prosecution and unavoidable appeals that accompany a death penalty case.

In addition, he said, the Legislature needs to consider what may happen if an innocent person is condemned to death.

“If we got it wrong and executed the individual, there is no way to undo that,” he said.

Opponents of Olsen’s bill argued during this year’s session that the death penalty provides justice for the victims of murder. Prosecutors argued that its elimination would take away a valuable plea bargaining tool.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said he believes the death penalty may actually be more humane than life in prison.

“Caging someone up like an animal for some years of their lives just doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “Our whole world is based on contributing to society in some fashion. And locking somebody up forever just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Controversial hiring freeze for Cheyenne scrapped

in Criminal justice/Economic development/News
Downtown Development Authority

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

CHEYENNE – A controversial proposal to enact a temporary hiring freeze in the city’s $56 million budget for Fiscal Year 2020 was eliminated upon third and final reading before the Cheyenne City Council’s Committee of the Whole on Wednesday evening.

The hiring freeze, which had been proposed by Councilman Dicky Shanor as part of a larger amendment that was approved unanimously the previous week, sparked criticism on social media from Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak. Kozak contended that a hiring freeze would leave CPD understaffed by more than two dozen officers, which would in turn require CPD to suspend previously scheduled training and reassign the public information officer and half of the department’s school resources officers to the patrol division in order to maintain general public safety.

Shanor said in interviews he was concerned with “the politicization of law enforcement” he felt was evidenced by Kozak’s statement, which singled out Shanor by name. That prompted Mayor Marian Orr to defend the chief, characterizing his statements as advocacy for the public’s right to know how a hiring freeze could impact their safety.

Despite the rancor, however, Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting – the nine councilmen minus the mayor – was relatively quick and quiet, as was the decision to scrap the hiring freeze altogether via an amendment. Even so, Council President Rocky Case noted early on that the large public turnout he and other council members expected as a result of the hiring freeze debate had not materialized. Only two members of the public chose to speak, including Stephanie Lowe, president of the Cheyenne Public Employees Association, who asked the committee to reconsider its recommendation to cap the total number of city employees for fiscal year 2020 at 578.1 positions, and instead give department directors the leeway to hire as needed, provided they have the budget and data to support each position.

“Staff have created a great plan for the city and I’m concerned about crippling departments that may prevent important work from getting done,” Lowe said. “Let’s not all forget the growing size of our community, which needs a growing workforce to keep up with maintenance at the least, but also to keep attracting new businesses and residents to work here.”

But with the hiring freeze lifted, committee members opted to leave the employee cap in place. Instead, a portion of the funds that would have been saved by the hiring freeze will instead be made up through $100,000 in reversions – budgeted funds that go unspent and return to city reserves – anticipated  at the end of FY 2019.

Committee members also heard from local physician Dr. Jasper “J.J.” Chen, who argued against cutting funds from the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority, suggesting that the city instead define clear outcomes it wants to see from the DDA, then track its progress to determine future funding.

“We should do this instead of making the more dramatic and drastic decisions to take away a substantial portion of the DDA’s funding without empirical data justifying doing so,” Chen said. 

Mayor Orr’s initial budget proposal allocated just $100,000 for the DDA, down from $390,000 this year and $450,499 the previous fiscal year. But once amendment markups were concluded Wednesday, the DDA was ultimately budgeted for $290,000 for FY 2020, while the Cheyenne Animal Shelter will receive an additional $107,500, for a total budget of $612,500.

Committee members also rejected an amendment proposed by Ward III Councilman Ken Esquibel that would have cut Cheyenne’s $50,000 annual membership in the Wyoming Association of Municipalities. Esquibel argued that, with a citizen legislature only in session a maximum of 60 days in a year, WAM’s lobbying efforts were costing Cheyenne $1,666 per day, even as local legislators generally vote in the city’s interests. 

“We’re basically throwing $50,000 into the wind,” he said. 

Committee member Mark Rinne pointed out that Mayor Orr is going to be on the Resolutions Committee for WAM this year, and that the organization recently gained a new director in J. David Fraser.

He added that council members had previously discussed the need to participate in more WAM events, and Esquibel’s amendment ultimately failed, with Esquibel himself the only affirmative vote.

With Wednesday’s amendments thus dispensed with, the latest incarnation of the city’s FY 2020 budget will come before the full City Council for final approval at 6 p.m. Monday, June 10.

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