RIVERTON — In his document detailing the legal conclusion to an investigation into the Sept. 21 officer-involved shooting in front of Walmart in Riverton, Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun cautioned the public against further proceedings in the matter.
The shooting killed 58-year-old Anderson Antelope Sr.
LeBrun wrote that because the Riverton Police Department officer who shot Antelope did so because Antelope placed the officer and several bystanders in “immediate peril” by swinging a six-inch knife.
The officer had the right to “take all actions necessary at that moment to preserve his life and the lives of others, which includes deadly force,” LeBrun wrote.
Due to the succession of circumstances documented by a months-long investigation into the incident by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, “the only reasonable action… the officer could have taken was exactly the action that he took.
“Had he done otherwise, not only would he have jeopardized his own life, but the lives of the citizens in the immediate vicinity.”
LeBrun’s office will take no prosecutorial action against the officer, whose identity has not been made public.
Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen announced the Monday after the shooting that it is his policy to conduct an inquest into each officer-involved shooting in the county, to determine the cause and manner of death in such cases.
“The jury and public deserve as complete a presentation of evidence and event as possible to arrive at a cause and manner of death,” Stratmoen wrote.
LeBrun countered in a letter to The Ranger Oct. 23 that the cause and manner of death – homicide by gunshot wound – were obvious, and an inquest into the obvious would be a superfluous use of taxpayer funds.
The county attorney raised the issue again Friday in his legal conclusion of the shooting, which culminated the DCI’s investigation.
He wrote that “even though a final determination has been made, the coroner in Fremont County insists on a public display that can serve no purpose,” but seems rather “to delay the healing process, while putting the officer and numerous other private citizens, through an unnecessary, expensive and possibly humiliating public spectacle.”
“The community,” he wrote, “may reflect on holding a taxpayer-funded hearing when all determinations have been made in the case, and when according to Wyoming law… (inquests have) ‘no probative effect.’”
LeBrun cited grave legal concerns with the inquest, as well as with the coroner’s consideration of appointing State Rep. Andrea Clifford (D-Ethete) as a juror over the hearing, due to her public comments on the shooting.
Clifford has stated that “we do have a Northern Arapaho tribal member on that police force, and I do believe that if he had been the one that had answered that call, Andy would still be alive today.”
Clifford is an enrolled members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, as was Antelope.
LeBrun called Clifford’s presumed “bias” against the officer one of several indications that the inquest, as approached, is “defective.”
“That is very problematic because our coroner is not a lawyer, and is not able to instruct the jurors, properly, on the Wyoming jurisprudence of self-defense and defense of others.
“No person’s actions should be scrutinized and analyzed under incorrect presentations and assumptions of the law,” he wrote.
After reviewing accounts by no fewer than six eyewitnesses, interviewed separately, LeBrun wrote that the incident began about 1:30 that Saturday, when a Walmart employee called law enforcement because a man known to be Anderson Antelope Sr. “was intoxicated and driving one of the Walmart electric carts in and out of the parking lot.”
Public intoxication is a violation of Riverton city ordinance.
Roughly 15 minutes later, a Riverton Police Department officer arrived, asked Antelope about his condition, and, after determining the latter was intoxicated, tried to arrest him.
Eyewitnesses noted that Antelope “became very angry and was yelling,” and stated, in essence “you’re going to need help; you’re not big enough, and I am not going anywhere,” LeBrun wrote.
The officer performed a “common” wrist-hold technique to help Antelope stand and place him under arrest, but, when the officer was momentarily distracted by conversation with a bystander, Antelope retrieved a hidden, six-inch knife and tried to drive the knife into the officer’s chest.
Due to the rifle plate in his armored vest, the officer was unharmed.
Six eyewitnesses watched Antelope swing the knife at the officer.
“Antelope placed the officer in an untenable position,” in which he was surrounded by several people within a five- to 10-foot range of Antelope, “who was armed and clearly trying to kill,” LeBrun wrote.
The officer could not release Antelope’s left arm, due to the concern that the latter would try to stab bystanders, among whom there was at least one man in his 80s.
“Under these circumstances, the officer had no other option than to stand his ground, draw his firearm, and demand that Antelope drop the knife” – a demand he made at least twice, LeBrun wrote.
“When it became apparent to the officer that Antelope was trying to strike with the knife again, the officer discharged his firearm.
“Antelope was killed instantly” by a single gunshot to the head.
Tests showed Antelope’s blood-alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit.