Witnesses told police that Albany County’s Republican Party chairman was drunk and responsible for the escalation in a fight with Carbon County’s chairman after the Wyoming Republican Party Convention in Gillette on Saturday.
Michael Pearce, Albany County’s Republican chairman, and Joey Correnti, Carbon County’s chairman, who also lost a 2016 challenge to Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, were involved in a fight that left Pearce in a Gillette hospital recovering from surgery on Sunday.
Pearce was cited for assault and battery, according to a Monday news release from the Gillette Police Department, saying Pearce threw the first and only punch.
“Officers learned Pearce had become involved in a verbal confrontation with Joey Correnti,” the release states. “The confrontation escalated and the two men walked out of the Wyoming Center, at which time Pearce struck Correnti in the head with a fist. In defense, Correnti took Pearce to the ground where he held Pearce until someone intervened.”
The release says Correnti described Pearce as being intoxicated and Pearce admitted to drinking. Correnti reported damage to his eyeglasses and hearing aid. Correnti was not cited.
Witness statements confirm Pearce was “responsible for the escalation and Correnti was defending himself by taking Pearce to the ground,” according to Gillette police.
“To the best of my knowledge and remembrance, the physical side came out of nowhere,” Pearce told the Boomerang on Sunday.
Pearce did not respond for a request to comment Monday following the news release.
The fight left Pearce with a broken ankle, which resulted in the surgery on Sunday morning, a dislocated shoulder, bruising on his neck and face.
Correnti, also a candidate for state Legislature in House District 47, told the Boomerang any inquiries would have to be directed to his lawyer. Attorney Steven Titus of Gillette is representing Correnti in the matter, Correnti said Monday.
Titus said he is representing Correnti because Pearce initially accused Correnti of being the aggressor and to investigate whether civil action is appropriate.
“If you read the original newspaper articles on Sunday that indicated Mr. Correnti was at fault for all this, the Gillette Police Department investigated this, interviewed several witnesses and decided Mr. Pearce’s version of events was not actually what happened and he ended up being charged with a crime,” Titus said.
The Casper Star Tribune and later the Boomerang reported on Sunday that Pearce and Correnti were involved in a fight, both quoting Pearce as saying he didn’t recall what transpired leading to the physical altercation, and confirming that he had been drinking. He also told the Boomerang he had been cited, but couldn’t confirm what charges he faced.
A punch blindsinded Correnti, Titus said, and it was a natural reaction to restrain Pearce.
“It’s unfortunate Mr. Pearce was injured, and I think Mr. Correnti wishes him a speedy recovery and that Mr. Pearce receives all the medical, mental and substance abuse attention he requires,” Titus said.
It was a frustrating weekend on many levels, Pearce said. At some point Saturday, Pearce said an issue was being debated where he did not perceive himself as having taken a side. He did, however, speak to another delegate trying to make a case for a particular side of the argument. That, Pearce said, must have angered Correnti.
“The party Joey accused me of was standing with the other side, but I was talking with him,” Pearce said.
Throughout the weekend, Pearce said he witnessed Correnti being confrontational with other convention attendees, even brandishing what he described as a billy club.
“It was clearly a tool used to move people along and intimidate them,” Pearce said.
Two sources — one named and one unnamed — told the Casper Star Tribune Correnti was being confrontational during the convention.
Pearce said he’d consider Correnti a friend, as they’d worked together when Correnti ran for office in 2016. With that, Pearce said he thought he could approach Correnti during the reception following the convention to have a “brief conversation about what was going on.” Pearce admitted to throwing a punch at Correnti.
“The next thing I know it’s just blown up,” Pearce said. “There was a punch that I threw, but I can tell you there are marks on my neck that the doctor noticed and was concerned about. That’s where some of the details are a little funky.”
While it’s not perfectly clear to Pearce what happened when things turned physical, he said he next found himself on the ground with his ankle “just gone,” unable to walk.
Police say they found him outside of the Wyoming Center seated in a chair when they arrived.
Through the evening, Pearce told the Boomerang he’d had two “tall gin and tonics” and was exhausted, but was “far from out of control or drunk in any way.” Pearce said he could not speak to whether Correnti had been drinking.
Pearce said he was trying to contact law enforcement “for a number of different reasons” but would not comment as to why.
Pearce was an unsuccessful 2018 Republican candidate for Albany County treasurer. In 2019, the Wyoming Supreme Court ordered a one-year suspension from practicing law after Pearce was found to have, among other things, misled one of his clients.
Titus said Pearce contacted Correnti on Facebook on Monday and apologized for “the scuffle.”