Inquest into officer-involved shooting weeks away

By Katie Roenigk

Riverton Ranger

Via Wyoming News Exchange

RIVERTON — The inquest into a fatal, officer-involved shooting that took place this month in Riverton likely won't take place until March "at the earliest," Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen said Tuesday.

"It'll be a while," he said.

No officers were injured, but a male subject was killed in the incident, which took place at about 11 a.m. Jan. 10 in the 500 block of South First Street at East Monroe Avenue.

Riverton Police Department chief Eric Murphy said his officers were working with a federal agency on the case, which involved a convicted felon who was illegally in possession of firearms and threatening law enforcement.

Law enforcement was in contact with the male Jan. 10 when he fired on officers, Murphy said; they fired back, and the suspect was later transported to SageWest Health Care at Riverton to be treated for injuries.

Murphy later confirmed the suspect was deceased.

On Jan. 11 Murphy said he is not releasing any more information about the incident, including the name of the deceased, directing questions to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Stratmoen also would not release any information about the investigation, including the name of deceased.

"This office is not commenting at all," he said Tuesday. "I don't have any problems if the lead agency wants to release a name - that's fine with me - but I'm not releasing any information."

He said the Division of Criminal Investigation is the lead investigative agency in the case. Calls to the DCI office in Riverton were referred to the agency's Rock Springs office, and no one there, or at DCI in Cheyenne, has returned requests for comment.

"I'd expect that," Stratmoen said. "DCI isn't going to comment very much if at all, because it's an open investigation."

He anticipates it will take three or four more weeks for the investigation to be complete.

Stratmoen will present the investigation, and the results of the male subject's autopsy, to a jury during the upcoming inquest, which will not be scheduled until all of the reports are in.

"On any involved, complicated and serious case it just takes a while to get all that stuff done," he said.

On Jan. 11 he projected it would take more than a month to make arrangements for the inquest.

It is his agency's policy to convene public inquests when any fatalities are caused, or suspected to be caused, by law enforcement in the FCCO's jurisdiction.

He also will conduct an inquest if a body is found in public and there is a question as to the manner of death - as was the case when a 40-year-old woman's body was found decomposing in a field near Arapahoe in 2015.

The inquest Stratmoen held in that case was the last conducted in Fremont County.

Before that, there had not been an inquest locally in 17 years, despite at least one officer-involved shooting taking place during that time frame.

That was before Stratmoen took office.

In the case of Thursday's shooting in Riverton, Stratmoen said an inquest would serve as a "public airing of the investigation" into the incident, which has attracted a unique public interest due to the alleged involvement of law enforcement.

"In those cases I will always do a public inquest, just to avoid any feeling in the public that something was covered up (or) that all the information didn't get out," he said. "The main thing is public transparency - that is the principle. ... It is beneficial, in the public interest, to have a public examination (of) what the circumstances of the event were that led to a death that may or may not be at the hands of law enforcement."

Stratmoen said he will select three people who will sit on the inquest jury; the jury will determine the manner and cause of death in the case after examining the information collected in the course of the law enforcement investigation.

The proceeding will be open to the public and will involve witnesses who may be questioned by Stratmoen and the jurors.

After the inquest, Stratmoen said all of the evidence presented will be filed with the Clerk of District Court.