NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, June 1, 2020

Cheyenne shooting ruled self defense

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Cheyenne Police say they have determined that Benjamin Ketcham shot Aaron Briggs in self-defense May 22 inside a room at the The Lariat Motel.

As a result, police and the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office have decided to dismiss a charge of second-degree murder that was pending against Ketcham, 31, of Cheyenne.

According to a Friday news release, at around 11 p.m. May 22, CPD officers responded to The Lamp Lounge regarding a man – later identified as Briggs, 36, of Cheyenne – who entered that location and was bleeding from his upper body. Briggs collapsed and was taken to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for treatment. Briggs was declared dead by attending medical staff at around 11:45 p.m.

The investigation determined that earlier in the day, Briggs arrived at The Lariat Motel, room No. 7, under the influence of alcohol and became aggressive with Ketcham and others present in the motel room.

Briggs was told to leave the motel room and ultimately did so. Later that evening, Briggs returned to the room, and began to threaten and intimidate Ketcham and others. Briggs was carrying a large metal chain he wore looped over both shoulders, according to the release. Briggs was again told to leave the room and refused to do so. Ketcham, who was on the bed, stood up and pulled out his handgun and told Briggs to leave.

Briggs, upon seeing Ketcham holding the gun, removed the chain from his neck and swung it at Ketcham. As Briggs swung the chain at Ketcham, Ketcham raised the handgun and fired one shot, striking Briggs in the upper torso.


Man faces 240 years for child porn

GREEN RIVER (WNE) -- A Rock Springs man is facing a potential 240-year prison sentence if found guilty of possessing child pornography.

James Adam Gehring, 34, of Rock Springs, is charged with 24 felony counts of sexual exploitation of children.

“We are aware of approximately 2,000 images of child pornography,” Teresa Thybo, chief deputy Sweetwater County attorney said during Gehring’s initial appearance hearing Friday afternoon.

Thybo said the state decided not to charge for each alleged pornographic image because it would have overloaded their system, opting to file 24 charges instead. Each count carries with it a potential maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of not more than $10,000. He was arrested Wednesday following a joint investigation between the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation and the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office.

Gehring made his initial appearance before Circuit Court Judge Craig Jones through a video conference between the court and the Sweetwater County Detention Center, visibly crying as Jones read each charge against him.

Thybo said Gehring was a flight risk, which necessitated her recommendation to set bond at $250,000. She also said he was a danger to the community, claiming multiple children were victimized in the images. She recommended modified bond conditions which prohibit Gehring from having contact with minors. Jones agreed with both recommendations when he established Gehring’s bond at $250,000 cash or surety.

“I can’t make bond, I’m stuck here,” Gehring said.


Gillette College expects 30% enrollment drop

GILLETTE (WNE) — Gillette College officials expect to see a drop in enrollment in the fall semester because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they hope that decrease will be lessened as things clear up this summer.

Micah Olsen, director of admissions for the college, said student registration for the fall semester is more than 200 less than last year.

Gillette College is about 34% behind where it was last year, Olsen said. So far, 388 students registered. At this time in 2019, it had 591 registered students, and in 2018, 516 students had signed up.

Gillette College Vice President Janell Oberlander said it is a trend both nationally and statewide.

Olsen predicted that enrollment this fall will be between 20% and 30% lower than the previous year.

In the fall 2019, there were 2,432 students at Gillette College, so a 20% drop would equal 1,946 students, while a 30% drop in headcount would mean 1,703 students.

Olsen said that despite the drop, it’s not “as drastic” as some other schools. He’s heard of predictions of anywhere from 40% to a 50% decrease in enrollment.

Oberlander said there are several factors responsible for the decline, the biggest one being the uncertainty of the future.

“Students are waiting to see what’s going to happen, what the academic year is going to look like,” she said.


CFD cancellation costs Cheyenne, Laramie County tax income

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Every summer for the last 123 years, Cheyenne Frontier Days has brought a western sense of wonder to the city of Cheyenne, allowing residents and visitors to indulge in the city’s rich rodeo history.

But along with the experience, CFD also brings in about $600,000 in sales tax revenue to Laramie County. With the event’s historic cancellation that was announced Wednesday, the city and county are preparing to see declines in both sales tax and lodging tax revenue.

“This is part of the decrease in sales and use tax revenue that we budgeted for. We anticipated a definite loss,” Mayor Marian Orr said.

In the budgeting process for fiscal year 2021, the city took a conservative approach for sales tax revenue projections and prepared for a 25% drop worth about $6 million. The revenue losses from CFD’s cancellation won’t worsen the problem any more than the city has already accounted for, according to Orr.

Normally, the city of Cheyenne receives 65% of those CFD sales tax funds, which would’ve been about $390,000.

While the county will see a slightly smaller impact than the city, Laramie County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gunnar Malm said the commissioners will still try to prevent increases to the county’s bottom line in fiscal year 2021 given the current financial situation.

“For us looking forward, we’re taking this into account and trying to prevent any long-term increases in the budget,” Malm said.


District court rules against psychologist in appeal

GILLETTE (WNE) — A District Court judge has ruled against a former psychologist who claimed his attorneys were ineffective for not challenging whether he could be considered in a position of authority over the two women he sexually assaulted.

The two women had been patients of his.

Dr. Joshua Popkin, 35, remains at the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton after he was sentenced to two consecutive three- to five-year terms in 2018. He had pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree sexual assault by a person in a position of authority over the victim. A third count was dismissed.

Popkin already had tried to challenge whether he could be considered to have authority over them when he appealed his case to the Wyoming Supreme Court. His attorney argued then that Popkin’s patients made the decision to have intimate relations, not Popkin.

But the Supreme Court ruled that Popkin had no standing to bring the appeal because by pleading no contest, he waived his right to appeal the content of the charges brought against him. It didn’t rule on whether he was in a position of authority over this patients.

Popkin then filed a motion alleging his attorneys were ineffective for not challenging whether a psychologist can be in a position of authority.

In dismissing Popkin’s arguments, District Judge Thomas W. Rumpke pointed out that some of the issues could have been determined by a jury — something Popkin waived when he pleaded no contest.

Rumpke also likened a psychologist to other medical professionals whose patients follow their direction in an effort to get well or be cured of their diseases.