NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, July 13, 2020


Protesters arrested for blocking traffic reject plea deal

LARAMIE (WNE) — The 10 protesters cited by police last month for blocking traffic on Grand Avenue turned down a plea offer and pleaded not guilty in Laramie Municipal Court on Thursday morning.

They will seek to have the charges thrown out before trial, said Charles Pelkey, a local lawyer who represented all of the protesters at the hearing.

There is an exception for “constitutionally-protected activity” in the disorderly conduct ordinance that the protesters have been charged with violating, and Pelkey plans to argue that protesting should fall within this exception.

The police department had announced in the afternoon of June 25 that they would cite protesters who marched in the street and blocked traffic later that day. Protesters had marched along Grand Avenue most days that month to protest police brutality and killings of unarmed black men. For some of the marches, protesters had marched in the street, blocking traffic.

Police cited and arrested six of the protesters for blocking traffic on June 25, all of whom made bail and were released by the next day. Police cited, but did not arrest, four other protesters, also for blocking traffic.

City officials felt that protesters had endangered their own safety and the safety of others by blocking traffic, so the practice had to stop, Janine Jordan, Laramie’s city manager, said the day after the arrests.

The city had offered the protesters permits to march in the street, in which case walking in the street would have been allowed, Jordan said. She said protest organizers had declined to work with the city to get the permits.

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Man charged with multiple sex crimes

GILLETTE (WNE) — A Gillette man is accused of multiple counts of sexually assault and abusing two girls in Gillette over several years, and a mother has been charged with promoting prostitution for allegedly setting up her daughter to have sex with him for money.

John Bryon Mills, 44, has pleaded not guilty to five counts of first-degree sexual assault, five counts of second-degree sexual assault, one count of attempted first-degree sexual assault and six counts of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor, all felonies. He also has been charged with four counts of sexual battery and one of battery, all misdemeanors.

One of the girls told sheriff’s investigators that she was sexually assaulted by Mills just about every other weekend for two years — assaults that she said were orchestrated by her mother for money, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.

She told investigators that “she did what she had to (to) make sure her brothers and sisters had food to eat and a place to say,” according to the affidavit.

The News Record isn’t identifying the woman to protect the identity of the alleged victim. She has been charged with three counts of promoting prostitution and one count of conspiracy to commit third-degree sexual abuse of a minor, all felonies.

She has pleaded not guilty to the four counts. A pre-trial hearing has been set for Sept. 25.

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CWC increases fees to help cover revenue declines

RIVERTON (WNE) — Central Wyoming College students will have to pay $10 more per credit this fall to help cover “significant decreases” in state funding and local property tax values. 

“We’re trying to figure out how we make ends meet,” CWC president Brad Tyndall said during a special meeting July 6. “This will definitely help.” 

Administrators estimate the change, combined with new fees for transcripts and credit card payments that also were approved Monday, should bring in up to $290,000 in additional revenue on an annual basis. 

Tyndall pointed out that CWC already suffered a “major economic hit” four years ago when it had to reduce its staff by about 30 positions. 

Now, with the state facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall, he said CWC needs to “share the burden a little bit.” 

The president said the acton is regrettable. 

“This isn’t done lightly at all,” Tyndall said. “But we think it is a burden that can be carried by students and others. … The college alone can’t bear all the pain.” 

He pointed out that CWC costs are still “very, very affordable.” “These fee increases still keep CWC within the normal band of fees that are seen at colleges in the region and around the nation,” vice president for administrative service Willie Noseep said in a press release. “It's unfortunate that we have to raise fees, but we feel it is necessary to remain competitive.” 

The CWC Board of Trustees approved the changes July 6 in a unanimous vote.

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Search resumes for hunter missing since October

RAWLINS (WNE) — A hunter who has been missing since mid-October continues to be lost, after a three-day search for him in late June brought no new results forward.

Mark Anthony Strittmater, 44, went missing while hunting elk on Oct. 19 in Medicine Bow National Forest. Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Allison conducted a three day hunt for Strittmater over June 26-28.

Search and rescue teams search the area of Forest Road 801 and Forest Road 830. The search was expanded to Strawberry Draw and Dexter Peak. The search included 19 volunteers, five K9s and aerial drones, but at the conclusion of the weekend, no one found any clues leading to Strittmater’s location.

This is just another dead end after months of searching and confusion for Strittmater’s friends and loved ones. One day after he went missing, his girlfriend, Kimberly Meis, called the sheriff’s office to report an “overdue hunter.”

There was heavy snowfall and rain the weekend Strittmater went missing, with temperatures dropping into the negatives in the days after.

A deputy and sergeant found Strittmater’s truck on Forest Road 801 that night and Allison conducted a search the next morning, Oct. 21. That search utilized volunteers, drones and even an Air Force helicopter.

Five flights were conducted in October for Strittmater’s search, to no avail.

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Website launched to help ag producers deal with stress

SHERIDAN (WNE) — The Wyoming Department of Agriculture launched a website last week to support the state’s producers with agriculture-related stress and mental health needs.

If you are a producer in crisis, or know someone in need of immediate assistance, contact 1-800-273-8255 or 911. For more resources, visit the department’s site at https://agriculture.wy.gov/about-us/ag-stress.

Doug Miyamoto, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, said his department recognized agriculture jobs are inherently stressful and COVID-19 has only added to the everyday stress of the job.

Because of that, the WDA created the website, which compiles resources for mental health and agriculture-related stress in one easily accessible area.

“Agriculture and the people involved in this industry are the backbone of our state,” Miyamoto said. “We recognize that this industry is difficult and these can be challenging times for our producers, so we gathered and compiled a wide variety of information on this page as a resource to assist in the well-being of our Wyoming producers.”

The website is broken down into four main categories: get help, family resources, help someone and other resources. Each category contains a multitude of materials, from crisis hotlines to mental health providers to community support groups.

In addition to added COVID-19 stress, the current drought conditions across Wyoming may also be adding stress for agriculture producers.

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