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DCI: Sextortion, Revenge Porn Among Wyo Teenagers Big Problem, Teenage Boys Target

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Sexting, sextortion and revenge porn among Wyoming teenagers is on the rise, experts say, with teenage boys rapidly becoming a growing target.

Cybertips involving reports of sexual internet crimes against children are also on the rise, prompting law enforcement agencies to offer parents, at no charge, an app to help them monitor their children’s online activity

In recent months, law enforcement officers have seen an increase in sextortion cases, particular among juvenile boys between the ages of 11 and 13, according to Chris McDonald, special agent and team leader for the Internet Crimes Against Children division at the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation.

Sextortion involves tricking someone into sharing explicit photos or videos online with someone else often posing as a peer. Once the perpetrator has those files in hand, they can be used to extort money or demand additional images or videos from the victim while threatening to share the images with their classmates or parents on social media if the teen doesn’t pay up.

Teens are fooled into it, McDonald said, because they believe they’re talking to a peer whom might also share explicit photos of themselves. But in many cases, any photos sent are actually sent by an adult or nefarious actor masquerading as a teen.

Boys are not immune from these crimes.

“It’s a misnomer that girls are exploited more than boys,” McDonald said. “The boys are being exploited just as often.”

Cybercrimes against children, in general, are up throughout the state, with Wyoming on track to have yet another record year, McDonald said.

In one month, ICAC received more than 100 tips alleging sex crimes against children that came from social media platforms, apps and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

“It scared the bejesus out of me,” McDonald said, saying this year’s report total could exceed last year’s.

Currently, the division is on target to receive about 750 tips over last year’s 615, McDonald said. In 2021, ICAC made 33 arrests based on the tips it received.

Tips, too, have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2019, the department received 262 versus 531 in 2020.

Although the number of tips received by the division continues to grow, the ICAC team doesn’t, forcing the small division of six to work harder to keep up with increased demand. 

In June, ICAC was awarded the Wyoming Joint Symposium on Children and Youth Compassion in Action: Boots on the Ground Award, which is given to a group that serves child victims.

McDonald said he was proud of his team for its Herculean efforts in keeping up with tips and new cases.

Escalating Problem

The most popular platforms used for exploitation that law enforcement agencies are seeing in Wyoming are Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, although there are others.

The biggest trigger to watch for when it comes to determining whether a teen is being exploited is the level of attention the potential suspect invests in the initial communications, McDonald said.

“If someone is showing a whole lot of interest early on in the conversation, we would call that a red flag,” he said.

The biggest piece of advice he has for parents is to monitor their children’s online access and use. 

To help parents and guardians, DCI is offering the Offender Watch App free for download for anyone in Wyoming. 

The app allows parents to receive notifications if a child is communicating with a registered sex offender through texts, emails or phone calls. 

It also notifies parents if the teen or child is in the vicinity of a registered sex offender as well as other useful tools and sample questions a parent can ask the teen to help monitor their online activity.

“I’m in awe of the power young people have in using the internet,” McDonald said, who is also a father. “But they’re just little kids in their minds and don’t yet understand the nuances of what they’re being asked to do.”

Uprising Wyoming, a nonprofit organization focused on human trafficking prevention, outreach and education, conducts regular training sessions with youth. 

Executive Director Terri Markham said her organization’s data also suggests an uptick in explicit content sharing among young people in Wyoming.

“One thing we are seeing a lot of, and having increased conversations about with teens lately, is sexting, sextortion, revenge porn and pornography,” Markham said.

Her agency has collected anonymous data from Wyoming youth ages 12 and older that show these teens are taking part in these activities.

“When we bring it up at that age level, they are already dealing with it,” she said, prompting the nonprofit to create programming for younger students in an attempt to get ahead of the problem.

For more information about this issue and opportunities for education and training, contact Markham at Uprising Wyoming. Additional resources include Thorn.org and Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

DCI is offering the Offender Watch App free for download for anyone in Wyoming. 

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‘Suspicious’ Package Sent To Liz Cheney Staffer In Riverton Deemed Safe

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A suspicious package sent to U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s staff in Riverton prompted business evacuations and a “bomb-dog” deployment Thursday afternoon, but the package ultimately was deemed safe.  

The Riverton Police Department was notified at 3:52 Thursday afternoon that a Cheney representative had received a package from Montana with “some strange writing on it,” RPD spokesman Officer Wes Barry told Cowboy State Daily.  

“Based on that package coming from out-of-state, we contacted some of our resources, and those resources said ‘Proceed with caution,’” Barry said.  

The package was brought to the parking lot in front of RPD, which abuts a row of downtown businesses. Police cordoned off the area and evacuated the nearest businesses, said Barry.  

“Then (we) called in the bomb dog from Lander, just in case there was an explosive device,” he added.  

The dog did not alert on the package, which, when opened, contained at least one book.  

There was an enormous personnel response to the incident, said Barry, adding that agents from RPD, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office and the Highway Patrol were in the parking lot, along with volunteers from the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department.  

Barry wasn’t sure where the package was Friday morning, but said the protocol would be for its original “receiver” to have it back since it was found to be safe. He declined to say who had sent the package. 

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Bullet-Ridden Brothers In Riverton Still Not Identified; Police Chief Changes Mind On Facebook

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

An investigation into the shooting of two brothers in a Riverton alley is continuing, although police still have not announced the names of the victims or suspects in the incident.

The Riverton Police Department declined to release any more information about the shootings that occurred early Saturday morning and left the two brothers each shot two to four times.

“I have inquired about doing a media release and I was advised (the incident) is still under investigation,” said department communications officer Wes Barry.

The brothers were shot at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday in a Riverton alley. Neither of the unidentified men had commented as of Saturday afternoon on the identity of their assailant, one because he was unable to speak because of being shot in the chest.

Both brothers were flown to Casper for medical treatment.

Facebook 180

Meanwhile, the Riverton Police Department backed away from its moratorium on the release of information about crimes through Facebook, a measure put in place after details of the shooting were released.

Police Chief Eric Murphy had originally said he would stop making announcements about crimes via Facebook because commenters could not “be civil” and managing comments was taking away department time that could be spent on investigations.

But Murphy later changed his position, although he did say the department might block the “comments” section of the its Facebook page.

“My earlier post about not posting crimes and very important information is wrong,” Murphy said in an edited version of his post. “I will continue to post vital information to the community but we will probably have to turn off where people can comment for a while.”  

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Man Sentenced To Life For Threatening Woman With Knife And Raping Her Loses Appeal

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man sentenced to up to life in prison on allegations he raped a woman while holding a box cutter to her throat in 2010 has lost his attempt to have his sentence reduced.

Wyoming’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Christopher David Harrell, who tried to have his sentence of 50 years to life reduced on the grounds he was sentenced twice for what amounted to the same crime.

According to a ruling issued in an earlier appeal by Harrell, which was also rejected, he was convicted in 2010 on three counts of first-degree sexual assault, one county of kidnapping and one count of aggravated assault and battery.

According to the earlier ruling, a former girlfriend of Harrell’s, who had obtained a protection order against him, let him stay at her home in Gillette. The two began fighting when, court records said, Harrell threatened her with a hammer and box cutter and raped her. The assault continued through the night.

Before the assault, according to reports at the time in the Gillette News-Record, Harrell asked the woman if she had ever heard of Ted Bundy, a serial killer who decapitated some of his victims.

He told the woman Bundy had worn a severed head on top of his own while driving across three states and then asked the woman if she thought Harrell could reach California while wearing her head.

In his latest appeal, Harrell said he should not have been sentenced to 10 to 50 years on each of the first-degree sexual assault convictions.

Harrell argued that to be convicted of the crime of kidnapping, his victim must have suffered substantial harm, which occurred when he assaulted the woman. He asked that at least one of his sexual assault convictions and sentences should be merged with the kidnap conviction and sentence.

“Mr. Harrell contends that the elements of first-degree sexual assault were included in the ‘substantially harmed’ element of his kidnapping sentence because the sexual assaults were substantial harm, and therefore, he was sentenced twice for the same crime,” the opinion said.

But justices said the two crimes do not overlap and are separate crimes as defined by Wyoming law, so they cannot be merged.

“Applying the same elements test, first-degree sexual assault and kidnapping each require proof of an element that the other does not,” said the opinion, written by Justice Kari Gray. “Mr. Harrell’s claim of double jeopardy is without merit.”

Justices also rejected Harrell’s claim that his previous attorneys in his case were ineffective because they failed to raise the double jeopardy issue earlier his case.

“Where is no error, there is no basis to claim ineffective assistance of counsel,” the opinion said.

The appeal was the fourth filed by Harrell since his conviction. The Supreme Court declined to hear two of his appeals.

Riverton Brothers Shot Multiple Times In Alley Friday Night; Life-Flighted To Casper

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Photo by Clair McFarland, June 18, 2022

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Two brothers who were shot multiple times before dawn Saturday in a Riverton alleyway had not identified their assailant by Saturday afternoon, but only one was physically unable to do so.  

The Riverton Police Department does not yet have a suspect in the shooting that occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, RPD Chief Eric Murphy told Cowboy State Daily. 

One brother was shot “at least three to four times,” while the other was shot either two or three times, both in an alleyway behind a gas station abutting Riverton City Park. 

The pair went into the gas station to call 911, then were taken for emergency care and later life-flighted to Casper.  

Both were alive early Saturday afternoon, but had “severe” injuries, said Murphy.  

The brothers have been silent about their attacker’s identity for different reasons.

“The guy shot in the chest is (not speaking) due to his medical condition,” said Murphy. “The other brother just isn’t talking.”  

RPD is arranging for a Casper Police Department detective to visit the hospital where the men are receiving care.  

Murphy said he was not yet prepared to disclose the caliber of handgun used to shoot the men.  

“We are literally still just boots on the ground, trying to get a neighborhood canvas right now, find out if anybody had video – we’re still trying to get all that figured out,” he said.  

The gas station security footage shows the men seeking help, but Murphy is hoping other buildings in the area had video capture.   

‘People Cannot Be Respectful’ 

In his initial post to RPD’s Facebook page, Murphy said he was weary of what he described as counter-productive community responses to real-time problems.  

“Apparently people cannot be respectful when I put out information to the public and I unfortunately have to spend my time editing or removing people’s comments instead of helping officers with the actual crime,” Murphy had posted, adding, “this will be the last thing that is posted about crimes in our community.”  

Murphy told Cowboy State Daily that community members have long used the comments section under police announcements to insult and attack one another instead of helping the police and fellow community members address the effects of crime.  

He asked residents to help by scouring their memories for anything that could be related to the case.  

“Call us with information,” he said. “Most of the time, stuff like this is solved by the smallest detail that you can’t even imagine.”  

Anyone who was in the area and awake before 3:30 a.m. should consider every memory, every pedestrian, every small detail from those moments, Murphy said.  

“It’s always the smallest things that you wouldn’t think could help solve crimes, that help us solve it, every time.”  

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Cheyenne Residents Worried After Fentanyl, Cocaine Bust In House Across From Elementary School

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Goins Elementary School, June 17, 2022. By Matt Idler.

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

After a Cheyenne man was charged this week with trafficking fentanyl near a school, the owner of the apartment building he lived in vowed to root out any other issues in her property.  

Robert Butler, 34, was indicted this week by a grand jury for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl near a school and with intent to distribute cocaine.  

Butler had been residing on South Cribbon Avenue, directly across from Goins Elementary School in Cheyenne. He was arrested April 28 when Cheyenne Police Department found cocaine and marijuana in his vehicle following a traffic stop.

When interviewed later that day, Butler admitted to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officers that he was a cocaine and marijuana dealer.  

Butler had just traveled to Colorado, he said, to buy $6,000 worth of cocaine.  

One of the DEA officers applied for and received a search warrant for the South Cribbon apartment. In the living room, agents found about 2.2 ounces of suspected oxycodone and/or fentanyl pills, more than 1.8 ounces of suspected cocaine, 2.8 ounces of suspected marijuana, a digital scale and box of sandwich baggies. 

If convicted on both counts, Butler faces up to 40 years in prison and fines of up to $6 million, according to the U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, Bob Murray’s office.  

‘Caught Me By Surprise’ 

Carol Ash, whose property management company owns the apartment building where Butler lived, said the whole incident came as a shock to her because the address hadn’t been a source of complaint or problems in the past.  

Nevertheless, said Ash, who learned of the arrest Friday in an interview with Cowboy State Daily, “It’s best that I know (this). I’m going to request a property inspection for that unit.”  

Robert Butler is not the registered tenant at the property, but the registered tenant shares Butler’s surname and is likely a family member, said Ash.  

“We haven’t had any neighbor complaints about (the tenant), and that man has always paid on time and he’s a very gentle soul, so this caught me by surprise,” she said, adding that people don’t always behave the same way as their visiting family members.  

She said there haven’t been other incidents in the complex “as far as I’m aware.” 

The Cheyenne Police Department on Friday did not respond to a voicemail requesting more information about the area.  

Ash said CPD had not notified her of the incident, which also surprised her.  

Been Like That For a While’ 

A resident who lives near the Cribbon apartment said the whole neighborhood has been struggling for at least three years.  

The resident, who declined to be identified out of fear for reprisals, said very few houses in the area are “actually owned” by their occupants and many are rentals and low-income or public housing.  

Ash’s units are privately owned and rented. There are multiple homes in the area owned by Cheyenne Housing Authority.  

“We (see) tenants coming and going all the time,” said the resident. He noted that in the past, there were about 20 teens and children living in one home in the area, some of whom would knock on neighbors’ windows in the night, cause problems at the elementary school, and brandish firearms on school grounds.  

The resident said the teens also seemed “violent” at times.  

But idleness and violence among youth seem to be on the rise in Cheyenne, said the man, adding that he hoped parents would engage their children more and give them real work, play, and purpose.

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Sundance Tow Truck Driver Accused Of Stealing Dead Man’s Possessions Pleads No Contest

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A Sundance tow truck owner charged with theft following a fatal crash last summer has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

Norman “Gus” Sampson of Iron Horse Towing pleaded no contest on June 1 to a single charge of theft in connection with allegations he stole tools and other items from the pickup truck belonging to 41-year-old Shon Engel. 

Engel was killed in early August in a single-car accident near Sundance.

A no-contest plea signifies that the accused accepts the conviction but avoids a factual admission of guilt.

Missing Items

Sampson was called by the Wyoming Highway Patrol to the scene of the crash on I-90, near Sundance, to tow the vehicle and collect the items strewn throughout a field.  

The WHP trooper took several photographs of the crash site, documenting several items including a $200 pair Maui Jim sunglasses, a red Yeti cup Shon’s parents had just purchased for him, a large knife, a chair and lots of tools and other items scattered in the grass.

Sampson said he gathered all the items and put them in the back of the damaged vehicle for the family to collect, which he said took him about three hours to collect.

A few days later, however, when Engel’s older brother, Jim Engel, came to pay the towing bill and retrieve his brother’s items, he said there was nothing in the back of the pickup truck. Engel said he then drove up to Sampson’s shop to pay him $750 in cash for the bill and asked about his brother’s belongings.

Sampson refuted that fee and told Cowboy State Daily that he charged Engel $500. 

Jim Engel said that Sampson again told him that everything he had collected from the accident was in the back of the truck, but Engel hadn’t been able to find anything.  

However, when Engel went into the shop, he said he saw the Red Yeti cup sitting on a table and spotted a large pile of tools and Shon’s knife sticking out of a red toolbox. 

His brother was a mechanic, Jim Engel said, and kept hundreds of dollars of tools in his pickup.

When questioned, Sampson reported he had forgotten about the items and told Engel could take them. Engel then said he asked about the remaining items but was told that was everything. 

He filed a report with the Crook County Sheriff’s Office. 


When questioned by Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Kaminski, Sampson repeated that he had placed everything belonging to Shon in the back of the vehicle, adding that Jim Engel and Shon’s best friend David Watt had repeatedly harassed him and threatened to beat him up if they didn’t get the possessions back, according to the incident report provided by the Crook County Sheriff’s Office. 

Kaminski informed Sampson there was photographic evidence of the accident site showing all of Shon’s possessions, according to the report. 

Sampson said he didn’t know where the items were and that maybe Jim Engel had taken them when he was rummaging around in the truck, the report said. 

The deputy then went to his wrecker and lifted the drop deck where Shon Engel’s Maui Jim sunglasses were found sitting in a bed box underneath the deck, the report said, along with a hammer also belonging to Shon Engel. 

About 20 minutes later, Sampson contacted the sheriff’s office to report finding a few more of Shon’s items, including several sockets, a hammer, crescent wrench and other tools.

Sampson was issued a citation for theft on Dec. 8, 2021. 

Doubting His Plea

Sampson initially requested a jury trial that was scheduled for later this month but entered the no contest plea to the single charge of theft in his pre-trial conference on June 1, according to Cindi Baudhuin, chief clerk of Crook County Circuit Court. 

Sampson told Cowboy State Daily Thursday that the decision to enter the no contest plea was done rashly after a short discussion with his public defender who he had just met that day. He said that later that night, he doubted that decision and thought he should have requested the jury trial to prove his innocence.

He said he did not steal anything and put everything he’d found into the wrecked vehicle.

“I didn’t steal anything from his brother, but he (Engel) won’t listen to me,” he said. “He’s bullheaded.”

He said he’d overlooked the items that he had stuck in the back of his truck during the cleanup and didn’t notice them under the drop deck because he hadn’t looked there and hadn’t thought about it. He also said he didn’t realize that any of the items in his shop belonged to Shon Engel.

Sampson has since been removed from rotation by WHP and the Crook County Sheriff, he said, and hasn’t worked for the past 10 months. He is still authorized to tow vehicles, however. 

He said this is his first complaint in the 13 to 14 years he’s been in business and that he understands how emotionally wrought the process is for the family of loved ones who die in automobile crashes and said it’s also hard for him, too.

“I didn’t steal anything,” he said. “The only thing I’ve gotten is a bad reputation and I want my name cleared.”

For his part, Engel said he’s just glad it’s over and wasn’t looking forward to putting his parents through the pain of sitting through a trial.

“I have mixed emotions about it,” he said. “I was looking forward to sitting in the courtroom and hearing him justify stealing dead people’s memories, but it’s better for my parents not to have to sit through it.”

Engel said he pursued the case because it was a matter of principle.

“You just don’t do that,” he said. “It’s not right.”

It’s not about money, Engel added, but rather having his brother’s memories returned.

Sampson will appear for a judgment and sentencing on June 24.

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Fiancé Of Missing Gillette Woman Pleads Not Guilty To Felonies Related To Crimes Against Her

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The 38-year-old fiancé of a missing Gillette woman and person of interest in her disappearance has pleaded not guilty to five felonies relating to crimes against her.  

Nathan J. Hightman has been accused of transferring more than $3,000 from Irene Wairimu Gakwa’s bank account into his account, maxing out her credit card on purchases including boots and a shovel, deleting her email account, and changing her banking password.

Hightman pleaded not guilty to all charges on Tuesday afternoon, according to his attorney, Steven Titus.

Irene, a 32-year-old woman from Kenya, is still missing and the Gillette Police Department have no new updates at this time.

She was last seen alive during a video call with her parents on Feb. 24 and was reported missing by her brother on March 20.

Hightman told the Gillette Police detective that Irene came home from eating in a restaurant one night in late February and said she was leaving Gillette, court documents state. He said she packed her clothing into two plastic bags and was picked up by someone in a dark SUV.

He admitted to police that he had accessed Irene’s bank accounts and removed the money, saying he did so to force her to contact him but said he has not heard from her since she left.

Hightman has been identified as a “person of interest” in Gakwa’s disappearance and has refused to cooperate with investigators, according to police.

It is not like Irene to be out of contact with her family, according to her brothers, Kennedy Wainaina and Chris Gakwa, who both live in Idaho. Irene had moved to the U.S. roughly five years ago to be near them and met Hightman on an online dating website.

The couple lived together for about a year-and-a-half before moving to Gillette last July, where Irene attended nursing school and worked.

Chris Gakwa said he was surprised to learn his sister was living in Wyoming as she told the family she was living in Arizona. He said Hightman encouraged her to lie to her family about where she was living as a means of isolating and controlling her.

Chris Gakwa said his parents in Kenya have been particularly worried and it’s been hard on them all as they continue looking and holding out hope that his sister will be found.

“It’s very stressful,” he said. “We don’t even want to talk about it. You don’t know what to say or what to do. You feel helpless.”

The Gillette Police are asking for the public’s help in locating a gray or silver Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates that may have been seen trespassing on private property or in rural areas of Campbell County between Feb. 24 and March 20. The department is also seeking information regarding possible sightings of a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county.

Gakwa is described as a 5-foot-1, 100-pound Black woman.  

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Gillette Police Department at (307) 682-5155.

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Fremont County Sheriff’s Office Says Woman’s Shooting Of Ex-Boyfriend Likely Self Defense

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Initial findings suggest that a Riverton woman who shot her ex-boyfriend before dawn on Saturday acted in self-defense, according to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.  

The office announced Monday that at about 2:50 a.m. Saturday, a 24-year-old male broke into his 31-year-old ex-girlfriend’s home east of Riverton and attacked her current boyfriend, who is also 24. 

Watching the struggle, the woman believed that her ex-boyfriend was determined to kill her current boyfriend, the announcement stated.

As a result, the woman shot her ex-boyfriend through the arm, and the bullet lodged in his ribcage area, Fremont County Undersheriff Mike Hutchison told Cowboy State daily.

“She retrieved a pistol and felt she had no choice but to use deadly force to stop the violent attack and to protect herself and (her current boyfriend),” reads FSO’s statement.  

The ex-boyfriend was taken by ambulance to SageWest Health Care of Riverton but has since been flown out of the area “with serious injuries,” the report said.  

Hutchison told Cowboy State Daily that the current boyfriend also has injuries but they are not serious.  

The ex-boyfriend, Hutchison said, was not armed at the moment he was shot.    

The incident is still under investigation, but initial findings “support the female’s claim of self-defense,” the statement said.  

In Wyoming, the use of force is justified in cases of self-defense and also to protect someone else in the immediate area who is believed to be in serious or mortal danger.

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Riverton Man Convicted Of Sexually Abusing Young Girl Faces 200 Years

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A man convicted of sexually molesting a female child for several years and soliciting sex acts from another now faces a possible sentence of more than 200 years in prison.

Riverton resident David Wayne Munda, 43, was convicted by a Fremont County jury on Friday of multiple charges of sexual abuse, along with battery for punching his molestation victim in the head while she was still a child.

Four charges of first-degree sexual abuse, three lesser sex charges and one battery charge were filed against Munda in August, when one of his victims, now a grown woman, confided to a friend that he had molested her nearly 80 times.  

The woman’s secret soon reached the Riverton Police Department, which contacted her and asked her to tell her story.  

As the investigation into Munda proceeded, another victim came forward, saying Munda had wrestled her onto his groin while he was in a state of erection and informed her he could “make her feel good.”  

In his closing statements Friday morning, Munda’s defense attorney Jeff Stanbury attacked the women’s accounts against Munda by calling their character into question.  

“When someone shows you who they are,” said Stanbury, “believe them the first time.” 

He then listed the various misdeeds the women committed as teens and as children, calling the molestation victim “defiant” and repeatedly calling the victim of lesser sexual contact a liar.  

He emphasized that the second victim’s story grew more intense as the prosecution waged on – a point the prosecutor would counter by noting the early police attempts to get her to speak of the incidents were relatively impersonal, compared to a jury trial.

Stanbury urged the jury to consider that the women may have fabricated portions of their accounts in an attempt at revenge against Munda, with whom they’d had conflicts for years.  

He also pointed to timeline glitches in the main victim’s account and implied that her memory was faulty.

Seth Griswold, Fremont County deputy attorney and one of two prosecutors in the case, countered in his closing statement and rebuttal that the women would have no reason now to upset their lives and schedules, expose themselves to painful public scrutiny and endure the difficulties of a week-long criminal trial just to take a vengeful jab at a former childhood aggressor.  

According to court documents, Munda began grooming his main victim when she was 5 years old.  

“This case,” said Griswold, “is about who you believe. If you believe (the victims), there is no doubt.”  

Indeed, the trial that began with jury selection Monday and ended Friday evening depended heavily upon contrasting accounts.  

Physical evidence, such as an examination taken of the main victim seven months after Munda’s most recent sexual act against her, was inconclusive.  

Munda will be sentenced at a later date.  

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun also prosecuted the case. Lander defender Kate Strike also defended Munda.

Munda also faces charges of child abuse against two boys in a separate case that is still being adjudicated.

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Lander Hospital Failed Safety Inspection After Eye-Gouging Incident

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The Lander hospital where a patient in 2020 gouged out the eye of another patient failed a safety inspection about two weeks after the incident, according to documents filed in federal court.

A Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services “unannounced” inspection of the Lander SageWest Hospital conducted in December 2020 concluded that mental health patients were inadequately supervised, recommended drugs were not given, and a psychiatric patient later charged for murder had been able to wander the facility.  

The inspection report was filed Thursday in federal court as part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Riverton Memorial Hospital, SageWest’s parent company, by the family of Elaine Tillman, whose eye was gouged out on Thanksgiving 2020 by fellow patient Patrick Rose.

‘What Do You Really Do To People Here?’ 

Tillman died nearly two weeks after her eye was gouged out while she lay in emergency care at Lander SageWest Health Care on Thanksgiving of 2020.

Tillman had been taken into custody involuntarily for mental health issues and medical documents said her repeated attempts to disrobe and run away from home “like a stray dog” showed a potential for self-harm.  

According to the documents filed as part of the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Tillman was reportedly suspicious of hospital personnel and afraid that someone was trying to hurt her.  

“Why are you guys doing this to me?” Tillman had asked a nurse who was trying to take her for a walk. 

The conversation occurred on Tillman’s sixth day in the hospital, one day before the eye-gouging incident.  

“What do you really do to people here?” she continued. 

Later, after some calming efforts by the nurse, Tillman thanked the nurse and others “for all you do.”  

The Fremont County Attorney had been trying, medical documents said, to get the Wyoming State Hospital to accept Tillman.  

Wrong Drugs 

Dubois resident Patrick Rose, then 53, was a fellow psychiatric patient admitted to the hospital on Nov. 25, 2020, one day before the gouging incident. 

Rose was awaiting transfer to Casper Wyoming Behavioral Institute for a higher degree of mental care and oversight. But, medical documents state, WBI would not take him until his COVID-19 test returned negative.  

Documents said Rose was taken into involuntary mental health custody after he “suddenly” quit taking his valium and hydrocodone, burned his clothing, ran naked from his Dubois home in freezing November temperatures, put a sheet over his wife’s head and held her in a brief chokehold until she asked him to stop.  

When examined, he reported hallucinations.  

“I saw myself swimming in a pool of Pepsi and even tasted it,” he told an evaluator, also stating “I am in extreme dangerous situations,” and reporting imagery such as cars and rocket ships flashing in his consciousness when he tried to sleep.  

Though he’d reportedly quit taking the drugs prescribed for his acquired brain injury of 18 years, Rose tested positive for THC (an intoxicant found in marijuana) and benzodiazepines, which can be used to treat anxiety or alcohol withdrawal.  

Medical personnel recommended antipsychotic and anti-anxiety drugs for Rose during his brief hospital stay, but “the (CMS) review showed neither medication was administered,” an inspector concluded.  

Rose left his room multiple times during his stay, his care ledger said, wandering outdoors or to other rooms or the hallway.   

Half Supervised 

Hospital personnel insisted that one staff member watch Rose at all times, for a 1:1 supervision ratio.  

Instead, according to a nurse interview taken after the gouging, one person was assigned to watch both Rose and Tillman – a 1:2 supervision ratio.  

“(The) 1:1 sitter ratio had not been maintained,” reads the CMS report. “Shift to shift and sitter to nurse communication and physician to physicians communication lacked continuity, documentation was incomplete.” 

Homicide, Release 

While still awaiting his transfer to WBI, Rose reportedly fled his own room, rushed into Tillman’s, leapt onto her and gouged both her eyes with his thumbs.  

One eye was dislodged completely and dangled on Tillman’s cheek, held by an optic nerve. The other eye remained in its socket but was blinded and badly damaged.  

Nurses restrained Rose until police arrived.  

Tillman died 13 days after the gouging, at the University of Utah Hospital, where she’d been flown for treatment. A Utah death examiner deemed the fatality a homicide.  

Rose was charged with second-degree murder but was released from state custody to live with his wife in Dubois in June of 2021, due to a limitation in Wyoming’s mental health and court proceeding laws.  

‘For-Profit Business’ 

In a motion filed with the lawsuit asking the court to force the hospital to provide more information, Bob Schuster, attorney for the Tillman family, noted the hospital is owned by companies with headquarters far outside Wyoming.

The hospital’s interests “are not aligned with the safety of patients who live in Fremont County, Wyoming,” Schuster wrote. “Rather, they are aligned with the corporate profit interest of the conglomerates” who own the hospital.  

SageWest was owned by LifePoint Health Inc. during the attack; LifePoint in turn was owned by Apollo Global Management, Inc. The hospital then was shifted to another Apollo chain, ScionHealth, which was owned by LifePoint and Kindred Healthcare, Schuster noted in the motion.  

“(It) may be thought of as a hospital,” Schuster continued. “In reality, it is simply a business asset – treated like an unwitting cash cow passed from one business conglomerate to another and happily milked by each of them.”  

Under its various owners, the Riverton and Lander SageWest Health Care facilities have cut services: the obstetrics ward was removed from Riverton; both buildings were sold to a trust, causing the hospitals to pay rent on buildings they once owned, and – notably in the case of Rose and Tillman – the hospital’s psychiatric ward, PineRidge, was closed down in 2019.   

Schuster is requesting evidence from the hospital that has not yet been granted, including internal emails discussing the incident, phone numbers and call histories for “specific individuals who were involved” in the hours surrounding the attack and key documents surrounding “the decision to dismantle PineRidge.” 

The hospital, claimed Schuster, “has attempted… to shield information and documents from discovery in unwarranted fashion.”  

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Fiancé of Missing Gillette Woman Seen Purchasing Boots and Shovel, Arrested on Multiple Felonies

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The fiancé of a missing Gillette woman used her debit card to purchase items including boots and a shovel, according to documents filed in state district court.

Nathan J. Hightman was arrested May 4 and charged with multiple felony theft counts for accessing the bank accounts of Irene Gawka in the wake of her disappearance in late February. He was released on a $10,000 cash or surety bond on Wednesday.

Gawka was last seen alive during a video call with her parents on Feb. 24. The 32-year-old native of Kenya as reported missing by her brother on March 20.

Hightman has been identified as a “person of interest” in Gawka’s disappearance and has refused to cooperate with investigators.

According to court documents, Hightman is accused of transferring more than $3,666 out of Gawka’s bank account and charging more than $600 on her debit card after he told authorities she packed her bags and left their home in Gillette in late February.

Among the purchases he made was a shovel and a pair of boots and pants from Walmart totaling $36.19, according to court documents filed in the Circuit Court of the 6th Judicial District. Hightman is seen on video surveillance with the items, which were later located at his house.

Hightman also allegedly maxed out Gawka’s Capital One Visa card, hitting the $3,100 credit limit in 80 separate transactions.

He’s also been charged with two additional felonies for changing the password to Gawka’s banking account and deleting her Google email account.

Gawka was attending nursing school and had moved to Gillette last July with Hightman, who she met in Idaho.

Hightman told the Gillette Police detective that Gawka came home from eating in a restaurant one night in late February and said she was leaving Gillette. He said she packed her clothing into two plastic bags and was picked up by someone in a dark SUV.

He admitted to police that he had accessed Gawka’s bank accounts and removed the money, saying he did so to force her to contact him. Hightman said he has not heard from Gakwa since she left.

Gawka moved to the U.S. in her late 20s to be near her brothers in Idaho and broaden her experiences, her older brother, Kennedy Wainaina, told Cowboy State Daily last week.

She met Hightman on an online dating website and the couple lived together in Idaho for about one and one-half years before moving to Gillette, which was Hightman’s idea, Wainaina said.

He described Hightman “controlling” and said his sister was having a hard time acclimating to Gillette given its small size, colder weather and the fact that she missed her family.

GPD has asked for the public’s help in its search for a gray or silver Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates that may have been seen trespassing on private property or in rural areas of Campbell County between Feb. 24 and March 20. The department is also seeking information regarding possible sightings of a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county.

Irene is described as a Black woman who is 5 feet, 1 inch tall and weighing about 100 pounds.

Anyone with information is asked to contact GPD at (307) 682-5155.

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Wyoming DEA: Law Enforcement: No More ‘Safe’ Recreational Drug Use

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The fentanyl-related overdose deaths of five young people in Commerce City, Colorado, in late February are setting off alarm bells for Wyoming law enforcement.

The five who died likely were using cocaine laced with fentanyl, according to David Tyree, resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Cheyenne.

And Tyree, like other Wyoming law enforcement agents, is worried the lethal drug making its way into Wyoming as part of other drugs could cause more mass casualties such as the one in Colorado.

The problem is that buyers have no idea what they are getting when they’re purchasing illicit drugs off the streets, Tyree said. Where decades ago that might not have been as dangerous a proposition, today a person’s recreational drug purchase can put his or her life at risk with the advent of street fentanyl.

“These are not one-off events,” he said. “The game has changed because now the new card in the deck is one that will literally end a life. These people aren’t getting a second chance.”

Increasingly, the DEA and other law enforcement agencies are finding fentanyl in other drugs, from cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine to illicit opioids masquerading as prescription pills. The drugs are being produced by drug cartels in labs south of the border, Tyree said, by amateur chemists who might not even know they are selling laced products.

“The people who are manufacturing these drugs are not pharmacists,” Tyree said. “You have cross-contamination and it might not even be intentional.”

What Is Fentanyl?

Legally administered, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It’s considered a Schedule II controlled substance and is typically prescribed after surgery or for pain associated with early-stage cancer and can be administered as a shot, a patch or in lozenge form.

The illegally manufactured fentanyl coming across the border is sold in powder form, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye drops or nasal sprays or pressed into primarily light-blue pills stamped with “M30,” masquerading as prescription oxycodone. The illicit opioids typically contain none of the active ingredients of the legal pills, but rather contain fentanyl and other binders like sugar or acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and other over-the-counter cold medicines.

The DEA began seeing it in the U.S. around 2011, according to Steve Kotecki, public information officer for DEA Denver, during the height of the opioid crisis once medical practitioners and law enforcement began cracking down on legal sales of opioids. 

The illicit drug manufacturers figured out how to reverse engineer legal fentanyl, Kotecki said, and law enforcement began seeing a flood of illicit fentanyl into the United States, cresting by late 2018 and 2019. The new drug’s arrival led to a wave of overdose deaths seen primarily in the eastern and southern states.

“The cartels got ahold of a new market,” Kotecki said, “and have figured out how to illegally and clandestinely produce (fentanyl).”

The ingredients for illicit fentanyl are primarily being sent from China to Mexican cartels , which are mixing it in with other illicit drugs – either intentionally or unintentionally – because it’s cheap and highly addictive.

Its lethality is what makes it so dangerous, Kotecki said, because depending on a person’s size or tolerance, approximately two milligrams – roughly the size of 10-15 grains of table salt – can kill a person.

The drug’s production is not an exact science, and increasingly, it’s turning up in more of the drugs the DEA is seizing in the Mountain West and across the country.

Recent lab reports by the DEA indicated that four out of every 10 illicit “M30” pills tested have lethal amounts of fentanyl, Kotecki said, and 98% of the pills labeled as oxycodone are actually counterfeit.

Overdoses On The Rise

The DEA began sounding alarms in the spring of 2021 when overdose deaths involving fentanyl exceeded 100,000 nationally.

In Wyoming, overdose numbers are also on the rise.

In 2019, 11 Wyoming residents died from fentanyl-related overdoses, followed by 21 in 2020. The following year, this number more than doubled, increasing to 45 in 2021.

So far this year, 13 Wyoming residents have died of fentanyl-related deaths, according to Cori Davis, statistician with the Wyoming Vital Records Services.

Tyree noted that these overdoses involve people from all social spectrums, from soccer moms and college kids to underprivileged people in urban cities.

“The problem is everywhere,” he said. “I never imagined seeing it at this level, and I’ll be the first to say I’m scared by it. Right now, it’s never been more dangerous than to recreationally use drugs.”

Seizures of fentanyl in Wyoming are also hitting new record highs. According to data provided to Gov. Mark Gordon’s office by the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigations, DCI seized 1,954 grams of fentanyl between 2019 and 2020. 

In 2020, that figured dipped to 3 grams, but rose astronomically the following year to 17,324 grams and 11,267 counterfeit fentanyl pills seized by DCI and the Wyoming Highway Patrol in 2021.

The ease of access and porous International borders also create fluid pathways for these drugs to enter Wyoming communities, according to Gillette Police Det. Eric Small.

“We are seeing unbelievable amounts of controlled substances making their way into the U.S.,” Small said. “The game changer is the accessibility, and the first step is controlling the border.”

In April, Gordon joined 25 other states led by Republican governors in creating a “border strike force” to deal with the “chaos” at the southern border. Part of this mission, according to Michael Pearlman, communication director for Gordon’s office, is to tackle drugs coming in from Mexico.

“Wyoming is currently engaged in planning with other participating states about what assistance we may be able to provide through the Border Strike Force, as well as to gain valuable information as to how we can best protect our state from the flow of illegal drugs, including fentanyl,” Pearlman said. “The increase in fentanyl coming into America from Mexico has been horrific and well-documented.”

Shift In Cartel Production Strategy

In response to the purported crackdowns, the cartels, too, have seemingly shifted their business model, boosting the flow of their product into America and, as a result, Wyoming.

According to journalist Luis Chaparro, who went underground in the Sinaloa Cartel as shared on the “Shawn Ryan Show” podcast in April 2022, the cartels are shifting from super labs in remote areas to smaller labs in residential areas.

Chaparro reported that cartel members are being instructed to no longer drive flashy cars and be overt about their affiliation, but rather to take a more low-key approach as family men and average workers. The new labs are being run out of family homes with one cook producing up to 50,000 pills per day.

This new business model is more sophisticated, Chaparro reported, because these smaller labs are much harder to detect, and if busted, result in negligent impact on the overall business. 

There are also many more of them, he noted. In the city of Culiacan, in the state of Sinaloa, Chaparro estimated there are around 200 labs operating into residential neighborhoods.

Supplies to make fentanyl are coming from China, Chaparro added, with Chinese chemists providing training on how to make the drug. Chaparro said he believes the recipes are deliberately being adjusted to create more lethal drugs.

He also said that the pills are dyed different colors for different geographical markets, and that there is a much more powerful drug than illicit fentanyl opioids in the pipeline. He did not specify what that drug might be or when it might be expected to show up in the U.S.

Unchecked Greed

As to the economics of why a drug dealer might not object to killing off customers, both Tyree and Kotecki said it’s a matter of pure greed.

“These are greedy individuals, and it’s just the cost of doing business for these people,” Kotecki said. “They are not going out of their way to kill people, but they’re not correcting people when it happens.”

The profit margins are exceptionally high, he noted. One pill that might cost 0.4 cents to make retails on the street for between $10 and $80, depending where it comes from in the trafficking supply chain hierarchy and on geographical location.

“It’s purely unchecked greed,” Tyree added. “It’s more sophisticated than I’ve seen in my (25-year) career,” he said.

He’s overhead conversations between drug dealers on wire taps discussing the death of a user. At least on a regional distribution or street level, dealers are aware people are dying, he said. Typically, they are told to lay low for a few days or move to another area.

“It’s not even a blip on their moral compass,” he said.

Taking Dealers Out Of The Community

In response to the surge of illicit drugs showing up in Wyoming, Tyree said that the DEA and other law enforcement agencies, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, are taking a “corporate response” to getting these drugs off the streets.

“If you are dealing fentanyl in Wyoming, we will remove you from the community,” Tyree said. “You will go to jail as long as possible. It’s the only appropriate solution. If you are an end-user, we will get you help.”

Not only is the influx of drugs killing people, Tyree added, but it’s also affecting Wyoming communities with an increase of crime, thefts and violence among drug rivals.

“We are concerned for our communities,” he said. “These are our neighbors, and we want to work collectively to address the concern.”

Tyree acknowledged that it’s a complex problem and he draws a clear distinction between dealers and users.

As someone who grew up in a home where substance addiction was a problem, Tyree saw both the devastation it does to a family as well as the power of recovery. For this reason, he knew by seventh grade he planned to be a DEA agent.

“I saw how drugs were devastating my own family,” he said. “To this point, I’m not alone.”

Though law enforcement will continue its efforts to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations, Tyree said the larger issues remaining are tackling addiction and working on awareness and prevention to warn people of the deadly nature of these fentanyl-laced drugs.

“People are hurting, we understand,” he said. “There are alternatives to narcotics and opportunities to learn from pain and addiction.”

Those dealing, Tyree noted, will not be shown the same concessions.

“If you are dealing even one pill, you will go to jail,” he said. “We will find you.”

For more information about fentanyl and local resources to help with addiction and recovery, see the DEA website.

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After Mass Firing At Reservation School, FBI Investigating Corruption, Sexual Misconduct, Drug Use Claims

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Claims of corruption, drug use, and sexual misconduct involving the former leaders at the St. Stephens Indian School are now the focus of a federal criminal investigation.  

Lori Hogan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Bob Murray, said the FBI is looking into whether some of the allegations raised in a U.S. Bureau of Indian Education report rise the level of criminal offenses.

“It is under investigation with the FBI,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “We will not have any information on that until they’re able to turn it over with enough information to charge somebody.”  

The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Business Councils – both executive bodies of the tribes that oversee the school – on Monday released the BIE report that raised a host of allegations against the school’s top officials.

The school’s superintendent, two principals, food supervisor and the entire school board were fired immediately after the report’s release following a vote of both business councils.  

Among other things, the report accused former Superintendent Frank No Runner of soliciting sex acts from minors, consuming drugs and alcohol in his on-campus home and misusing school funds.  

Pattee Bement, the school’s former foods supervisor and No Runner’s wife, was accused of benefitting from nepotism; she also was accused of either harassing or soliciting sex acts from a woman with whom No Runner claimed to have had an affair.   

Other allegations of misconduct were leveled at St. Stephens High School Principal Greg Juneau, who was accused of having taken part in sexual harassment and used marijuana both on- and off-campus.

St. Stephen’s Indian School is funded by both the federal government and by the state of Wyoming.  

In 2018 alone, the school received nearly $1.5 million from the Wyoming Legislature.  

According to the report, the campus must remain drug-free if the school is to continue receiving federal funding.

The BIE is temporarily in charge of the school.

St. Stephens Indian School is an elementary and high school system on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

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Animal Cruelty Investigation Results In 12 Dogs Rescued From “Terrible Case of Neglect” in Lovell

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A dozen mixed-breed dogs in Big Horn County were rescued Saturday from what one animal rescue expert called one of the “most neglectful situations” he has ever seen.

The Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department announced its active animal cruelty investigation resulted in the discovery of the dogs at a remote residence outside of Lovell. The dogs were surrendered by the owner to the sheriff’s department for adoption.

No charges have been brought against the owner at this time, according to Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn, who also declined to release the suspect’s name.

“It’s an ongoing investigation, and the case is being moved to the country attorney for review,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Blackburn said the sheriff’s office had been investigating the animal owner following several reports of alleged animal abuse dating back to February. Multiple reports indicated that the dogs were being held in an enclosed trailer and moved to different locations.

The most recent report indicated the dogs were being housed on the property outside of Lovell, allowing the sheriff’s office to obtain a search warrant that was executed around 4 a.m. Saturday.

“At the end of the day, it was really good because the owner did relinquish the dogs,” Blackburn said.

The dogs were in various conditions, Blackburn noted, and treated by a veterinarian on scene. To Blackburn’s knowledge, none of the animals had to be euthanized. In total, the department will pay for the vet bills that are estimated to cost between $500 to $1,000, he said.

“Most Neglectful Situation”

John Ramer, executive director of the Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary near Hartville, assisted the sheriff’s department in the recovery. He called it one of the “most neglectful situations” he has personally seen.

Ramer got involved in the case after Big Horn County Sheriff Deputy Jeff Angell contacted him about helping his department with the placement of more than 20 mixed-breed dogs in a potential hoarding situation.

The Kindness Ranch only takes in animals rescued from clinical and medical research facilities, though Ramer often helps with rescues by shelters throughout the U.S. in various situations, including natural disasters and occasional neglect cases.

“The mission of Kindness Ranch is narrow in scope, though hearts and reach extend beyond our mission,” Ramer told Cowboy State Daily on Sunday. “It is our philosophy that only working together as a team and lifting each other up will we be successful not just in our mission, but in the overall attempt to end animal neglect and cruelty.”

His team took four of the dogs back to Kindness Ranch on Saturday, where they were cleaned and medically evaluated before being placed in foster care with volunteers and shelters in Cheyenne and elsewhere.

Ramer praised Angell’s diligence and persistence in the investigation.

“He (Angell) ultimately is solely responsible for changing the lives of these canines,” Ramer said.

Vague Laws

Ramer said that despite Angell’s extraordinary work on the case, the sheriff’s department was hindered by budget and resource limitations, as well as vagueness in the existing animal cruelty laws.

“The problem is not the effort, it is the resources to enforce,” Ramer said. “Not just financial and housing resources are needed, but more clearly defined laws regarding cruelty and neglect.”

State laws in hoarding situations vague in defining what specifically constitutes animal cruelty and neglect, Ramer said.

“In the words of one deputy, ‘As long as the dogs have food, shelter and water, there just isn’t much we can do,” Ramer said. “This is vague and inadequate as it calls on the officers to interpret the regulations in what meets the minimum in the eyes of the law and what actually constitutes neglect.

“Nearly 20 dogs locked in horse trailers living in their own feces is disgusting, though according to the law as loosely interpreted by an officer, they had food, shelter and water,” he continued. “For most people, this was very clearly a terrible case of neglect, but the owner of the dogs claimed she was caring for them. So how do we enforce this? Where is the line that separates interpretation and enforcement?”

Blackburn agreed the way the statutes are written can make it difficult to assign the appropriate charges.

“We have the burden of proof that needs to be beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “Some of the animal statures have made it difficult in certain situations.”

Along with more clearly worded laws, Ramer said counties should have better shelters set up for emergency housing of animals displaced by natural disasters and criminal seizures.

“This should not be up to the dedicated work of volunteers or nonprofits who have to constantly fundraise,” Ramer said. “Your local nonprofit doesn’t have the authority to seize animals who suffer neglect and abuse; your local law enforcement agency does but doesn’t have the resources. By bridging this gap, we can make our local communities a happier, healthier place to live for all.”

Neglect Cases Predicted To Get Worse

Blackburn has been involved in a few animal hoarding cases throughout his career, including one involving the rescue of more than 100 horses and about 60 dogs.

Much like in this recent case, Blackburn said that in his experience, the animal owners aren’t “twisted,” but rather are people with good intentions who get overwhelmed and don’t know how to fix the situation.

This is compounded by harsh economic times, particularly with skyrocketing hay and food prices.

“We are going to see more of this as we go,” he said.

Regardless of intentions, animal cruelty is nonetheless a crime, Blackburn noted.

“It’s our job to protect not just the people, but the animals as well,” he said.

Ramer said his organization was happy to be able to help in this rescue.

“The ability to assist law enforcement in this case, in our home state, was an honor and wonderful chance to work locally and make a difference in the lives of these beautiful dogs,” he said.

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Road Warriors: Bikers Who Save Trafficked And Missing Children

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Jason Clark

You can’t do what Jason Clark does and be scared.

In one case, Clark found himself walking with a handful of other members of Road Warriors For The Missing through a “trailer hood” in a run-down section of Salt Lake City. 

Prior to this excursion, he had no idea that places like this even existed.

The mission was to pick out a trailer with certain “goofy” graffiti painted on its side of from among the other sorely dilapidated trailers. His group had gotten word that a missing teenage girl had been seen going into this trailer.

Once they spotted it, it was hard not to be nervous. As Clark said, despite being in a biker association, these are not tough guys. They’re dads – and in his case, granddads – who just  happen to have a big heart for missing children and want to bring them home. Being nervous is one thing, but you can’t be scared and do what they do.

The first knock at the trailer door went unanswered, but eventually, a couple of guys came to the door. Clark and his group asked about the teenager, only to find they were tracking the wrong girl. The two girls looked similar enough to be mistaken for each other, but this definitely wasn’t the right girl.

Sometimes they get lucky, sometimes not.

The important thing, Clark said, is to keep trying and never give up.

“A Really Stupid Thing”

Jason Clark was at his job as a sales manager at a Utah car dealership one day when he stumbled across a website for a biker group that caught his eye. The group, Bikers Urban Response Needed or “BURN” for Missing Children, was asking for volunteers to help the group locate missing children.

“What the heck,” he thought, and signed up. As a father, the idea of helping track down missing children resonated with him.

It was months before he got the first call, asking him to pass out flyers seeking information about a teenage girl who was missing in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Clark jumped on his motorcycle with his daughter and the two hung flyers throughout the area.

Later, he received a call from the group, letting him know that the flyers had netted some fairly solid intelligence that suggested the girl had been seen in a nearby park.

“Then, I did a really stupid thing,” Clark told Cowboy State Daily Tuesday from his home in Utah. “I said ‘If there’s anything more I can do to help for them just to give me a call.’”

The group did.

This time they wanted Clark to canvass the identified park, which was reputed to be a popular hangout for drug users and the homeless. He was told that tips suggested the girl was being trafficked in the park, which police deemed too dangerous to patrol at night.

Clark was also provided with photographs of the people who were suspected of trafficking the teen.

“These people didn’t look too friendly,” he said, “so I decided to take a friend with me.”

That first foray into that park forever changed his life. He was 40 at the time, and he couldn’t imagine being out there at his age, let alone as a young teen.

“I couldn’t shake the feeling,” he said.

He described walking through a wooded area along a wide canal and through a homeless camp, where he and his friend asked the drug addicts and homeless people if they’d seen the girl. Right over the fence from the park was one of the biggest gang areas in Salt Lake City, Clark said.

“It’s a big open spot in a horrible part of town,” he said.

After a night spent wandering the park and finding no sign of the girl, Clark left feeling dejected.

From that point forward, he was more determined than ever to keep searching for missing teens and children.

Boots On The Ground

“It was the thought that there was a child in that environment, and I wanted to get them out,” he said. “How could I not doing something after seeing what I had? It wasn’t a choice.”

After a few years of volunteering with BURN, he started his own group, Road Warriors for the Missing, in 2013. Today, Clark estimates there are about 100 volunteers in his group, including several in Wyoming. The volunteers range from bikers like him who actively search for missing people to college kids, stay-at-home moms and grandmas working at their computers to send flyers to area businesses.

Since 2013, Clark has teamed up with another national nonprofit organization, We Help The Missing (WHTM), which was also founded in Utah, but also has private investigators working in Wyoming.

The two groups frequently work together.

“They provide the intelligence, and we’re the boots on the ground,” he said.

A lot of the time, the Road Warriors’ work consists of delivering flyers. In the case of Gabby Petito, whose body as found in Bridger-Teton National Forest in September after she disappeared in August while traveling with her boyfriend, Clark and his group make the trek from the park in Utah where Petito was last seen up to Teton County.

Other times, when group members get a tip, they’ll go investigate themselves to see what they can find out.

Missing Woman in Afton

In one case, Clark decided to look into the case of Joann Hakes, who disappeared in 2015 after last being seen at Afton’s Silver Stream Lodge.

The case was cold when Clark made the trip to Wyoming two years later to visit that bar to see what he could find out.

He sat at the bar with a beer asking everyone questions about Hakes and the last sighting of her as she left the bar with two men.

Not long after, Hakes’ boyfriend Ronald Todd Weerheim was arrested and in 2021 was convicted for her murder in state district court in Kemmerer and sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison.

Clark’s not sure what role, if any, his visit played, but he believes his questions prompted witnesses to reach out to local detectives investigating the case.

Clark made it clear his group does not conduct any investigations, but instead serves as an intermediary between witnesses and the police.

“Through years of doing this, we have found that sometimes people are more willing to talk to ‘biker trash’ than to the police or investigators directly,” he said. “So, we act as an intermediary link between them, trying to gather the information needed to get the missing back with their loved ones where they belong.”

Another big role the group’s members play is passing out flyers as the “fast response boots on the ground” to get as many eyes as they can looking for the missing person.

“We relay any info that we receive back to the team of investigators or the local police and try and get the families reunited as fast as possible,” he said.

Lots of Saves

Part of what keeps Clark and his fellow volunteers going is the number of missing people they have personally been able to save. 

The volunteers all have full-time jobs and go on searches anywhere up to five times a month. The size of the search party varies anywhere from a skeleton crew of six to seven guys to upwards of 20.

The larger groups are obviously preferred, Clark said, particularly when going to some of sketchier areas where the volunteers have absolutely no idea what they might find.

The saves are numerous.

“We’ve made a lot of difference,” he said, “and we’ve got a lot of kids out of bad situations.”

In one instance, Clark and his crew were able to rescue a girl who had been kidnapped and taken to a remote cabin by the mother’s boyfriend for what was later described as one of the most horrific cases of sexual assault and abuse in Utah history.

On another occasion, the group was able to track down a child who was being used by smugglers to run drugs in his backpack. Clark and his team found the boy and brought him home on his mother’s birthday.

In a case in Las Vegas, Clark and his crew were looking for a young woman who was being held against her will by a man living in a gated community. 

When the Road Warriors were unable to get through the front gates, Clark called a local friend who was able to get to the man’s front door to pay him a visit. Within a few hours, the police investigator called Clark to say that the man had called authorities to surrender the girl.

In instances such as these, Clark finds that evil typically collapses in the midst of good.

“Most of the time, if you approach people and you are confident and don’t waver, they will collapse,” he said. “All of a sudden, the people realize that these guys aren’t going to go away and they falter. Why fight it?”

When the Road Warriors find children or missing adults, they turn them over to authorities and try not to think of what happens next.

A friend of Clarks gave him this advice when she saw him obsessing over the health of a child and the difficult recovery ahead. His friend told him to stop worrying about it and stick to his part.

His job was getting them home.

“New Age Kidnappings”

Increasingly, Clark is seeing more and more cases of what he calls “new age kidnappings” where teens are being abducted by predators they meet on the internet. As someone not well acquainted with technology, he struggles to imagine the dangers that people invite into their home as they engage with strangers they meet online playing video games or on social media.

“When I was growing up, our world was just a few blocks in our small neighborhood,” he said. “We knew who people were and what was going on. Add the internet and you invited the whole world into our homes.”

Clark recounted a particularly difficult case in which a young girl from Bountiful, Utah, had  hooked up with a man she’d met online who was actually a sex offender who had recently been released from a Utah prison. Before his release, he had scored higher than anyone in history on a test indicating the likelihood he would re-offend.

One of the Road Warrior volunteers headed to a house they had been told was the man’s home. When the volunteer knocked on the door, he let the man in to look around. He found nothing. 

The volunteer called the investigator to say the girl wasn’t there and the investigator urged him to search again, this time looking everywhere a body could physically fit.

The teen was found alive, squashed in a cabinet under a sink.

“There’s no bottom to how low this goes,” Clark said. “Every time you think, that’s the worst, you run into something darker.”

When people ask Clark how he does it, he turns it around and asks them how they can’t?

“Not doing something, feels like supporting it,” he said.

It’s the terrified look in the children’s eyes that propels Clark and his volunteers to keep searching. Now that he’s seen it, it’s impossible to look away.

For more information or to sign up to volunteer, see Road Warriors For The Missing.

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Fremont County Prosecutor Wants Time To Review Psych Tests In Double Murder

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The prosecutor in a double homicide case against a St. Stephen’s teenager has asked for extra time to review the teen’s psychiatric evaluation.

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun on Tuesday asked a state district court in Fremont County for 10 extra days to review the psychiatric evaluation of Brandon Donald Monroe, charged with felony murder and first-degree murder in the January 2019 murders of Jocelyn Watt and Rudy Perez, both 30.

Monroe, 19, was charged in December in the murders. 

Watt and Perez were found by Watt’s relatives on the bedroom floor of a Riverton home. Both were killed by multiple gunshot wounds to their heads.  

Monroe was 16 at the time. He and his alleged accomplices Korbin Headley, Patrick SunRhodes, and Bryce Teran remained uncharged in the crime for nearly three years after it occurred.  

Facing life in prison but not the death penalty due to the fact he was a minor at the time of the alleged crime, Monroe asked a state district court judge in January to pause his case so that he could have his mental health tested.  

The results of that test are not publicly available.

LeBrun asked for the extra time to review and possibly dispute the the test results.  

One day later, District Court Judge Jason Conder granted LeBrun’s request “to seek (a) second evaluation opinion” or to seek other rebuttals.  

In Wyoming, defendants cannot be arraigned until they are sound of mind.  

A defendant who is found not to be of sound mind can still be held in state custody if he poses a risk to himself or others, but he may be released if and when he no longer poses a risk, and if there’s no remedy to make him sane enough to be arraigned.  

Meth And a Gun 

According to an affidavit filed on Dec. 10, Monroe, SunRhodes, Teran and Headley were partying together in a vehicle on the Wind River Indian Reservation overnight Jan. 3 and 4, 2019.  

SunRhodes was 14; Headley was 15; Teran was 21.  

Patrick SunRhodes, whose interview is detailed in the document, recalled Monroe leaving the vehicle to retrieve methamphetamine and a gun from a house.

Monroe, SunRhodes said, used the methamphetamine, then the four reportedly drove to the nearby town of Riverton and parked in an alley behind Watt’s home.  

Monroe is reported to have said he needed to “take care of business.”  

“Come wit’ me (expletive),” Monroe said to SunRhodes, according to the latter.  

SunRhodes followed Monroe to the house and, as he related to Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Agent Juliet Fish, watched Monroe shoulder open the side door to the house.  

In the house, SunRhodes heard multiple gunshots from a bedroom into which Monroe had gone.  

When SunRhodes entered the room, court document state, he saw Monroe straddling a man, who was lying in the bedroom closet. The man lifted a hand as if to struggle, SunRhodes recalled.  

“Get the (expletive) off me,” Monroe is reported to have said.  

SunRhodes said he saw Monroe shoot the man in the head, then pick up a shotgun from the closet floor. He also said he saw a woman, lying beyond the bed, shaking on the floor.  

SunRhodes ran back to the truck; Monroe followed him, court documents continue.  

“Go, man go,” SunRhodes recalled Monroe saying to Teran, who had been driving.

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Wyoming Fight Against Human Trafficking Makes Headway

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Efforts to stamp out human trafficking in Wyoming have come a long way in the last few years, according to the Sheridan woman at the center of Wyoming’s work to keep it from happening.

Terri Markham, co-founder of Uprising Wyoming, a nonprofit organization focused on human trafficking outreach and education, just took the initiative one step further by hosting the state’s first-ever human trafficking conference.

The idea for Markham was to bring together a group of diverse people in the field who typically do not work together for an immersive, three-day hands-on training session, complete with a mock sting operation.

This week’s conference was an outgrowth of a concept Markham first tried last May in a joint training session with the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office. 

In the session, law enforcement officers victim advocates, mental health counselors and even a human trafficking survivor pooled their efforts to learn more about human trafficking. 

The session ended with a hands-on sting operation that led to the arrest of four buyers, including a former Wyoming state senator. 

But it was the feedback from participants that Markham found important. The participants all had their own epiphanies about the nature of sex trafficking as well as a newfound appreciation for the multi-disciplinary approach.

The approach prompted Markham to spend months preparing for the first Greater Rockies Immersive Training on Exploitation and Trafficking (GRIT) conference in Sheridan.

Building on the hands-on, immersive approach she tried in Rock Springs, Markham explained that the more than 120 conference participants – and handful of human trafficking survivors – were put together in groups based on their discipline and rotated through six different workshops led by leading professionals from across the country.

The first two days were spent in workshops on topics such as learning how to conduct trauma-informed investigations, how to recognize trafficking and how to prepare for trials, as well as learning from real-life survivors on how victims are groomed and how the recovery process works.

The conference’s third and final day was to be spent conducting a mock sting operation in which — unlike the Sweetwater County training — no arrests will be made. 

Already, the feedback has been encouraging, Markham said.

“Next year will be even bigger,” she said, noting that plans for the second conference were already in the works as increasingly more people show an interest in learning more about the problem of human trafficking in Wyoming and beyond.

Stamping Out The Myths

Joe Scaramucci makes it clear to attendees in his class that prostitution is rarely what it seems, contrary to long-standing beliefs that it’s a straight-forward business transaction between two consenting adults. 

In most cases, the “prostitutes” are actually being trafficked and exploited against their will, he said.

And yes, it’s happening in Wyoming.

Last May, Scaramucci, a detective with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office in Waco, Texas, led the sex trafficking training in Sweetwater County. He has been back to Wyoming on numerous occasions to train law enforcement and professionals on the nature of trafficking.

When it comes to this issue, Scaramucci is the guy to call. His record speaks for itself. Since taking on the cause in 2014, he has arrested more than 460 sex buyers and almost 145 individuals on human trafficking and other related offenses and has saved more than 250 victims both on the job and in his “John Suppression” events.

He begins his training sessions with a brief overview of what trafficking is – whether it be sex, labor or domestic servitude – and the notion that in all cases, regardless appearances, victims are being coerced and exploited.

This might include a woman advertising sex on social media, a masseuse in an illicit massage parlor or a hotel or construction worker.

It’s everywhere and quite overt, he said, if you know what you’re looking for.

Typical red flags to watch for are victims who look over their shoulders frequently and are afraid to speak up in the company of their oppressor, living in poor living conditions or with their employer or showing physical or emotional signs of abuse. The list goes on, he said.

Paramount to recognizing trafficking is eliminating myths that traffickers are nefarious men in vans with tinted windows who are abducting victims in parking lots. Snatching a person off the street raises alarms, Scaramucci noted, and is much harder to pull off than drawing victims in by pretending to be their friend.

Occasionally people are snatched, he said, but typically victims are well acquainted with their predators.

Buyer’s Remorse

Gauging how big of a problem human trafficking actually is in Wyoming is challenging because many arrests are mischaracterized as prostitution, a misdemeanor, Markham said. 

Complicating the issue is the fact that many cases result in federal prosecution due to victims being carried across state lines. More often than not, according to experts, human trafficking goes unnoticed.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 395 Wyoming residents have contacted the organization since 2007 via phone calls, texts, online chats or through their website with 90 total trafficking cases reported. In 2020, 47 victims reached out to their organization for help, totaling 11 reported human trafficking cases.

The one driving force that keeps the human trafficking industry thriving in Wyoming and beyond is that there’s never a shortage of demand.

Two of the conference workshop leaders, Angie Henderson and Megan Lundstrom, offered insight into how the economics of trafficking work.

Henderson and Lundstrom founded the Avery Center for Research and Services in Greeley, Colorado, which a research center which also provides services for survivors and extensive training to battle trafficking.

Henderson, a sociologist and professor at the University of Northern Colorado, has studied the driving forces behind trafficking. Lundstrom has a master’s in sociology and real-life experience as a sex trafficking survivor.

The pair frequently work with law enforcement in real-life sting operations – including the bust in Sweetwater County – to provide insight to law enforcement while educating “Johns” who are arrested.

One common theme for buyers is they don’t realize that the majority of the “prostitutes” they engage are actually trafficking victims. When told, typically they show remorse.

Another insight the two offered is what drives the men to reach out to pay for sex.

In Henderson’s experience, 95% of the buyers claim to be driven by loneliness – including the four men who were arrested last year in the Rock Springs operation. 

Another common denominator in a buyer is that the majority of men are White, based on the research from a law enforcement study in the Pacific Northwest, and have a disposable income.

Backgrounds and occupations vary, she added, from tech professionals, accountants and lawyers to blue-collar workers.

Another motivating factor is the relatively low risk buyers face if busted. In Wyoming, soliciting prostitution is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months, a fine of not more than $750.00, or both. 

Meanwhile, proving that human trafficking has occurred is difficult because it means the victim turning against their trafficker. As a result, many arrests are chalked up to prostitution rather than trafficking.

Out of the 100 or so victims that Henderson has interviewed during these sting operations, only one or two have pressed charges against their traffickers, which in one case was the girl’s father.

“Most of them simply aren’t ready,” she said. “It often takes a while for them to get to that point.”

Lured Into Trade

Lundstrom, meanwhile, offered insight into why it’s so difficult to leave a trafficking situation and how a person gets lured into the life in the first place.

Like the majority of survivors, Lundstrom was drawn in by her pimp who pretended to be her boyfriend. In the parlance of sex trafficking, these guys are known as “Romeo” pimps. Other types are the “CEO” pimps, who view the relationship in monetary terms as a business, as well as the “Gorilla” (or “Guerrilla”) pimps who keep their victims in line through coercion, drugs and violence.

In Lundstrom’s case, the grooming process was deliberate and insidious. She was 23 when she met him at a gas station and the during the ensuing courtship, he made her feel like the most important person ever. Prior to that, she had been divorced and was struggling to stay afloat as a single mom who was working full time while going to college.

Within months, he’d convinced her to advertise sex online. From there, it was a fast downward spiral in which she quit her job, dropped out of school and was meeting men for sex several times a day while handing her pimp all her money. Eventually, he found another girl and sold Lundstrom to a “CEO” pimp in Las Vegas who sent her on a circuit that included Wyoming.

Circuits, Lundstrom explained, involve placing ads in various cities to gauge demand. If there are enough willing customers, traffickers will send their victims on multi-city tours through several states.

To cope with what was happening to her, Lundstrom went on autopilot to survive until escaping five years later by paying off her CEO pimp and beginning the long, slow process of healing and rebuilding her life.

For someone who hasn’t experienced this, it’s hard to explain what it takes to come back from it as well as why someone who isn’t being held against their will might stay she said.

“Coercion is a powerful and insidious process,” she said. 

In many cases like hers, there were triggers leading up to it that made her vulnerable for exploitation.

Alarming Trends

The advent of the internet has changed the dynamics of sex trafficking, Henderson said, as increasingly more exploitation is conducted online, from platforms advertising for sex to hobbyist boards where buyers review and share notes about their sexual interactions.

Increasingly, a lot of these transactions have moved online to sites like OnlyFans, where fans pay to watch content creators perform sex acts and where there are few regulatory guidelines to prevent the posting of sexually explicit content. 

In some cases, Henderson said, people were paying to watch traffickers rape their victims under the guise of mutually consensual sexual interactions.

After announcing in 2021 that it would crack down on pornography and ban sex workers from profiting by posting sexually explicit content, OnlyFans reversed course shortly thereafter, according to Henderson, when content creators threatened to take their business to other platforms, ultimately declaring sex work empowering.

Law enforcement officers attending Henderson’s workshop attested to the volume of similar sites online and also to resource limits that make it impossible for officers keep up with the sheer volume of activity and increasing numbers of new sites that openly promote trafficking.

What’s troubling to Henderson is what she’s seeing behind-the-scenes when she works with law enforcement on sting operations.

In a recent bust in Denver, officers picked up two young men in their early 20s who confessed they had reached out online to purchase sex because sites like OnlyFans were no longer satisfying.

“They took it to the next level,” Henderson said, “which I found alarming.”

For more information on trainings or human trafficking, see Uprising Wyoming or the Avery Center.

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Wyoming Dept Of Health Ordered To Turn Over Details Of Lander Eye-Gouging Investigation 

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Health Department has been ordered to disclose details of its investigation into a 2020 hospital eye-gouging incident that resulted in a woman’s death.

According to a subpoena served on the Health Department on Monday, the department must produce all documents, electronically stored information or objects concerning its investigation into the attack on Elaine Tillman at SageWest Health Care in Lander on Thanksgiving Day 2020.  

The subpoena, requested by Robert Schuster, the attorney for Tillman’s family, is the latest filing in a lawsuit by the family against the hospital in the woman’s death.

According to police records, Tillman, of Fort Washakie, had been staying in one of the hospital’s urgent care rooms for mental health reasons.   

Records said Patrick Lee Rose of Dubois, who was also being held at the hospital, fled his own room, ran into Tillman’s room, jumped onto the woman, gouged out one of her eyes and was attempting to gouge out her other eye when two male nurses restrained him.  

The family wrote in its original complaint that Rose, who was being held as an emergency-mental health patient, was not adequately supervised in the hospital.  

Tillman died 13 days later in the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Fremont County Coroner ruled her death a homicide.  

WDH held Rose at the State Hospital in Evanston for a portion of his incarceration. Ultimately, a WDH psychiatrist testified in circuit court in Fremont County that Rose could not be made well enough to be arraigned, but could no longer be incarcerated under Wyoming’s emergency mental health confinement laws because he no longer posed a threat to himself or others.  

Rose was released to live at home with his wife in June of 2021. 

In its response to the Tillman family’s lawsuit, SageWest has argued that Rose should be brought into the civil trial to accept a percentage of the potential blame for the incident.  

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Riverton Police Seek Help In Finding Man Sought In Shooting

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Investigators have identified a man sought following a Riverton shooting last week as a 22-year-old Riverton resident.

The Riverton Police Department asked for the public’s help in locating Ryder Jenkins, who is being sought in connection with the April 26 shooting that left one person hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

The department urged members of the public not to approach Jenkins.

“Please contact the Riverton Police Department from a safe distance,” said an RPD statement released Monday.  

Jenkins is described as being an American Indian who is 5 feet, 6 inches tall, weighing about 160 pounds with tattoos on the scalp, neck, face, chest, back and arms.  

Under his right eye is a treble clef tattoo, under his left eye is a teardrop. A large tattoo of the number 1 is on his right forearm, the number 8 is on his left forearm and a large C and large V are tattooed on his stomach.  

“If you know where Jenkins currently is,” said the release, “or have any information that may be relevant in locating him, please contact the Riverton Police Department” or local law enforcement agency. RPD’s landline is 307-856-4891.  

Jenkins was arrested in Riverton in 2020 for aggravated assault and battery, battery, and reckless endangering. He also was charged with aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon in 2018, but the charge was downgraded to reckless endangering.  

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Ethete Dad Pleads For Governor’s Help To Reinvestigate Death Of His Daughter

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Nearly a decade after the death of his two children, Greg Day is still seeking answers and has now reached out to Governor Mark Gordon for help.

In an April 17 letter to the governor, Day, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe from the Wind River Reservation, asked if Gordon would bring in federal marshals to re-investigate the death of his daughter Dawn in 2012.

Both of Day’s children – Dawn and Jeff – were found deceased in 2012 and 2016, respectively. They were both 28 years old when they died.

Dawn’s body was found floating in Morton Lake in Fremont County. Investigators were unable to determine the cause of her death. The case is technically still open, according to Fremont County Undersheriff Mike Hutchinson, so details of the investigation can’t be shared publicly.

Jeff’s body was found four years later, floating face-down in shallow water in the Wind River, south of Riverton.

Jeff’s autopsy and toxicology report revealed lethal levels of diphenhydramine, the active ingredient found in allergy medicines, in his body. According to the FCSO deputy report obtained by Cowboy State Daily, Jeff’s death was deemed an accident, the result of asphyxiation by drowning with diphenhydramine consumption as a contributing factor.

The report said that Jeff’s footprints were the only ones found in the wet sand and mud along the river bank and there was no visible trauma to his body. Impressions in the mud indicated he had been rolling around on the ground and didn’t appear to have been in the water for very long.

The Riverton Police and FBI assisted the FCSO in the investigation.

Despite findings, Day said he believes that both of his children were murdered.

He does not believe his son intentionally swallowed those pills and instead theorizes that someone forced them down Jeff’s throat. There’s a whole backstory to why someone would have done that to his son and who it might have been, and he does not believe it was thoroughly investigated.

Cause of Death Undetermined

Dawn’s case raises even more questions, Day said.

Evidence from Dawn’s body — such as the presence of bruises — indicate some kind of struggle occurred, Day said. 

Dawn’s autopsy, meanwhile, provided no further clues and was deemed inconclusive for both cause and manner of death.

Multiple medical professionals, pathologists, coroners and investigators reviewed the findings and could not make a definitive finding because there was more than one possible cause of death.

“The body can only tell us so much, and the scene can only tell us so much,” said Erin Ivie, chief deputy coroner for Fremont County. “In this case, there wasn’t enough information.”

Cases like Dawn’s are rare, Ivie added, and exceedingly frustrating.

“Without more evidence, we can’t prove one thing or another,” she said. “Anything that can be gleaned from her body has been.”

For this reason, Ivie said doing an inquest would be fruitless because coroners would just be handing over the same inconclusive evidence to authorities.

“There’s always the opportunity that with new evidence, the case could be opened, but it would have to be new evidence,” she said.

Day said he hears talk and rumors about what went on the night of his daughter’s death and will continue asking questions until someone is held accountable. Along with the letter to Gov. Gordon, he’s also sent similar letters to the Fremont County Attorney General as well as the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, but said he has yet to receive a response.

Michael Pearlman, Gov. Gordon’s communications director, said in an email to Cowboy State Daily Thursday that the governor is still looking into Day’s request to see if the governor has the authority to bring in the federal marshals in this matter.

Part of a Larger Problem

Last Saturday, Day held a fundraiser at his house for his new legal foundation, “Dawn and Jeff: I Won’t Be Silent.” The Indian taco dinner sold out and he was able to raise $300 to start laying the groundwork.

He laughed at the thought of himself as an activist.

“Dawn used to tell me when she was alive I needed to get involved in something,” he said. “I was that type of a person that would say ‘I live here, and that problem is way over there and doesn’t concern me.””

That all changed for him on July 21, 2012.

“What a way to get involved,” he said.

Along with seeking answers in his own children’s deaths, Greg has actively been raising awareness of the problem facing Native Americans throughout the state.

In January 2021, Governor Gordon’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Taskforce released its first statewide report that highlighted the larger problem of homicides among Native Americans. Between 2000 and 2020, the report said 105 Indigenous people – including 34 females and 71 males – were victims of homicide in Wyoming.

The homicide rate for Indigenous people was 26.8 per 100,000, which is eight times higher than the homicide of non-Indigenous people. Indigenous women are 6.4 times more likely to be victims of homicide than non-Indigenous women.

Day would like to see this changed and is becoming a vocal supporter for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People movement. He said he hopes that there will be more follow-up done as a result of the statewide report.

What action will come of it is still to be determined.

“The big recommendation from the MMIW Report was to improve data collection for MMIP (Missing and Murdered Indigenous People),” Pearlman said. “While there are always challenges related to working with federal agencies, including the BIA and FBI, that effort is slowly but surely moving in the right direction.”

At age 60, Day said he doesn’t want to wait any longer for justice. He’s cautiously optimistic that Gordon will heed his request.

“I’d say there’s a 60/40 chance he’ll do the right thing,” Day said. “He’s a father. He should know what this feels like.”

In the meantime, he’s going to continue his efforts with the foundation in Dawn and Jeff’s name and would also like to use that foundation as a way to mentor young people on the reservation, for instance, teaching young boys not to hit girls, and providing opportunities for young people and leading by example.

“You might get knocked down a few times, but don’t let it define who you are,” he said. “Get right back up again.”

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Man Sues Wyoming Company Over ‘Do Not Call’ Violations

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Louisiana man who has filed more than 70 lawsuits in 30 different federal courts has filed his first Wyoming lawsuit, suing a company registered as a Wyoming business for violating federal “do not call” rules.

Clinton Strange, of Greenwood, Louisiana, is suing a company called “G My Business,” which is registered with the secretary of state’s office as a Wyoming company, over alleged repeated calls made to his cell phone in violation of federal “do not call” rules.

Strange, acting as his own lawyer, is seeking up to $28,000 in damages from G My Business, which he said contacted him repeatedly in September 2021 and defrauded him of almost $500, which he was able to recover.

Strange filed his complaint on April 12 against G My Business, a company that is registered to do business in Wyoming. The company shares a Sheridan address with several others, including the Cloud Peak Law Group, which advertises services including the creation of limited liability corporations and serving as a registered agent for companies.

State law allows companies to register as Wyoming companies while maintaining a minimal presence in the state.

Strange’s lawsuit alleges G My Business’ parent company, SMJD Global, was hired by a Utah company, Bright Heights Enterprises, to provide business leads for Bright Heights’ website design company.

Instead, Strange said, he was contacted several times by employees from G My Business, who posed as Google employees and told him his Google Map Listings were going to be stopped unless he paid $399.

Strange ended up paying $499, his lawsuit said, but he continued to receive calls.

The money was reimbursed by Bright Heights, according to court documents filed in connection with Strange’s separate lawsuit against that company in federal court in Utah. A settlement was reached in that case.

Strange said he continued to receive calls even though his telephone number is listed on the federal “do not call” list and despite his repeated requests to callers to remove his number from their lists.

The federal “do not call” rules allow people who have their numbers on the federal list who are contacted by phone by companies they have had no previous contact with to seek damages of up to $1,500 per call from the companies. 

Strange’s lawsuit seeks damages for both the phone calls and the company’s alleged use of an automated telephone dialing system, which it said is also a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Although the lawsuit is the first Strange has filed in Wyoming, it is not the first he has filed over “do not call” violations.

According to federal court records, Strange, acting as his own attorney, has filed more than 70 lawsuits against various companies since 2017 in various federal courts.

Several of the lawsuits reviewed by Cowboy State Daily raised allegations of violations of the “do not call rules.” Settlements seemed to be reached in most cases reviewed.

However, Strange’s lawsuits do not exclusively involve phone calls. 

In 2019, he sued Caesar’s Entertainment, seeking more than $80,000 on allegations he and his mother both suffered from food poisoning in 2018 after eating at one of the company’s restaurants. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

In 2018, Strange sued Walmart, saying a receipt he had received in 2015 contained both the last four digits of the card he used to pay his bill and its expiration date, which he said was a violation of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act.

The lawsuit was dismissed by a judge who determined Strange did not suffer any damages from the incident.

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Man Sentenced To Prison For Strangling His Friend In Yellowstone Trailer

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man accused of strangling a friend and holding him at knifepoint while sharing a trailer at Yellowstone National Park has been sentenced to more than three years in prison.

Gregory Michael Samuel Toth pleaded guilty to a charge of assault with intent to commit a felony and was sentenced Monday to 44 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal.

According to court records, Toth was arrested on Oct. 1 after a man identified only as “EF” reported he had been assaulted by Toth in the trailer the two shared at Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone.

According to court documents, EF said Toth had just been released from jail on allegations he kidnapped and assaulted an ex-girlfriend and EF vouched for Toth so he could get a job with a construction company doing work in the park. He added he had known Toth for 32 years.

EF said Toth began acting strangely on Sept. 30 and added when he and a friend went to shop in Cody, Toth began calling him to accuse him of having an affair with Toth’s ex-girlfriend.

EF returned to trailer, the records said, and early the next morning, Toth forced his way into the trailer, threw EF to the ground and began choking him. Toth then put a knife to EF’s throat several times, saying he would kill EF.

EF escaped from Toth by running toward a friend’s pickup truck when Toth left him exit the trailer.

Toth was arrested several hours later at Fishing Bridge.

Toth was initially charged with six counts, including kidnapping and possession of marijuana, but he pleaded guilty to the lone charge of assault with intent to commit a felony.

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Testimony About ‘Inappropriate’ Advances Not Allowed In Fremont Co Child Molestation Trial

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Testimony regarding a Riverton man’s “sexually inappropriate” advances toward teenage girls will not be considered in his child molestation trial, a state district judge has ruled.

Judge Jason Conder decided the testimony regarding David Wayne Munda would not be relevant to the allegations against him that he sexually touched two minor children and molested one of them.

Munda, born in 1978, was charged last September with multiple counts of first-degree sexual abuse stemming from allegations that he touched a girl inappropriately when she was 5 and went on to sexually assault her for several years, starting when she began fifth grade.

He also is charged with sexual solicitation of another girl, with battery for punching the girl he’s accused of molesting and with additional, non-sexual child abuse charges against two male children.  

If convicted on all counts, Munda could face a possible sentence of more than 240 years in prison. 

His trial is scheduled for May 16 in Fremont County District Court.  

‘Pedophilia’ Evidence 

The Fremont County Attorney’s Office had argued in court documents that at least six allegations that Munda made sexual advances toward teenage girls were relevant as trial evidence because they would establish Munda’s habit of “pedophilia.”  

But Conder ruled on Monday that while the testimony would show “inappropriate” behavior on Munda’s part, it was not required to prove the main accusations in the case, that he sexually touched two specific minor children and molested of one of them.  

Conder also noted that usually “pedophilia” is categorized as an attraction toward prepubescent children, not toward teenage girls.  

The allegations of improper advances included one from a woman now in her mid-30s, who worked at a salon with Munda while he was a massage therapist there roughly a decade ago.

She remembered Munda asking teenage receptionists “questions about boyfriends, birth control, sexual preferences, habits, and offering them free massages.”  

A woman who was between the ages of 15 and 18 when she worked with Munda while he was general manager at a Taco Bell in Riverton from 2009 to 2011, told investigators that Munda told her she had potential, if she would “be friendly.” He also told her she needed to be “friendly” with him. The woman said Munda repeatedly touched her back.  

Another woman, now about 20, who worked with Munda at the same restaurant from 2018 to 2020, between her ages of 15 and 17, called him “very touchy,” adding that he often rubbed her back and asked her questions about sex and what she preferred. One time, the woman said, he grabbed her hips from behind and pulled her into him.  

When Munda brought her into his office, the woman alleged, he hugged her and kissed her on the cheek, saying he was proud of her. She quit soon after.  

A woman born in 2000 who worked with Munda at a Riverton movie theater from 2017-2018 said Munda asked her sexual questions, would “often” yell at her and hug her “intimately” afterward. 

Now about 20, a woman who worked with Munda at the same theater when she was about 15 said Munda would “often” ask her sexual questions and would talk about teenage girls with whom he wanted to perform a sex act.  

“(Munda) would invite her to late night screenings of movies,” court documents state, “and if she declined he would criticize her work performance” and make her return to the theater to fix what prosecutors called a “contrived problem.” 

Other Evidence Admitted 

Conder wrote that the evidence from Taco Bell and theater employees suggested “obvious and overwhelmingly inappropriate behavior” toward the teens in a way that could prejudice the jury against him without sufficiently advancing the state’s case in the charges being tried.  

This evidence, wrote Conder “mainly serves to show that the defendant is an inappropriate person,” and may spark “five mini-trials” that would distract from the more “reprehensible” charges of child sex abuse.

But other testimony concerning Munda’s involvement with and comments about the main victim will be allowed at trial.  

Those actions are “inextricably intertwined” with the molestations for which Munda is being tried, Conder wrote, and may prove a pattern of “grooming.” 

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Platte County Inmates Sue For $2 Million, Claim Confidential Mail Was Opened

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A group of Platte County Detention Center inmates is suing the jail, the county, and its commissioners, claiming some of their confidential mail was opened in violation of their constitutional rights.

The inmates are seeking more than $2 million in damages for the jail’s adoption of a policy under which they said mail to and from them from various courts was opened and scanned into a computer system.

“The plaintiffs have a constitutional right to communicate with the court freely and unobstructed,” said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District court on Friday. “Defendants’ conduct of inspecting and reading both incoming and outgoing court mail outside of plaintiffs’ presence creates a chilling effect and is a violation of plaintiffs’ rights.”

The lawsuit was originally filed in state district court by David Jackson-Mackay, Arthur Penrod, Tyler McCurdy, Austin Anderson and Preston Wisenbaker, all identified as inmates at the jail when the policy was adopted.

According to the lawsuit, until mid-February, mail to and from inmates from local, state, tribal and federal courts was treated as “legal mail” and given to inmates without being opened.

After Feb. 23, however, the policy was changed and mail from courts was opened and scanned into the computer system. The mail includes pleadings, worksheets and related documents, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the inmates were told that the detention center would no longer consider mail to and from courts “legal mail” and would handle the mail as it did any other piece of mail. 

The policy violates the inmates constitutionally guaranteed rights to Freedom of Speech, to protection as criminal defendants and to equal protection of the law.

The lawsuit names as defendants Platte County Sheriff Clyde Harris, two Platte County Detention Center officers, Platte County itself, its commissioners, sheriff’s department and detention center and asks for damages of $300,000 from each.

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Gillette Officers Were Justified In Deadly January Shooting, According To Review

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Two police officers were justified in a shooting that left a Gillette man dead last January, according to review conducted by a prosecuting attorney.

An independent review conducted by Park County and Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric found that Gillette Police Officer Patrick Totzke and Lt. Jason Marcus were justified in shooting Ismael Trinidad Montes who approached the officers while wielding a large machete-style knife.

“After multiple attempts to disarm the suspect with less than lethal force, the suspect charged the officers,” said a release from the City of Gillette. “Both officers discharged their duty weapons, striking the suspect.”

“Lifesaving measures were initiated; Montes was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS,” it said.

Skoric found the officers’ actions “justified,” and no criminal charges will be pursued.

“Any sudden loss of life is a tragedy for our community. Sadly, this is a tragic example of the very serious dangers of illegal drug use,” Police Chief Chuck Deaton said. “We are grateful that our officers were not seriously injured. We are thankful for the dedicated men and women who choose to put their lives on the line every day for the safety of our community.”

The city announced it had released bodycam footage of the incident in Montes’ home because of its commitment to transparency.

Due to the graphic nature of the content, viewer discretion is highly advised, the release warned.

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Riverton School Officials Warning Parents About Violent Video Threatening To Kill Children

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Officials with a school in Riverton are warning parents about videos featuring a violent furry blue character from a video game accompanied by music about hugging people to death.

Aspen Early Learning Center, a kindergarten and preschool in Riverton, posted a warning to the school’s social media page warning parents to keep their children away from videos featuring the character “Huggy Wuggy.”

“This is Huggy Wuggy,” reads the post, noting that children may be exposed to the character if they have access to YouTube. “His happy upbeat child-like nursery rhyme melody/theme song interests our kids.” 

But, the post continues, Huggy Wuggy has “razor-sharp teeth” and “sings songs about hugging and killing. Please be aware.”  

“Huggy Wuggy” is a deadly character in the game “Poppy Playtime,” which is described as a “horror/puzzle adventure.”

According to descriptions, Huggy Wuggy does not sing in the game, but excerpts from the game have been set to music by some fans and posted on YouTube and TikTok. Other fans have animated their own versions of Huggy Wuggy.

In one video featuring Huggy Wuggy — a large blue animated plush toy with jagged teeth — the character is seen constantly pacing through a hall ending in a dark void. Children’s faces and colorful handprints cover the walls. 

Huggy Wuggy sings that he is your “fuzzy buddy” and that he is offering “free hugs.”  

“I could just hug you here forever, ‘til you breathe your last breath,” sings the character. In another line he sings “my teeth sharp and ready, yeah my grasps, yeah they’re deadly.”  

“Plastic eyes but they’re watching you,” the song continues. “I will be there soon – sink my teeth in and you’re consumed.”  

Other Huggy Wuggy songs feature additional, murder-themed content.  

Aspen Park principal Sheryl Esposito was not available for comment early Thursday morning, according to school staff.  

“My two little ones do not like this character and it pops up all over YouTube,” wrote one commenter below the school’s post. Other commenters pegged the video as “freaky,” “creepy,” and “pure evil.”  

Police across the country have issued warnings about Huggy Wuggy, telling parents the character’s innocent name may lead young children to view frightening videos 

Not the First 

Huggy Wuggy is not the first video to trouble local schools, according to Wes Barry, public information officer at Riverton Police Department 

“A few years ago there was a character called Momo, that was online, really easy for kids to find,” said Barry. “It looked like a kids’ video. Once they got into it, Momo would pop up and say something crazy, like ‘burn your house down,’ or ‘kill somebody.’” 

“Huggy Wuggy is along those same lines,” he added.  

Barry said parents can take a vital role in protecting children’s innocence by using content-blocking software, monitoring phone and computer usage, and putting streaming devices in a general household area, rather than in a child’s room.  

“You could have (the device) in a kitchen, or living room, where it’s under the supervision of a parent,” said Barry.  

No Crime Epidemic Linked 

Direct juvenile crime or mental-health ramifications from sinister videos like Huggy Wuggy are not yet evident, said Barry.  

“(There are) none that we’re tracking right now,” he said. “It’s not like there’s a (crime) epidemic” linked to the videos.  

Still, he added, “it’s important for parents to be aware of what their kids are looking at online – to be involved in that process and always be supervising.”  

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‘Murder-For-Hire’ Case Transferred From Wyoming To Vermont

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The case of a Colorado man accused of disguising himself as a U.S. Marshal to kidnap and kill a Vermont man four years ago is being transferred from Wyoming to Vermont.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday show the case of Jerry Banks, who was arrested in Yellowstone National Park and charged with kidnapping in the 2018 death of Greg Davis, has been assigned to the federal court in Vermont.

Davis’ body was found partially covered in snow in northern Vermont in January 2018. He had been handcuffed and shot six times.

Davis was last been seen alive the previous night, when a person identifying himself as a U.S. Marshal visited Davis’ home in Danville, Vermont, and said he had a warrant for Davis’ arrest on a charge of racketeering.

An affidavit filed in support of Banks’ arrest in Wyoming said Banks had obtained items related to a U.S. Marshal’s uniform and vehicle online. 

The affidavit also said that a few minutes before Davis was kidnapped, a cell phone call was made to 911 services from a location a short distance from Davis’ home. The caller told police he had shot his wife and planned to kill himself.

Investigators determined the cell phone used to make the call to 911 belonged to Banks.

“I believe Banks used the … phone to facilitate the victim’s kidnapping and murder,” said the affidavit, written by FBI Special Agent Patrick Hanna.

Hanna also concluded that since Banks had no connection with Davis, he had been hired to kidnap and kill the man.

Since Davis’ death, records surrounding the case have been sealed by court officials in Vermont.

Banks’ arrest last week in Yellowstone, where he was working, followed an exhaustive investigation by FBI agents and detectives with the Vermont State Police, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Vermont.

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Casper Women Catches Man In Act Of Abandoning Dog; Man Speeds Away When Questioned

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Photo by Matthew Idler

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Amanda Waldron was taking her daughter and friend to feed their livestock near the Casper Events Center early Monday morning when she saw a dark pickup truck with Nebraska license plates pull to the side of the empty road, open his door and let a skinny, medium-sized dog with a red collar jump out.

The dog took off running across the field but the driver, an older man with gray hair and glasses, stayed put.

Waldron drove her vehicle up to the truck and asked the man if he needed help retrieving his dog. He declined, explaining he was simply leaving her.

Waldron asked for clarification. Like dumping her?

“Yeah, so what?” Waldron recalled the man saying. “You want to buy her?”

Waldron told the man she would buy the dog if it meant keeping her safe. Then she asked him if he knew that abandoning dogs was against the law — a misdemeanor in Wyoming.

That was when he told her to mind her own business and fled in his vehicle, driving on the wrong side of the road to get away.

As a souvenir of the meeting, though, Waldron was able to get a photo of the man’s license plate, which she turned over to police.

Waldron and her daughter and friend stayed and looked for the dog for about an hour, but the dog wouldn’t come to them and was too hard to track in the dark.

What Waldron saw was the rarely witnessed abandoning of a pet that results varying levels of problems with stray pets in Wyoming communities.

Rare Spotting

What surprised Shannon Sanderson, animal control officer for the Riverton Police Department, about Waldron’s experience wasn’t that the dog involved was abandoned, but that Waldron saw it happen.

Sanderson saw Waldron’s post about the incident on social media and was shocked that she was actually on hand to see the man ditch the dog.

In Sanderson’s experience, that never happens, which makes it hard to guess how many dogs are abandoned in Wyoming. However, she said given the number of stray dogs she rounds up every day, it is clear that abandonment is happening.

“We have a terrible problem on the (Wind River Indian Reservation) of dogs being dumped,” she said.

She didn’t have exact numbers off the top of her head, but Sanderson estimated she has rounded up a couple of dozen dogs – if not more – in the past six months alone.

“There’s too many,” she said, “and you don’t know if someone is abandoning them unless you caught them in the act. People aren’t getting caught, but we have a ton of strays.”

When a dog or other animal is picked up, Sanderson takes it to the Paws for Life Animal Shelter where the animal’s picture is posted for five days. If no one claims the animal by then it is put up for adoption.

Most of the dogs Sanderson picks up are not reclaimed by their owners but are instead adopted out.

In Gillette, animal control officers do not typically have a problem with stray dogs running in the streets, though they do take custody of unwanted animals turned in by their owners, according to Gillette Animal Control Officer Teresa Mills.

Last year, the department received 190 unwanted cats and dogs. The year before, it was 225. For the most part, Mills said people surrender their animals because they are moving and can’t take the pet.

More Than 17,000

According to Best Friends, a national animal sanctuary nonprofit organization, Wyoming shelters reported taking in 17,044 cats and dogs in 2021. It’s not clear how many of those were abandoned or left by their owners.

Cheyenne has a bigger problem with cats being abandoned rather than dogs, said Heidi Teasley, animal control dispatcher for Cheyenne Animal Control.

Like others in her position, Teasley said there’s no way to know how many of the strays they find were willingly deserted by owners.

“It’s really hard to tell because people will call and say that they think (an animal has) been abandoned, but it doesn’t seem to be,” she said, noting that she’s talked to several police officers who said they didn’t consider dogs being willingly released by owners a problem. 

More often, police capture runaways escaping through fence gates, particularly on windy days.

“It’s more common with cats,” she said. “People will move and leave their cats.”

Regardless of the animal, Teasley agreed that catching someone in the act is very rare.

“You never see that,” she said.

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AMBER Alert: What Happens Before & After The Wyoming Highway Patrol Issues An Alert

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

When two small children were taken by their non-custodial parent from Buffalo on April 3, an AMBER Alert blasted out that evening on cell phones, televisions and digital highway signs throughout the state.

The following day, the children were recovered safely by authorities in Texas and the suspect was taken into custody.

In between, the six-person team at the Wyoming Highway Patrol responsible for issuing the AMBER Alert were on pins and needles waiting to learn the children’s fate. 

That’s how it always is, according to Crystal “Chris” McGuire, Wyoming AMBER Alert coordinator, from the moment the call comes in from law enforcement to the point the missing child or children are found.

“Basically, you have two to four hours to save a child after they’ve been abducted,” she said. “For me, it’s about children and making sure we get the alert out in time.”

It’s a stressful process for McGuire and members of her “code red” team who are charged with making sure that all the criteria are met to warrant issuing a statewide alert.

“We have to be able to react quickly because every second counts,” she said.

How It Works

The AMBER Alert System – which stands for America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response – was a joint effort initiated in 1996 by Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters and the Dallas-Fort Worth police in the wake of the kidnapping and subsequent brutal murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman.

Later, with the passage of the federal Protect Act in 2003, an alert coordinator was designated within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) who set four guidelines for issuing AMBER Alerts that states can voluntarily choose to adopt.

Wyoming was late in the game, joining about four other states in establishing an alert program in 2004.

The program initially fell to the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI). However, due to budget cuts at DCI, the program was handed over to the Wyoming Highway Patrol (WHP) in 2016.

WHP has never had a budget for the program, according to Col. Kebin Haller, who oversees the program, but the agency has always found a way to absorb the cost by taking it on as an additional duty.

“I believed it was vital and important,” he said. “We take missing kids very seriously.”

That’s true for McGuire too, who assumes the post as an additional duty simply because she’s passionate about the cause.

“Since the beginning of Amber Alert, I’ve had an interest in it because children are involved,” she said, “and we want to keep them safe.”

Avoiding “Car Alarm” Syndrome

To work, the program has to avoid letting itself be watered down to what Haller called the “car alarm” syndrome. While the first car alarms raised hackles when anyone heard one going off in a parking lot, today that same sound barely registers because of the number of false alarms.

“We didn’t want that to happen with AMBER alerts,” he said.

This is why the DOJ established four guidelines that have to be met before an alert can go out.

For starters, law enforcement has to have reasonable belief that an abduction has occurred and that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. Sometimes this means being taken by a non-custodial parent with a record of violence or substance abuse or a child being taken and not having access to a life-saving medication, Haller said. 

There also has to be an adequate enough description about the victim(s) or vehicle for law enforcement to be able to assist. Lastly, the child has to under 18.

Often the hardest part for law enforcement is providing evidence that the child was abducted and is in serious danger.

This is also the step in the process that typically takes the longest, McGuire said.

“A lot of people don’t understand the delay,” she said.

In the recent case involving the Buffalo children, the children were reported missing around 10 a.m. However, McGuire and her team did not get the call from Buffalo police until around 6 p.m. because it took that long to do the investigation.

Once the call came in, McGuire said she and her team immediately went to work to verify all the criteria were met and then activate the alert though the integrated public alert and warning system (IPAWS) run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The alert is also transmitted via wireless emergency alerts (WEA) for mobile devices and social media.

“We have it down to less than 30 minutes,” she said, noting that half-hour is filled with the stress of getting the job done as quickly as possible.

Wyoming also has reciprocity with other states. Once an alert is issued, states can share the notification to help nab perpetrators crossing state lines, as in the most recent case with the non-custodial parent in Buffalo.

Authorities were told that the woman might be heading to Texas, so they were able to activate the alert there also, where she was eventually caught. It’s an effective tool, Haller said.

“Any time an officer hears an AMBER alert, the stakes go up,” he said. “They know every second counts.”

Winning Record

So far, McGuire and her team have recovered every single child whose abduction has been the subject of an AMBER alert in Wyoming.

Since 2016, WHP has activated the alarm – either for in-state law enforcement agencies, the Wind River Indian Reservation or other states – roughly 15 times, according to records provided by WHP, for a total of around a dozen Wyoming children recovered safely.

This year so far, the department has only one activation with two children saved.

Nationally, as of Dec. 31, 2021, AMBER Alerts have led to recovery of 1,111 children, with wireless emergency alerts resulting in the rescue of an additional 120 children, according to the DOJ.

Endangered Alerts

Along with AMBER Alerts, the state also issues endangered person advisories (EPAs) for anyone older than 18 or for missing children who don’t meet all the criteria for AMBER Alerts, as well as for elderly people.

In 2005, Haller said WHP recognized it needed a broader system. The EPA alerts are more localized and not blasted through IPAWs or as WEAs, but instead are shared on social media, with law enforcement agencies and with the media.

Historically, these alerts have been for elderly people with dementia or other disabilities who have walked out of assisted living facilities or homes, as well as for elderly people who have gotten stuck or lost in inclement weather, Haller said.

Wyoming is among the few states that don’t have specific “Silver” alerts for the elderly and disabled. Haller said those populations seem to be served well under the current system.

Currently, the WHP is working with the Wind River Indian Reservation to help it get its system up and running, an effort that temporarily stalled during the pandemic.


In the meantime, McGuire and crew celebrated the recent rescue of the two children from Buffalo.

Despite the stress, the victories make the job worthwhile for McGuire.

As a coordinator, she’s on call 24/7 and every alert has to be approved by her. Typically, she is on hand in the interim after the alert has been issued as officers wait for updates from law enforcement.

It can be difficult, she said, but always well worth it when she and her team see children come home.

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Gillette Woman Who “Supplied The Whole State” With Meth Faces Life in Prison

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette woman accused of running a major methamphetamine distribution operation in northeastern Wyoming faces a sentence of up to life in prison.

Wendy Kaufman has been charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, accused of bringing up to 25 pounds of the drug into the state every two weeks. At least twice, the affidavit said, a shipping company delivered a vehicle carrying meth to Kaufman.

In an affidavit filed in federal court, Derek Brazelton, a special agent with the state Division of Criminal Investigation, reported on an investigation into Kaufman that continued for more than a year.

During the investigation, which began in August 2020, a confidential informant told investigators he believed Kaufman was “supplying the whole state” with meth, bringing 25-pound packages of the drug into Wyoming from Arizona every two weeks.

Various informants told the DCI that Kaufman would drive from Gillette to Arizona with an individual identified only as “C.H.” to obtain methamphetamine.

On at least two occasions, informants said, vehicles containing methamphetamine were shipped to Kaufman.

The informants said they bought varying amounts of Kaufman, with one saying he bought 36 pounds of meth during a 1-year period.

The affidavit said one informant told investigators Kaufman had earlier obtained the meth from Colorado, but a price increase blamed on coronavirus prompted her to seek a new supplier.

“Due to Covid, the prices from that (supplier) went from $300 per ounce to $1,200 per ounce,” the affidavit said. “Due to the increase in price, Kaufman stopped using that (supplier).”

The affidavit also noted that Kaufman was identified in February as having dropped a clear plastic baggie containing about four-tenths of an ounce of meth inside a Gillette bank.

According to documents filed in federal court, Kaufman could face a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and fines of up to $10 million.

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Man Arrested In Yellowstone In Vermont ‘Murder For Hire’ Plot

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Colorado man has been arrested in Yellowstone National Park in connection with what an FBI agent described as a 2018 “murder for hire” plot in Vermont.

Federal documents filed in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne show Jerry Banks was arrested Wednesday in Yellowstone National Park and charged with kidnapping in the death of a man identified in court documents only as “GD.”

The Caledonian-Record, a Vermont newspaper, identified “GD” as  Greg Davis, 49, whose body was found partially covered in snow in northern Vermont in early January 2018. He had been shot six times.

Davis was last seen alive the night before his death, when a man identifying himself as a U.S. Marshal visited Davis’ home in Danville, Vermont, and said he had a warrant for Davis’ arrest on racketeering charges. Davis left with the man.

According to an affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant for Banks, the U.S. Marshal’s Service confirmed it had not arrested Davis and had no active warrant for his arrest.

The Caledonian-Record reported that after Davis’ body was found, all court records related to his death were sealed.

The affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Patrick Hanna on March 30 said an investigation into the murder by multiple law enforcement agencies led to the identification of Banks as a suspect.

About 15 minutes before Davis was kidnapped, a phone call was made to 911 services from a location a short distance from his home. The caller reported he had shot his wife and planned to kill himself.

Police were unable to find the person making the call, but investigators eventually determined the phone used to make the call was purchased by Banks.

“I believe Banks used the … phone to facilitate the victim’s kidnapping and murder,” Hanna wrote.

The affidavit also detailed work by investigators to trace Banks’ movements in the days leading up to the murder.

Also examined were Banks’ purchases in the weeks before the murder, which included a marshal’s badge, a U.S. Marshal shoulder patch, handcuffs and emergency lights for a vehicle.

Hanna concluded that since Banks had no contact with Davis, he must have been hired to kidnap and kill the man.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin ordered Banks held pending a bail hearing on Tuesday.

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Illegal Dumping Continues Near Riverton; Six Tons Of Garbage Removed Last Week

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Three dump trucks hauling more than six tons of garbage cleared a stretch of road east of Riverton last week, cleaning up an area where illegally-dumped trash is so prolific, it’s part of the landscape.  

Wyoming Department of Transportation maintenance crews from Riverton removed the trash from the portion of Gas Hills Road that’s under state jurisdiction – that is, the road and its shoulders leading up to the fence.  

Beyond the fence line lay tribal lands of the Wind River Indian Reservation, plus public lands – and a lot more garbage.  

Six men packed three eight-yard dump trucks with 12,280 pounds of washers, dryers, furniture, and other household trash over the course of one workday, according to Cody Beers, a senior public relations specialist with WYDOT.  

Beyond labor and equipment costs, the fees to dump the trash totaled $308, an expense paid with tax funds – diverting money that would ordinarily be spent on snowplowing, highway patching, fence mending, and other highway maintenance functions, Beers said.  

“We need more help, and this is a chronic problem east of Riverton,” said Beers, although he added that illegal dumping is also a problem elsewhere in the state.  

While adopt-a-highway programs are available to groups for large fall and spring cleanups, Beers said a simpler approach — and one that is just as important — is for people not to litter in the first place.  

“What do we do when nobody’s looking?” Beers asked. “Do we open the window and pitch that garbage out the window, or do we drive to the next town and put it in a trash bin? 

“If you love Wyoming,” he said, “you’re doing the latter.”  

At nearly any campsite, public road or trail, said Beers, people likely can find garbage to pick up and take to a trash bin.  


State Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, has addressed the topic of illegal dumping on the Wind River Indian Reservation repeatedly as co-chair of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations. 

Conversations between state, county, tribal and federal solid waste entities on the reservation garbage problem have been ongoing for roughly a decade, according to news archives. 

Ellis suggested during an August meeting of the committee that the state look at blacklisting from state projects any contractors who dump work waste illegally.

“If we… (created) a list of vendors who, if they’re discovered to have illegally dumped in Wyoming – anywhere – including the reservation, they’re ineligible and precluded from ever getting a state contract,” began Ellis, “(would) something like that be helpful?” 

Jordan Dresser, who chairs the Northern Arapaho portion of the Wind River Intertribal Council, said that “would be a really good thing.”  

Ellis could not be reached by phone to comment further Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.  

Household or Industrial 

Beers noted that all of the six tons of trash WYDOT crews found along the Gas Hills Road, was household trash, such as appliances. He did not discover evidence at the site of industrial debris such as what might be left by contractors.  

“I’m not aware of any contractor stuff,” said Beers, adding that from what he’s seen, “I believe our contractors are very responsible in this state.”  

In his own brief interview Verlin Timbana, director of Wind River Intertribal Solid Waste, said he’s caught contractors red-handed dumping their trash on the reservation, which is outside WYDOT’s purview.  

Andy Frey, Fremont County Solid Waste director, confirmed that like Beers, he hasn’t seen industrial dumping in the Gas Hills area. But Frey added he’s heard of industrial and household dumping alike in more isolated portions of the reservation.  

Frey noted that Ellis’ committee has been working on project to finance cleanup crews on the reservation.  

“I would hope that this project comes together,” Frey said. “It’s much needed. I hope, further, that there is a plan put into place to ensure these kinds of illegal dumping activities do not continue into the future, post-cleanup.”

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Laramie County Sheriff’s Deputy In Intensive Care Following Deadly Shootout

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

One man is dead and a Laramie County Sheriff’s Deputy is in the intensive care unit of Cheyenne’s hospital following a shootout in Cheyenne on Saturday afternoon.

The Laramie County Sheriff’s office announced on Saturday evening that deputies had made contact with a suspect in the area of Cahill Park in northern Cheyenne at 2:25 p.m. Saturday following an assault call at Laramie County Community College.

Authorities said a slow-speed pursuit of the suspect’s vehicle ensued and ended about one-half mile north in the Miles Court neighborhood off of Ridge Road in north Cheyenne, where the shootout between the officer and the suspect occurred.

“One of our patrol deputies was shot and is currently in the Intensive Care Unit at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in stable condition,” a spokesman said. “The suspect is deceased and there is no further risk to public safety.” 

The incident has been turned-over to the Department of Criminal Investigation.

An emergency dispatcher at the Laramie County Combined Communication Center, said she was working in the dispatch center at the time of the shooting.

“One of the hardest shifts I’ve worked,” the dispatcher wrote on Facebook. “The officer is in dispatch’s prayers.”

“We’re just glad the deputy is stable. Felt like for a minute the world just stopped,” she said.

Laramie County Commissioner Linda Heath was quick to wish the deputy well and to thank first responders in the community.

“Prayers for all involved: the Sheriff Deputies, their famlies, the officer who was shot, his family, our dispatchers, and AMR responders,” Heath said. “May each of you find peace and strength in our heavenly Fathers’ love.”

Other law enforcement agencies from across the state offered their support as well.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters at Laramie County Sheriff’s Office and those involved in yesterday’s tragedy in Cheyenne,” said Sweetwater County Sheriff Sheriff John Grossnickle.

“We have to continue to work together as friends and neighbors to ensure things like this never become an everyday headline here in Wyoming,” he said.

“Help us send good vibes to this deputy from a fellow agency in Laramie County! Prayers for them and their family, both blood and blue,” the Douglas Police Department wrote.

Former Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak, who is running for Laramie County Sheriff, announced he was suspending his campaign in order to “focus on the deputy and the members of the Sheriff’s Office.”

No other details have been made public.

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Driver Being Pursued Out of Wyoming Killed in High Speed Chase in Northern Colorado

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A Minnesota man is dead following a high speed chase that started in Wyoming but ended in a crash on Highway 85 near Ault, Colorado.

The man, who according to the Colorado State Patrol originally went to jail for murder, was wanted for a parole violation out of Minnesota and was being chased by the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

Numerous Colorado State Patrol officers joined the chase as the suspect crossed the state line at around 2:45pm.

After a Colorado State Patrol trooper and an Ault police officer deployed “stop sticks”on the highway, the suspect lost control of his vehicle when he attempted to avoid the apparatus.

“The suspect vehicle continued south and swerved into another Colorado State Patrol vehicle causing the State Patrol vehicle to roll and become disabled,” a spokesman for the patrol said. “The suspect vehicle also became disabled and the pursuit came to an end.”

Authorities say the trooper sustained minor injuries from the collision and was taken to the hospital.

The suspect, who was not wearing his seatbelt, crashed into a drainage ditch and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Highway 85, near the incident, was shut down for several hours.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol has not returned a call for comment.

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Former Wyoming Catholic College CFO Pleads Guilty To Wire Fraud

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man found guilty of bilking a financial firm out of almost $15 million pleaded guilty this week to allegations that he committed wire fraud in connection with the crimes.

Paul McCown, former chief financial officer for Wyoming Catholic College pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three federal charges filed in connection with the crimes against Ria R Squared. He also pleaded guilty to four more wire fraud charges filed in connection with allegations he sent false claims to the Wyoming Business Council to obtain more than $800,000 in federal funds.

McCown was ordered released on a $10,000 bond and sentencing was scheduled for June 17, when he could face a prison term of up to 140 years.

A federal judge earlier this month ruled in a civil lawsuit filed against McCown by Ria R Squared that McCown defrauded the company of $14.8 million in May 18.

According to the lawsuit filed by Ria R Squared, McCoon falsified financial documents and even posed as a bank official to convince the company to loan him $15 million in May 2021.

McCown transferred the bulk of the money to other people, including relatives, associates and Wyoming Catholic College, which received a $10 million anonymous donation that was later returned.

On Tuesday, McCown pleaded guilty to allegations he sent emails to Ria R Squared to transmit loan documents and then used wire transfers to take possession of the loan.

He also pleaded guilty to allegations he transmitted false information to the Wyoming Business Council to obtain $841,863 in federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act funding, claiming his company lost money because of the coronavirus.

The money has since been returned.

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Driver Plows Into Downtown Building in Gillette, Leaves Vehicle as Evidence

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The first rule of a successful hit-and-run accident? Don’t leave evidence behind at the scene of the hit that will help authorities find you after you run.

This hit-and-run driver left lots of evidence. A car full, to be exact.

A vehicle registration, an insurance card and a row of family photos lining the cloth interior above both the passenger and driver’s side doors were found in the SUV left in a canal Thursday morning after hitting a business in downtown Gillette.

The SUV was found rammed nose first into the drainage canal after smashing into the wall of the Enterprise rental car building in downtown Gillette around 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

Building owner Jim Engel said he was feeling “bamboozled” when he showed up at around 7 a.m. Thursday and saw the structural damage one corner of the building and the abandoned vehicle in the ditch.

Surveillance footage from the four video cameras captured the 2009 grayish-blue Chrysler Aspen fly through the south end of the business’ parking lot at a rapid clip. Subsequent footage on an indoor camera showed a figure walking past the front window.

The Gillette Police Department is in the process of pulling other surveillance video from nearby businesses to piece together a clearer picture of the events that unfolded in the early morning.

Tow truck driver Josh Day of M.A.D. Towing made quick work of removing the vehicle from the canal.

“It was simple,” he said, pointing to the chunks of concrete that remained in the canal from the impact of the crash into the corner of the building.

The GPD officer on scene could not provide any details on the crash but confirmed police knew the identity of the vehicle’s owner and that it had not been reported stolen.

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Home Security Cameras Solving Wyoming Crimes; Police Say Cams Are “Incredible Tool”

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By Jimmy Orr and Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

It took the Gillette Police Department less than a day to track down the hit-and-run driver who plowed into a Gillette woman’s house last Thursday.

Within less than 36 hours, the 23-year-old female driver was issued citations for failing to report the accident and driving with a suspended driver’s license.

It was the video footage from a neighbor’s security cameras, the police department said, that made the difference in tracking the individual down.

A couple eyewitnesses were able to provide vague but somewhat conflicting descriptions of both the car and driver. But the footage erased all doubt. The vehicle, the coloring, the mismatched wheels all made the car simple to identify as the one that came across a road, into a driveway and then a garage door.

Once the video made its way to social media, people stepped up and told the police where the car was parked and where the driver lived.

Technology Changed Everything

There was a time when police had to rely solely on eyewitness testimony or a person’s accounting of events in a crime. Today, surveillance cameras are filling in those holes and helping law enforcement solve crimes much more efficiently and faster.

“Before cameras you just took people at their word and there was never any way to back that up,” Riverton Police Captain Wes Romero said. “They’ve been an incredible help in solving crimes and identifying victims.”

For this reason, it’s become standard practice for law enforcement to look for cameras and seek surveillance footage whenever possible.

Video cameras don’t always capture everything, Romero noted, but they can provide vital clues in a crime scene and help overcome human error and mistakes in memory or perception.

“Sometimes it (cameras) produces something, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said, “and it doesn’t show you everything that happened but just a slice of the larger story.”

Surveillance footage is a tremendous help in recording what may have happened when a business gets broken into.

It is also very valuble when police are trying to identify a suspect, Romero noted, because they can share an image the public on social media.

“We get a lot of tips this way,” he said.

Booming Business

Marc Thayer, a former Cheyenne cop and now owner of Corporate Protective Services in Cheyenne, has seen a significant increase in his business since going into business in 1999.

“A lot of crimes actually nowadays are getting solved by security cameras,” Thayer said.

Improvements in video quality with the move from analog to digital recording have greatly enhanced the ability of such devices to record details that may not have been visible with earlier recorders. Advancing technology has also allowed users to download videos and post them on social media for more people to see.

“Then you’ve got thousands of eyes looking at the incident and solving it really quickly,” he said.

In the past two years, Thayer said his company had seen a boom in camera sales. His company also sells alarms, access control devices and fire systems, but cameras are his biggest seller.

“We get calls for camera systems every day,” he said.

He also gets on average about three calls a week from customers or law enforcement officers requesting video footage from a particular incident.

And though cameras are a great tool, Thayer said people should remain just as vigilant as ever when it comes to being aware of their surroundings and protecting their belongings.

“People don’t realize that even somebody just dumpster diving or something else is something to pay attention to because you never know who is committing a crime,” he said. “And I hate to say it, but canvas cameras definitely helped and social security systems are really the world we live in today.”

Ted Johnson, a technical sales associate with Collins Communications in Gillette, agreed that security systems and surveillance cameras are definitely a part of the new world order when it comes to protecting one’s livelihood and possessions.

There has been more than one occasion when a customer – individuals and businesses – have been able to provide law enforcement with surveillance footage to help solve a crime. Johnson can’t provide any particulars, he said, only that it happens frequently.

In many cases, he said, he’s contacted by customers who are adding surveillance after becoming the victims of a crime.

Along with providing law enforcement with evidence after the fact, security cameras can also be great deterrents, according to Byron Oedekoven, executive director for the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.

He suggests ranchers and residents in rural areas consider using cameras as both a crime prevention and deterrent which work well both in larger and smaller communities.

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Busted: Hit & Run Driver Who Plowed Through Cowboy State Daily Reporter’s House Caught

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It took the Gillette Police Department less than a day to track down the hit-and-run driver who plowed into Cowboy State Daily reporter Jen Kocher’s house on Thursday.

A 23-year-old female driver was issued citations Friday evening for failing to report the accident and driving with a suspended driver’s license.

Kocher refused to name the driver or her passenger.

“I’m not into public shaming,” Kocher said. “She knows who she is, and I sincerely hope she uses this as an opportunity to take her life more seriously and be a more responsible human.”

The accident happened Thursday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. when Kocher was working in her basement office and was startled by a loud crashing sound upstairs that she described as sounding like a large semi-truck crashing through the house.

When she ran upstairs to investigate, she saw the back of blue-green older model SUV speeding away, leaving skids marks in the driveway as the driver attempted to flee the scene.

Kocher didn’t get a look at the license plate and couldn’t see driver or passenger behind the tinted black windows.

Video Footage

Immediately, neighbors in her cul-de-sac of condominium homes ran out to see what had happened. A couple of eyewitnesses were able to provide vague descriptions of both the car and driver.

Kocher’s next-door neighbor, however, had video footage from his new security cameras he’d installed just the previous week.

The neighbor and his partner, both of whom wished to remain anonymous, were able to provide clear video showing an older model SUV barreling down a grassy hill in the middle of the cul-de-sac, smashing into Kocher’s garage, then doing a swift three-point turn before exiting the area.

Authorities cited the video footage many times in the police report, noting they were able to get a positive confirmation of the suspect’s vehicle by comparing it to the vehicle in the video.

“Of particular interest was the fact that the front and rear rims were different on the passenger side, with the rear tire potentially being a smaller ‘spare’ tire, and the front being a chrome looking ‘five spoke’ style wheel,” the report reads.

“The vehicle matched the description, including having an off-colored (blue) front passenger side fender, and rims on the passenger side matched the rims in the video,” it said.

Kocher said watching the video made her “blood boil.”

“It’s not the hit, it’s the run that bothers me,” she said. “Accidents happen, but who just takes off like that? “Total loser move.”

The driver, however, also had her own story to tell.

Police Report

Apparently, the 23-year-old had been driving with her boyfriend, who was also in the car at the time of the accident, after getting into an altercation with a 17-year-old girl. The younger girl was reportedly trying to get the driver to fight her, so the driver fled, chased by the juvenile in her own car.

The driver was angry and “running away,” she later told police, because she did not want to get into trouble for hitting a “girl.”

In her case, “running” meant barreling down Gillette’s Ninth Street in her Ford Explorer as the juvenile chased behind. When the 23-year-old attempted to duck the younger girl by darting into the eastern entrance of Kocher’s street, she lost control and flew over the grass into the condo.

After fleeing the scene of the accident, the driver then transported her boyfriend to the Campbell County Probation and Parole office for his scheduled urinalysis. 

According to the police report, Kocher’s neighbor was not the only person to catch the accident on video. After being contacted by police on Friday, the 23-year-old showed them a text from the younger girl. The text included a photo of the 23-year-old sitting in her vehicle at the probation and parole office along with a short video of the accident that the younger driver had taken herself.

The juvenile had been right behind her when she crashed into the garage, but she, too, fled without telling anyone.

The boyfriend confirmed the 23-year-old driver’s story.

Anonymous Tip And Not-Anonymous Cookies

No one was hurt in the accident and the driver appears to have current insurance.

Apart from her damaged vehicle, which took the brunt of the impact, Kocher said she is most upset that her favorite bicycle that got squashed between the wall of the garage and the bumper of her car, cracking the frame.

Despite the annoyance and cost of the event, she said a lot of good came out of it, including the support of her “awesome” neighbors who even delivered a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a hand-drawn card with a smiley face to her the next evening to make up for her “bad day.” 

She also wanted to thank the Gillette Police Department, all her neighbors and people who contacted her in the wake of the accident to see if she was okay.

“When this happened I said they wouldn’t get away with it because there’s no finer police department than Gillette’s,” she said. “I was 100 percent right.”

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Laramie Landlords To Pay $7,000 Fine For Refusing To Rent Apartment To Woman With Emotional Support Dog

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Federal attorneys are recommending that a pair of Laramie landlords who have a “no pets” policy for one of their properties pay a woman $7,000 for refusing to rent her a unit because of her emotional support animal.

Karen and Douglas Miyamoto agreed to a consent decree submitted in U.S. District Court to settle a lawsuit that alleged their refusal to allow the emotional support animal in their unit amounted to discrimination against a person because of disabilities.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl has yet to approve the order, which was submitted for consideration Thursday.

According to the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Paulina Gurevich contacted the Miyamotos in June 2020 about a property they had advertised for rent. The advertisement stated that no pets were allowed.

The lawsuit said Gurevich suffers from depression and an anxiety disorder and “experiences crippling panic attacks which substantially limit one or more of her major life activities including her ability to care for herself, interact with others and communicate.”

The lawsuit added Gurevich has “an assistance animal which helps mitigate the symptoms of her disabilities.”

When going to inspect the property with Karen Miyamoto, Gurevich expressed an interest in renting the unit and told Miyamoto about her emotional support animal, a dog.

Miyamoto pointed out the “no pets” policy for the unit and asked Gurevich if the dog was a service animal.

Gurevich told her the dog was an emotional support animal and offered to provide a letter from her healthcare provider “verifying her disability status and disability-related need for an emotional support animal.”

After a discussion about the requirements of state and federal disability laws, the lawsuit said, Miyamoto did not offer Gurevich an application for the rental unit.

Miyamoto, in a later text exchange with Gurevich, said that under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Wyoming law, “owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals.”

Gurevich filed a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in September 2020 and lawsuit against the Miyamotos was filed on Thursday.

The lawsuit said the Miyamotos discriminated in the rental of property to Gurevich because of her disability and refused to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies or practices to “afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling,” which the U.S. Attorney’s office said was a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The consent decree, which has been agreed to by the Miyamotos, orders them to pay Gurevich $7,000. It also orders them not to discriminate in renting property on the basis of disabilities, requires that they take part in, at their own expense, a training program on the Fair Housing Act and that they provide the same training to their employees.

The decree also orders the Miyamotos to post a sign on their properties indicating the properties are available for rent or sale on a nondiscriminatory basis and to adjust future advertising to show they are an “equal housing opportunity provider.”

The decree also imposes record-keeping requirements on the Miyamotos, such as annual compliance reports.

In exchange for the $7,000, Gurevich will be barred from taking any other legal action against the Miyamotos stemming from the incident.

Car Bashes Into Cowboy State Daily Reporter’s House And Then Drives Away

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It was like any other day for Cowboy State Daily reporter Jen Kocher. 

The Gillette-based correspondent was working on a story in her home office on Thursday afternoon when she felt her house literally shake.

Her immediate thought was to run for cover thinking it was an earthquake, she said, but quickly gathered her thoughts when the shaking was short-lived.

Running out to the front yard, Kocher surveyed the cause of the incident.  Her garage door was completely smashed-in with tire tracks leading up to the damage on the driveway and lawn but there was nothing else.

No vehicle.  It was a hit and run.

Kocher quickly called the police while neighbors stopped by to see what had happened.

“It was a very loud crash,” Kocher said.  “It was quite annoying. I was writing a great story.”

Grateful no one was hurt inside but angered that the driver took off, Kocher asked her neighbors if anyone had security cameras.

At least one did and was able to provide footage of the incident from his Nest-Cam.

The camera captured what appears to be an older, green mid-size SUV.

The vehicle enters the screen at a high rate of speed, jumps the curb, onto the grass, and then out of sight.

Two seconds later, the vehicle backs up over the same path, drives back over the lawn, flips a u-turn and leaves the cul de sac.

The back passenger tire appears to be missing a hubcap and the back windows are tinted.

“Whoever it was is a crappy driver,” Kocher said. 

“I have full confidence in the Gillette Police Department,” she added.  “Mark my words, you can’t escape the Gillette PD. Then I’ll write a story on it.”

If anyone has any information on the hit and run, they are encouraged to call the Gillette Police Department at 307.682.5155.

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Casper Woman Seeking Justice For Murdered Sister By Strengthening Wyoming Stalking Laws

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Without realizing it, 58-year-old Yvonne “Vonnie” Flores caught the attention of her neighbor. The man, 58-year-old Anthony Medina, lived next door to Vonnie and her husband and two kids in Leadville, Colorado.

Medina and his elderly mother lived in a two-story home that gave Medina plenty of opportunities to spy on Vonnie. He’d watch her while she was working in the yard or sitting on her deck. Sometimes, he followed her through the neighborhood when she walked or went on bike rides.

Once, according to Vonnie’s younger sister, Casper resident Vicki Kadlick, Medina followed Vonnie and her husband Dave on a shopping trip to nearby Frisco, nearly 30 miles away.

Medina’s obsession with Vonnie went on for more than five years, Kadlick said. It ended with Vonnie’s death, a catalyst for Kadlick’s efforts to strengthen stalking laws in both Wyoming and Colorado.

The stalking started with a proposition to Vonnie, when Medina called her over to his yard one day to make his romantic interest clear. Vonnie rebuked his advances, explaining she was happily married and wanted nothing to do with him.

When Vonnie’s husband Dave got home later that day, he went over to tell his neighbor not to approach his wife again. Medina filed a police report after Dave’s visit, but no charges were filed.

Vonnie Flores was murdered in 2010 by a stalker in Leadville, Colorado

Vonnie, meanwhile, blew it all off, despite warnings from her husband and family. She joked about her crazy neighbor stalker, making light of the situation because she considered the whole thing annoying but harmless.

That changed for Vonnie one day while out on a bike ride on a quiet road outside of town. She was pushing her bike up a hill when she saw Medina ahead of her on the road, walking toward her. She immediately turned her bike around and pedaled straight to the police station to file a report.

Medina was arrested later that day and released within three hours on a $2,500 bond. A court also issued a temporary restraining order requiring him to stay at least 10 feet away from Vonnie, with a court date set for two weeks later.

This is when Vonnie began to understand the gravity of the situation. Kadlick flew from Casper to Leadville in an attempt to convince her terrified sister to visit Wyoming.

Kadlick remembered how terrified her sister was at that point. One night, when she suggested the pair sit in the back yard and enjoy the evening, Vonnie shook her head and nodded in Medina’s direction.

“She was terrorized,” Kadlick said. “She was afraid to even be in the house.”

That Thursday, four days before Medina was scheduled to appear in court, Vonnie decided to run a quick errand to the drug store. She’d only be a minute, she reasoned, and her family was home.

When Vonnie returned, she was not even out of her car when Medina met her in the driveway, shooting her in the head and chest before turning the gun on himself in a murder suicide.

Justice For Vonnie

Kadlick was devastated by her sister’s death and decided, with the help of her family, to find justice for Vonnie.

She talked to everyone involved in stalking cases from law enforcement officers and mental health experts to lawyers and judges to determine what could be legally done to prevent this from happening to anyone else’s loved one.

A few flaws in the system were immediately apparent, beginning with law enforcement’s response to Vonnie’s stalker. One police officer warned her to stay away from Medina, who he thought was a little crazy. But short of the family moving, police had little advice to give.

Vicki Kadlick (left) is honoring her sister Vonnie’s life by pursuing tighter stalking laws in Wyoming.

Also troubling to Kadlick was the fact that her sister blew off Medina’s behavior at first because she never imagined that he was so dangerous. 

Ultimately, the one variable that might have saved her sister, Kadlick found, was changing laws in Colorado to deter perpetrators from stalking their victims.

Two years later, “Vonnie’s Law” was passed in Colorado in 2012 making it mandatory for suspects arrested on stalking charges to appear before a judge prior to posting bail. During this period, the suspect has to remain in custody and stay away from the alleged victims.

Kadlick wanted to see the same changes made in Wyoming’s stalking laws, which back then had hole similar to Colorado’s.

Bulldogs For Justice

Using the Colorado bill as her guide, Kadlick began making contacts in Casper. She reached out to Lorrie Anderson, victim services coordinator for Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, who shared her passion for getting laws changed.

As Kadlick soon learned, there were more people supporting her cause, including Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, who sponsored the first and most recent bills tightening Wyoming’s stalking laws. 

Taylor Courtney, now investigations sergeant with Natrona County Sheriff, was compelled by Kadlick’s story and passion to help with the effort to draft the new laws.

Paramount to their efforts was strengthening protective orders to make them easier for police to enforce. Statistically speaking, Kadlick said that 60% of stalkers will stop if they get into trouble for it.

“They (protective orders) weren’t working,” Kadlick said. “They were just a piece of paper. We wanted something with some teeth in it.”

They also wanted a better definition of the nature of stalking as well as harsher penalties for repeat offenders, including possible felony charges filed in the case of repeated violations.

It took the group six years and a couple failed attempts to get stronger stalking legislation passed. In 2018, former Gov. Matt Mead signed House Bill 8 with several key elements that clarified the crime of stalking, increased jail time from six months to a year while also increasing probation from one to three years to allow for counseling if needed. 

The law also made subsequent stalking offenses a felony if an offender had a second violation within five years of the prior offense. It also extended the duration of protective orders.

Before the new law was passed, protective orders were only good for six months, at which point the victim had to go back in front of a judge and the perpetrator to get it renewed. This new law made the orders good for three years.

What Courtney liked about the new legislation, too, was that it is intended to help both the victim and the perpetrator by including a counseling component.

“The system has to be designed to provide relief to the victim, so they feel safe and can lead a normal life. Somebody has done this to them, and we’re going to help them make it right,” he said. “But, the beautiful part about this (law) is that it also addressed the offender as well through additional probation, which allows for more effective and longer treatment to change stalking behaviors and reduce reoffending.”

The other important aspect was a clarification of what constitutes stalking, an effort to make the victim more aware of what is happening, Courtney said.

Taylor Courtney, Investigation Sergeant, Natrona County Sheriff’s Office

“Stalking requires a course of conduct with the intent to harass, so being able to properly identify it, what it looks like and how it’s actually taking place was key in being able to hold offenders accountable,” he said.

Under Wyoming law, a person can be charged with stalking for harassing someone to the point where they feel emotional distress, fear for their safety or someone else’s safety or for the safety of their property. This might include verbally harassing them, following or watching them at home, school or work, or in more recent years, stalking them through electronic devices.

The issue of electronic stalking was not addressed in the 2018 bill and left a gaping hole for perpetrators to exploit, Courtney said, whether by hacking into email, social media and other accounts, monitoring a victim’s movement with global positioning software (GPS) or tracking “tiles” like Apple AirTags.

AirTags are typically used to help people track personal items such as keys, wallets, purses in backpacks. But stalkers are sticking them onto the victim’s car or other belongings and using them to track the victims from the comfort of their homes.

Stalkers are also using the internet as an educational tool, according to Rawlins-based clinical social worker and therapist Sheryl Foland. In her March 7 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Foland said offenders are honing their tricks online from experts.

“They are assisted, as I learned last week, with some awesome Facebook groups, Instagram communications and some other dark web places on how to stalk, and that is literally the names of the groups,” she said.

The prevalence of stalkers operating in this venue, Courtney said, is why he, and Tara Muir, with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and others in the law enforcement, counseling and victims’ services community approached Landen with this new bill to address the new venue.

The bill, Senate File 100 was signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday with the new law to take effect on July 1, 2022.

Stalking Is Not Love

With new legislation in place, advocates like Kadlick continue pushing for accountability and helping victims understand the nature of stalking and its potential ramifications.

In this regard, Kadlick continues to be alarmed when she talks to victims – who are primarily female – who don’t consider themselves to be victims at the time the stalking occurs.

“These women don’t know what to do, and you don’t know how serious it is until it’s too late,” she said.

She recalled one young woman downplaying the fact her stalker — who had a protective order against him — brazenly left a bag of groceries on her front porch. The victim thought that was nice of him and didn’t seem bothered by the fact that he had broken the law.

“It’s not a nice thing to do,” she said. “It’s not flattery, it’s stalking. Many young girls seem to think it’s cool that the guy really likes her.”

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), more than 6 million people are stalked every year, including one in six women and one in 19 men. This same data shows that 66% of female victims and 41% males are stalked by a current or former intimate partner.

For Kadlick, the advocacy is personal and one way in which she deals with the grief of losing her older sister.

Vonnie worked as a teacher’s assistant at a Leadville elementary school after obtaining her GED and finishing subsequent college courses at age 40 and was an avid outdoors enthusiast with a big heart and contagious personality, she said.

“My sister was an absolute force and had such a light that attracted everyone, and he (Medina) saw that and wanted it,” Kadlick said. “Grief can eat you whole if you let it. This is my way of keeping my sister close.”

Vicki also administers the Vonnie’s Voice Facebook page

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Cheyenne Teacher Launches Wyo Crime Podcast To Give Voice To Victims That Media Ignores

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Renee Nelson had been kicking around the idea of launching a true crime and missing person podcast for years. The impulse became more intense in the wake of last year’s disappearance of Gabby Petito, the discovery of her body in Grand Teton National Park last summer and the subsequent revelation she had been murdered by her finance.

Like many others watching the case, Nelson was struck by the manner in which Petito’s name dominated national headlines as multiple agencies across the country sprang into action, leading to the discovery of the woman’s body days after the search was launched. 

Nelson decided it was time to do her part to make sure that every missing person case and murder in Wyoming gets the same level of attention. 

Media attention is pivotal in getting word out. And that is what Nelson hopes to do in Wyoming with the launch of her Unsolved Wyoming podcast that will air on Spotify’s Anchor platform this June.

Nelson described her podcast as a mechanism to highlight the person – not the crime – at the heart of the story.

“I don’t want to talk about their worst day,” Nelson told Cowboy State Daily. “I want to focus on the who the person is and give them a voice.”

In particular, she hopes to highlight cases of missing and murdered indigenous people as well as people from other marginalized communities.

Crime Junkie

Admittedly, Nelson, a Cheyenne native and English instructor at Laramie County Community College, was one of those “weird kids” who binged on crime shows with her mother. She remembers nights together watching “20/20,” “Dateline,” “America’s Most Wanted” and true crime series, which planted the seeds for her budding interest.

She also comes from a family of lawyers and her own mother escaped a domestic violence situation that also formed Nelson’s understanding that crime is indiscriminate and can happen to anyone.

“Some of the experiences I’ve had growing up are really positive in terms of the way that I saw the justice system working in some ways, and then not in other ways,” she said, “so, I guess it’s just all culminated into this aspect of wanting to make sure I’m bringing awareness and giving a voice to the family as a result of it being such a tragedy for them.”

When it came time for her to make a career choice, Nelson was torn between studying English or law and ultimately became a college English instructor. After attending college at University of Wyoming and commuting to graduate school in Colorado, Nelson and her husband, a Cheyenne firefighter, knew that they wanted to stay in Cheyenne to raise their two children.

She’s managed to work in her true crime interest by teaching a crime and media course that looks at the various ways that missing person cases, murders and other offenses are portrayed by news outlets.

To this end, Nelson found there’s great disparity between races and social class – particularly in cases involving Indigenous people – in which the language used to describe those events is much more graphic and violent. 

Missing White Woman Syndrome

This phenomena — the case of a missing white woman getting attention at the expense of other missing person cases — is often called the Missing White Woman Syndrome and is well documented by social scientists, Nelson noted.

This also holds true for those with criminal pasts or drug addictions.

“We need a wider lens and platform to highlight all missing people and victims of crime,” Nelson said. “I want to provide a voice and some context for cases to bring some awareness.”

Paramount to her interest is also using the podcast to go back and revisit cold cases, such as a double homicide in Cheyenne in 2015, or the Rawlins rodeo murders where four young women were killed in the summer of 1974. 

The Amy Bechtel missing person case is also of interest to Nelson. Bechtel disappeared while jogging in the Wind River Mountains in 1997 and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

There’s no shortage of current and past cases to delve into, Nelson said, and she also plans to explore some of the state’s haunted places as well.

Nelson is aiming for her first episode to launch in the beginning of June with weekly episodes to follow. Anyone with a case they’d like to share with Nelson can contact her at unsolvedwyoming@gmail.com or (307) 631-8646.

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Man Pleads Innocent To Kidnapping Bloomberg Housekeeper in Colorado & Taking Her to Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man accused of kidnapping a woman from a ranch in Colorado in February and taking her to Cheyenne has pleaded innocent to four federal charges filed in connection with the incident.

Joseph Beecher, during his arraignment in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne on Monday, pleaded innocent to charges of kidnapping, carjacking, carrying a firearm during a crime of violence and transporting stolen firearms. 

Beecher, accompanied by a woman identified only as A.E., was arrested Feb. 3 by a special weapons and tactics team for the Cheyenne Police Department that broke into his motel room after spotting a fire in another room at the motel.

According to court documents, Beecher was a suspect in a burglary in Craig, Colorado. Later the same day, his pickup truck was spotted breaking through the main gate at a ranch in Rio Blanco County, Colorado.

A.E. told Cheyenne police she was working at a housekeeper at former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ranch and was abducted at gunpoint by Beecher, who got into her pickup truck and ordered her to drive to Denver.

“A.E., in fear for her life, did as he demanded,” the documents said.

The two stopped at two gas stations and an ATM and then Beecher told her to drive to Cheyenne, where he ordered her to rent a room at the Stagecoach Motel.

Police spotted the woman’s pickup truck in the motel parking lot and began surveillance at the motel when they spotted a fire in another part of the building.

“Cheyenne SWAT initiated their response due to the exigence circumstance and forced entry into (Beecher’s room),” the documents said. “Upon entry, SWAT operators detained Beecher and escorted A.E. from the room.”

Beecher was indicted on the federal charges by a grand jury on March 17 and faces a sentence of up to life in prison on the charge of kidnap. He also faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison for carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.

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Former Riverton Woman Who Gave Birth & Abandoned Baby On Sidewalk Faces Felony Charge

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A former Riverton resident accused of giving birth to a baby boy on the sidewalk of Omaha, Nebraska, and leaving him there in below-freezing temperatures has been transferred to a higher court for felony-level prosecution.  

Trinity Shakespeare was charged in February with felony child abuse, a charge punishable by up to three years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Her case was sent Friday to the Douglas County District Court in Nebraska, after a first appearance Thursday in a lower court.

Shakespeare’s newborn son, who is identified in court documents as “B.S.” is being processed for care by the Wind River Intertribal Court in Fremont County, according to KETV News of Omaha.  

Both WRITC and the Northern Arapaho Department of Family Services declined Monday to comment on the boy’s status.   

Shakespeare and her son are of Northern Arapaho descent.  

Under federal law, American Indian babies removed from parental care are to be processed by tribal, not state, DFS organizations.  

Court Documents

Witnesses saw Shakespeare give birth on an Omaha sidewalk on Feb. 13, according to court documents released Monday to Cowboy State Daily.  

“The mother of the newborn infant left the baby on the sidewalk and ran away from the scene” in 15-degree weather, witnesses told police. The baby was found and taken to the University of Nebraska Medical Center by Omaha fire medics after approximately five minutes.

Police found the mother, Shakespeare, hiding in the backyard of a nearby residence. She was taken to the same hospital as her son.  

“The defendant had a hard time keeping her eyes open,” during the ride to the hospital, court documents state, “and smelled strongly of alcoholic beverage.”  

Shakespeare told police during an in-hospital interview that she found out she was pregnant in September while incarcerated for a separate incident. She told investigators she drank alcohol at times during her pregnancy, court documents noted, because of “painful” cramps.  

Shakespeare also told reportedly told police that she’d smoked marijuana the night prior to her son’s birth, and drank vodka the day of the incident.  

She said she remembered “giving birth” and “walking away” from the boy, before being taken to the hospital, court documents state, adding that “she was aware of what was going on at the time and was able to recall specific details about the incident.” 

After her stay in the hospital, Shakespeare was booked into the Douglas County Corrections facility. 

Her prosecution is ongoing.  

Formerly Of Riverton

When Shakespeare lived in Riverton in 2014, she was cited at age 20 for underage consumption of alcohol. According to the Riverton Circuit Court database, she failed to appear for court proceedings. 

A warrant was issued, but Shakespeare never returned to court and the warrant – now eight years old – still stands.

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Man Shot By Federal Agent On Reservation Recovering In Hospital

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Wolfe Willow, the man shot by a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs officer Monday on the Wind River Indian Reservation, is recovering in a Riverton hospital from a gunshot wound.

Willow was shot during a domestic altercation that devolved into a knife fight, he told Cowboy State Daily.

Willow, 36, was in the intensive-care unit of SageWest Health Care in Riverton on Wednesday, where a Cowboy State Daily reporter surveyed his bandaged side and other bandaged areas Willow called “stab wounds” resulting from the family fight preceding the shooting.   

The FBI had confirmed Tuesday that a BIA officer “fired his weapon” on the reservation and the FBI is investigating the incident.  

The agency offered “no further information” from the investigation, but stated it would provide the “facts of the shooting” to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Wyoming for review.  

Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray, an appointed federal prosecutor, will have final discretion on whether the shooting was justified.  

In an interview with Cowboy State Daily, Willow said he and his girlfriend’s family had been drinking together since noon Monday, when “her cousins showed up.”   

Willow said a knife fight ensued, he gained control of one of the knives.

Police came to the scene just before 3 p.m., Willow said, and soon after, an agent shot him.  

Scanner traffic at the time indicated an officer had shot a man who was wielding a knife. 

Both Willow and his mother stated that Willow had served as a U.S. Marine. He also told Cowboy State Daily he suspected his girlfriend’s family disliked him “because I’m a sex offender.”  

Willow had been sentenced to 36 months of federal incarceration in 2011 for abusive sexual contact.  

He said that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and was suffering from flashbacks just prior to the incident.  

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Man Whose Paid Off Debt Was Bounced From Collector To Collector Sues

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette man who worked for more than two years to convince various debt collectors that his debt was paid is suing the companies for violations of federal debt collection rules.

Bryan Vass, in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, alleged the debt he had paid off in 2019 was passed around to different debt collectors for two years, resulting in a lawsuit being filed against him.

The companies have all violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, in 2018, Vass reached an agreement to settle a debt to Cach, LLC, with Frontline Asset Strategies for $5,000, to be paid in 12 installments.

The lawsuit said Vass paid off the debt in November 2019, but in April 2020, Frontline told him his debt had been transferred to Resurgent Capital Services, a consumer debt collection business, so Frontline could not provide a letter saying his debt was paid in full.

Resurgent placed the debt with yet another consumer debt collection service, Machol and Johannes, a Denver-based company.

In June 2020, Machol and Johannes sued Vass, seeking to collect almost $9,000. The company also refused to honor Vass’ agreement with the original debt collection company, Frontline Asset Strategies.

In November 2021, an attorney for Vass contacted Machol and Johannes and sent them proof that Vass’ debt had been paid. 

In January 2022, Machol and Johannes told the attorney that the account and the proof of his payments had been sent to another office.

The account was sent in February 2022 to Gurstel Law Firm, another debt collection service, but the company has yet to acknowledge the settlement of Vass’ debt, the lawsuit said.

“On numerous occasions, defendants, in spite of the proof that all 12 payments were made on this agreement, refuse to recognize that the account has been paid in full,” it said. “The conduct of defendants, as well as that of their agents, servants, and/or employees, was malicious, intentional, willful, reckless, negligent and in wanton disregard for federal law and the rights of (Vass) …”

The lawsuit accused all of the debt collectors of “abusive, deceptive and unfair collection practices.”

It also accused the companies of breach of contract for failing to honor the settlement deal Vass reached originally.

The lawsuit seeks damages in an amount to be determined in trial.

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Once-Deported Illegal Alien Caught In Rawlins With 150 Pounds Of Pot, Cocaine, Guns; Faces Weapons Charge

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man deported from the United States in 2018 who was arrested near Rawlins in January with more than 150 pounds of marijuana in his car is facing a federal weapons charge.

Pedro Navarrete-Gomez has been charged with being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The charges filed in U.S. District Court on Monday stemmed from a traffic stop near Rawlins on Jan. 20, when the car Navarrette-Gomez was driving was stopped for speeding.

According to court documents, a search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of 158 pounds of marijuana, 12 grams of cocaine and two handguns.

According to an affidavit filed with charging documents, Navarrette-Gomez said he had been threatened and coerced into transporting the marijuana from California to Minnesota. He added he did not know who gave him the drugs in California or who he was to deliver them to in Minnesota.

According to arresting documents, Navarrette-Gomez was deported from the United States in 2018 and returned to the country illegally.

The marijuana seized from Navarrette-Gomez was not the largest amount taken in a Wyoming drug bust so far in 2022.

In February, the Pine Bluffs Police Department seized about 344 pounds of marijuana in a historic bust for the department.

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Cody Police On Holiday Inn Heist: “Was Not Like Ocean’s 11”; Less Than $1,000 Stolen

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Hotel heists such as the one reported at the Holiday Inn in Cody on Monday seem to be exceedingly rare, unless the target is a major casino or high-dollar property in a big city.

Apparently, the woman who robbed the Holiday Inn at gunpoint didn’t get that memo.

“There was less than $1,000 lost,” Det. Sgt. Trapp Heydenberk of the Cody Police Department told Cowboy State Daily. “It was not like an Ocean’s 11 (situation).” 

Brian Kozak, former police chief in Cheyenne, told Cowboy State Daily that hotel robberies have been almost unheard of in recent years.

“In my 35 years of law enforcement, I can’t even think of a hotel robbery happening,” he said. 

Heydenberk pointed out that felony crimes on the whole are a rarity in Cody.

“Violent felony street level crimes are certainly a rare occurrence in our town,” he said. “You know, it’s a safe place to live, and I think this is a rather unusual occurrence. I’m thinking it’s been in the neighborhood of 10 years, if not more, since we’ve had a crime like this.”

Heydenberk added that the desk clerk was unharmed. 

“He’s doing pretty well,” he said.

Kozak said that in the years he was the police chief in Cheyenne, there were very few armed robberies.

“I mean, occasionally we would have a criminal that would do some robberies in a pattern and it took a while for us to catch them, and then once we caught the suspect the robberies ended,” he said. “So from time to time, someone will move into your area and commit some robbery – but yeah, robberies are pretty rare in Wyoming.” 

Kozak theorized that the fact that a high number of Wyoming residents own firearms might be a deterrent to violent offenders.

“I believe suspects, bad guys, have that in the back of their mind at all times,” he said.

Heydenberk pointed out that while the person who robbed the Cody hotel has not been apprehended, tips have been coming in.

A citizen reported finding black gloves and black boots in a dumpster Monday evening. 

Heydenberk said Cody police are looking into all leads.

“We continue to canvass the area to try to locate other surveillance cameras and gain any footage of interest with other neighboring businesses,” he said. “If anyone has residential footage in the area that might be of interest, we would welcome that information as well.”

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Woman Sticks Up Cody Hotel, Stages Clean Getaway

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UPDATE: Police say less than $1,000 was taken in heist. [READ MORE]

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Cody Police are on the lookout for a woman who robbed a hotel at gunpoint early Monday morning.

According to the Cody Police Department, the front desk clerk at the Holiday Inn called law enforcement around 5 a.m. Monday to report a robbery. 

The clerk told police a masked woman wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants, and a black gator-type face mask demanded money from the front desk clerk after lifting the side of her sweatshirt to expose a holstered pistol.

The clerk complied, placing money in a bag and giving to the suspect, who then walked out the door and disappeared. 

When police arrived and canvassed the area, there was no sign of the robber.

The Cody Police Department issued a statement Monday asking for the public’s help in tracking down the woman, who is described as being between 20 and 30 years old, between 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 5 feet, 7 inches tall.

The Department asks anyone who may have information on this case to contact Det. Sgt. Trapp Heydenberk at 307-527-8700.

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Colorado Woman Sues Cheyenne Doctor For Allegedly Leaving Sponge In Her Abdomen

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Colorado woman who claims a surgical sponge was left in her abdomen for 12 years is suing a Cheyenne doctor and the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

Rachel Hill, in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, is suing Dr. Mary-Ellen Foley for negligence, alleging she left a sponge inside Hill after a cesarean section.

Hill is seeking damages of more than $75,000 in an amount to be determined by a jury.

According to the lawsuit filed Friday, Hill was admitted to the Cheyenne hospital on Dec. 18, 2008, and Foley delivered her baby by cesarean section the next day.

The lawsuit said Foley had performed surgery on Hill prior to the 2008 birth.

The lawsuit said Foley and the other staff assisting with the surgery in 2008 failed to properly keep count of surgical sponges and left one inside Hill’s abdomen after the surgery.

For the next 12 years, Hill experienced symptoms including abdominal discomfort and stomach pain.

In January 2021, a CT scan identified a foreign object in Hill’s abdomen and when she underwent surgery in March 2021, a surgical sponge was removed.

Hill is suing Foley, the hospital and Cheyenne OB/GYN, who Foley worked for at the time, alleging their negligence resulted in “years of abdominal pain, ill health, constipation and rectal bleeding.”

The error has resulted in past and future economic losses, medical expenses, pain, suffering, discomfort and a loss of enjoyment of li