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5 Gillette Residents Arrested In Felony Aggravated Assault, Kidnapping Conspiracy

in News/Crime
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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.

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Montana Ski Resort Wants To Use Sewage For Snowmaking

in News/Tourism
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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Although the idea of skiing on sewage may not sound like an ideal winter vacation, a ski resort in Montana thinks it could work.

The resort is not planning on piping raw sewage down a mountain as a strategy to replace snow.

Rather, the Yellowstone Club, which is located north of Yellowstone National Park, wants to take the treated wastewater from sewage and make artificial snow with it and has asked the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for the OK.

Apparently the procedure, officials say, has worked out well in Europe and Australia so this wouldn’t be anything new.

The advantage of using sewage, according to resort officials, is that it would help ensure that the ski resort could open on time and would be a benefit to the local watershed.

“It’s an outside-the-box idea and it checks a lot of boxes,” the environmental manager of the club told the Associated Press.

The good news, according to state officials, is that if a skier got a mouth-full of snow after an unsuccessful turn, the snow would be safe enough to digest. That is, as long as the contamination levels stay within safe standards.

Rachelle Morris, a longtime Wyoming skier who frequents Jackson Hole Ski Resort and Grand Targhee, told Cowboy State Daily that she thinks the idea is “horrible.”

“I can’t think of a worse idea in my life,” Morris said. “The idea of using sewer water to make snow is just revolting. I don’t care how they clean it up. It’s still sewer water.”

Morris said she had a good idea for renaming the slopes at the Yellowstone Club, however.

“I love to the ski the Rendezvous Bowl and the Casper Bowl in Jackson,” she said. “They could just call theirs the ‘Toilet Bowl.'”

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44 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Wednesday; 526 Active

in News/Coronavirus
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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased by 31 on Wednesday from Tuesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 26 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 44 new laboratory-confirmed and 14 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 526 active cases. This is the highest number of active cases since March 5.

Albany County had 100 active cases; Laramie County had 94; Sweetwater had 60; Natrona 45; Uinta 39; Sheridan 36; Campbell 28; Park 20; Teton 18; Carbon 15; Lincoln 11; Fremont 10; Big Horn and Sublette eight; Washakie seven; Goshen and Niobrara six; Platte five; Converse four; Crook three; while Hot Springs, Johnson and Weston reported one active case.  

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 58,893 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 57,665 have recovered.

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Cheney Opponents Praise House Republicans For Ouster

in News/Liz Cheney/politics
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Republican challengers to U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in her congressional re-election campaign are praising House Republicans for removing her from her position as House Republican Conference chair on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, both of Cheney’s Wyoming colleagues declined to comment specifically on the ouster, but vowed to continue working with Cheney on issues important to Wyoming.

“House leadership decisions are up to the House caucus, but I look forward to continuing my work with Rep. Cheney and Senator Barrasso to do what is best for our state,” said U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso echoed a similar sentiment to Lummis.

“Wyoming has a three-member delegation,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “All three of us will keep standing up for Wyoming and fighting the attacks from the Biden administration. Today’s vote in the House doesn’t change that. I look forward to continuing to work closely with Liz Cheney and Cynthia Lummis on behalf of the people of Wyoming.”

Both Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, celebrated the news in the hours following Cheney’s removal from her position as the No. 3 ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. She is expected to be replaced U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, although no timeline has been officially set.

“Republican members of Congress finally did what so many Wyomingites have longed to do — get rid of Liz Cheney,” Gray said in a statement Wednesday. “While Wyoming voters must wait until 2022 to also vote her out, this is a welcome first step and shows Republicans are serious about making sure our party doesn’t sell out to socialist Democrats the way Liz Cheney already has.”

Gray added that Cheney is siding with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez while continuing to “falsely” attack former President Donald Trump, a development he said was “disgusting.” He again criticized Cheney for voting to impeach Trump earlier this year and for recently fist-bumping President Joe Biden when he gave a joint speech to Congress.

“Wyoming voters gave her a chance to prove that she could effectively represent them and she has failed us miserably,” Gray said. “Today’s vote exposes Cheney for who she really is and is a good reminder that she can’t keep fooling Wyomingites like she did when she moved here to buy herself a seat in Congress.”

Like his colleague and opponent, Bouchard also celebrated Cheney’s removal, saying she was ousted because Republicans were the party of “America First” and Cheney refused and failed to represent this idea.

“Building the wall, reopening America and bringing American jobs back, opposing endless war, and stopping our enemies like China,” Bouchard wrote on his social media Wednesday. “That is AMERICA FIRST and Liz Cheney despises it. We must FIRE LIZ CHENEY! Vote Anthony Bouchard for Congress!”

Denton Knapp, a U.S. Army veteran who has become the sixth challenger to Cheney, said Wednesday’s decision shows that Republicans nationally are as unhappy with Cheney as he believes Wyoming residents are.

“That’s been coming for a long time,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “Not only does Wyoming disagree with her, but also the Republicans nationally.”

However, the move was criticized by Wyoming Democratic Party Joe Barbuto, who said Cheney’s ouster showed the Republican Party was more focused on defending a failed president and his lies than doing the work of the American people.

“In Wyoming and across the nation, the GOP is willfully choosing to build their party on a foundation of misinformation and falsehoods,” Barbuto said. “It’s a decision they will come to regret and voters will remember for many election cycles to come.”

Congressional candidate Darin Smith did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

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Wyoming Republican Party Explains Situation Behind $52K FEC Fine

in News/politics
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A $52,000 fine levied against the Wyoming Republican Party by the Federal Election Commission stems from the late reporting of joint fundraising activities with the Republican National Committee and the campaign to elect Donald Trump as president in 2016, the party has announced.

The party has been fully reimbursed for the fine by the Republican National Committee, thanks to the efforts of current Chairman Frank Eathorne, it said in a “status report” published on its website.

“Current Wyoming GOP Chairman W. Frank Eathorne was successful in securing for the Party donated funds to cover the entire civil penalty,” it said. “As a result of his efforts the State Party will not be out any money, having now been made whole.”

In the post, officials explained that the violations occurred in 2016-2017, before the party’s current leadership team was in place.

“The current Wyoming GOP leadership team was surprised to learn in 2017-2018 about an alleged FEC violation that occurred during the previous Republican Party administration,” it said. “Not one of the current leadership team had any knowledge of, or participation in, the decisions leading up to either the joint fundraising agreement or the alleged violation. However, the current Wyoming GOP leadership team was tasked with addressing and resolving the matter.”

The statement said the three reporting errors which occurred over a four-month period happened while Matt Micheli was the party chairman.

The reporting issues arose stemmed from an agreement Micheli entered into with the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign for joint fundraising activities, which is a common practice among both parties.

Micheli retained a small Utah accounting firm to handle the accounting and reporting obligations under the agreement, and the Wyoming GOP noted that there were both state Democratic and Republican parties who made the same errors as Wyoming in “failing to fully satisfy the specific FEC reporting requirements during the same time frame.”

“Wyoming, in other words, was not alone in the error that was allegedly made,” the party said.

The party has now retained a different accounting firm with extensive experience in campaign finance.

The statement also addressed the party’s fundraising efforts.

“We are also pleased to report that our fundraising has been strong, and we are meeting our financial planning goals. Despite the fact that COVID has hindered our ability over the last year to hold in-person events, we are not only gaining donors, but the average amount donated by each has increased,” it said. “Our numbers for 2021 compare favorably to past years, and we have every expectation that the donations will continue. We are a grassroots organization supported by grassroots conservatives who understand the importance of what we do.”

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Trump Celebrates After Cheney Ousted From House Leadership Position

in News/Liz Cheney
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney has been officially ousted from her position as U.S. House conference chair.

Cheney was removed from her position on Wednesday morning as she continued to urge Republicans to reject former President Donald Trump’s claims that he actually won the 2020 presidential election.

“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” Cheney told reporters after she was ousted during a closed-door meeting,” Cheney said. The party is in a place that we’ve got to bring it back from. We cannot be dragged backward by the very dangerous lies of a former president.”

She told her colleagues before they voted to oust her from her number three position in the House that she would continue to fight for conservative values in the United States and work to keep socialism out of the country.

Cheney has drawn the ire of many of her colleagues in recent weeks due to her regular skirmishes with Trump over his claims of fraud in the November general election.

The former president on Wednesday celebrated Cheney’s removal from her position, calling the representative a “bitter, horrible human being.”

“I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party,” Trump said on Wednesday. “She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country. She is a talking point for Democrats, whether that means the Border, the gas lines, inflation, or destroying our economy. She is a warmonger whose family stupidly pushed us into the never-ending Middle East Disaster, draining our wealth and depleting our Great Military, the worst decision in our Country’s history.”

On Wednesday, Cheney made a plea for her colleagues to reject Trump’s claims and vowed not to align herself with people who perpetuate lies about the election.

“Today, we face a threat America has never seen before,” Cheney said. “A former president who provoked a violent attack on this capital. In an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.”

Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump following the attack on the U.S. Capitol earlier this year. Many legislators believe Trump helped incite the attack, as he held a rally where he claimed he won the election just hours before the riot occurred.

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Tourist Season Begins: Woman Charged By Grizzly Bear In Yellowstone

in Yellowstone/News/Grizzly Bears
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It might be still winter-like in some parts of Wyoming, but summer has officially arrived at Yellowstone National Park with the season’s first encounter between a park visitor and a grizzly bear.

Thankfully it didn’t go nearly as badly as it could have, but still, why do people keep getting so close to wild animals? Is the close-up video that worth it? Did you not watch “Grizzly Man?”

A video shared by NBC Montana shows a woman recording three grizzly bears at a relatively short distance. As the bears run around, one charges toward her, causing her to put her phone down and walk back toward her vehicle.

“Darcie Addington took this from the safety of her vehicle,” the tweet by the TV station said. “She doesn’t know the other woman, but says several people warned her. Remember to give bears at least 100 yards of space.”

According to the National Park Service, a bluff charge is the more common type of charge and is meant to scare or intimidate. If a bluff charge is about to happen, a person is supposed to slowly back away from the bear while waving their arms above their head and speaking to the bear in a calm voice.

People should not run when a bear bluff charges, because it may trigger the animal to attack.

Late last month, a woman near Durango, Colorado was mauled and killed by a black bear when she was out walking her dogs.

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Cheney Vows to Make Sure Trump Never Gets Back to Oval Office

in News/Liz Cheney
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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Following her ouster from House Republican leadership on Wednesday morning, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney said she didn’t feel betrayed by the vote of her colleagues but added she will do all she can to make sure former President Donald Trump does not serve as president again.

“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” Cheney said. “We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution. And I think it’s very important that we make sure whomever we elect is somebody who will be faithful to the Constitution.”

Speaking with reporters moments after the voice vote which expelled her from the third highest position in Congress, Cheney said she has a different view of what the Republican Party stands for.

“We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution going forward,” she said. “The nation needs a strong Republican Party. The nation needs a party that that is based upon fundamental principles of conservatism. And I am committed and dedicated to ensuring that that’s how this party goes forward. And I plan to lead the fight to do that.”

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51 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Tuesday; 495 Active

in News/Coronavirus
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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased by 20 on Tuesday from Monday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 50 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 51 new laboratory-confirmed and 20 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 495 active cases. 

Laramie County had the highest number of active cases at 90; Albany had 87; Sweetwater had 51; Uinta 49; Natrona 40; Sheridan 32; Campbell and Park 25; Teton 20; Carbon 15; Fremont and Lincoln nine; Sublette seven; Goshen, Niobrara and Washakie six; Big Horn five; Converse four; Crook three; Platte two, and Hot Springs, Johnson and Weston reported one active case.  

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 58,835 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 57,629 have recovered.

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Cheney Blasts Trump From House Floor On Night Before Expected Ouster From Leadership

in News/Liz Cheney
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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

On the eve of her expected ousting from Republican leadership in Congress, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney on Tuesday evening came out swinging against President Trump in an impassioned speech from the House floor.

In a 6 1/2 minute speech, Cheney said she would not line up with or speak out against Republican leaders who continue to allege that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

“I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy,” Cheney said.

“Today, we face a threat America has never seen before,” Cheney said. “A former president who provoked a violent attack on this capital. In an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.”

Cheney, one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump in January, is expected to lose her leadership position in a vote before the House conference on Wednesday.

She survived an earlier vote by a large margin (145 – 61).  At that point, she could have dropped her criticism of President Trump’s election fraud claims and her desire to see a 9/11 style independent commission to focus on the January 6 attack on the Capitol. 

But she never swayed — even with the likely political consequences.

“What happened on Jan. 6 is unprecedented in our history, and I think that it’s very important that the commission be able to focus on that,” Cheney said in April.

Her push for a commission coupled with continued criticism of Trump’s allegations of election fraud got her into hot water with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans  — including those in Wyoming.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis have offered no support to Cheney.

Cheney said during her speech Tuesday that her position has more to do wth the truth than politics.

“This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent and ignoring the lie, emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that,” Cheney said.

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