Judge denies request to dismiss lawsuit in Casper police shooting

CASPER — A federal judge on Tuesday denied the Casper Police Department’s request for dismissal of a lawsuit that alleges two police officers violated a man’s constitutional rights when they killed him in February 2018. 

Judge Scott Skavdahl’s ruling came in response to an early May filing by the agency, the city of Casper and 10 unnamed police employees asking the judge to toss a civil lawsuit against them and two named police officers who shot at Douglas Oneyear last year. The officers, Jonathan Schlager and Cody Meyers, shot at Oneyear early on Feb. 25, 2018, as he walked toward them on 15th Street in east Casper. Oneyear was carrying a sword, and officers said they fired at him when he ignored commands to stop moving toward them. 

In the Wednesday morning filing, Skavdahl ruled only on the defendants’ argument that Oneyear’s mother, Linda Lennen, did not provide a set of allegations that the court is empowered to remedy. In denying the argument, the judge wrote that Lennen’s lawyer, Todd Hambrick, “has alleged, and supported with factual underpinnings, that the officers here used unconstitutional excessive force in shooting Mr. Oneyear and they did so pursuant to their training.” 

The judge ruled that Hambrick’s filings were enough to support a plausible claim of deliberate indifference on the part of the city and agency that led to Oneyear’s death. In making his ruling, Skavdahl only determined that the complaint is “plausible on its face.” 

Schlager and Meyers did not join the agency and city in requesting dismissal of the case. They have, however, denied using excessive force against Oneyear. 

The two officers were placed on administrative leave following the shooting and investigators eventually found that Schlager hit Oneyear twice in the spine, killing him. 

Then-District Attorney Michael Blonigen said in a March letter to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, which examined the shooting, that Oneyear’s death was a case of suicide by cop. The prosecutor’s office declined to charge either of the two officers with a crime. They had returned to duty by early April 2018. 

The February complaint accuses the city, agency and Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy of failing to properly train officers and implement policies that would have prevented Oneyear’s death. 

In the lawsuit, Hambrick characterizes the sword as a toy. He states that Oneyear was “walking in the street around the front fender of Officer Schlager’s car in a nonthreatening manner with his arms at his sides.” In internal affairs interviews, the two police officers said they were acting as trained, according to the lawsuit. 

In early April, Hambrick amended the lawsuit to remove the academy as a defendant and instead name as defendants unidentified employees of the Douglas training center. 

The lawsuit does not specify the total amount of compensation sought but requests a judgment to cover mental anguish and emotional distress, funeral and burial expenses, loss of future earnings and court costs, as well as punitive damages. 

In late April of this year the cops’ lawyers filed a response to Hambrick’s lawsuit arguing that Hambrick did not properly follow the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, which sets forth procedures to sue government entities under state law. The police officers also argue they acted “in good faith and based upon good cause, consistent with federal and Wyoming law.” 

Schlager has worked for the department since 2015 and Meyers since 2016. In early May, Schlager took leave from the agency to deploy with the Wyoming National Guard.