NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, April 16, 2020

Small group of protestors outside Capitol demand a plan to reopen economy

CHEYENNE (WNE) – Ed Burns doesn’t envy the position of Gov. Mark Gordon and other state leaders, but that didn’t stop him from traveling from Laramie to Cheyenne on Wednesday to call for a reopening of the economy.

“We’re not trying to make small of the virus – it’s serious, and we understand that,” Burns said. “But I would like to know – what’s the plan? Are we ever going to open up? What are we waiting on?”

Burns was among five protesters in front of the Capitol on Wednesday, each of whom were flashing signs or flying flags to passing cars on Central Avenue. 

From Burns’ view, Wyoming’s unemployment numbers – which rose over 800% last month – give plenty of reason for the state to reopen its economy. As a retiree, Burns has been largely unaffected by the economic turbulence of the pandemic.

Burns, who came to the Capitol with his wife, was also joined by a small group of men from Wheatland. 

One of them was Jim Kumelos, clad in a multi-colored gas mask and a blue Bud Light hat. He drove down to the Capitol in defense of one thing.

“Granted, there is a bug, and it’s dangerous, but we’re rapidly losing our freedom,” Kumelos, 66, said.

Kumelos said he hasn’t been impacted personally by the virus, but added he hates to see its impact on younger generations. Asked when he would like to see the closure orders come to an end, Kumelos was blunt: “Last week.”

“This is hurting a lot of people,” he said.

The gathering is at least the second public demonstration against COVID-19 orders in the last week, as a group of about 20 people gathered in Casper last Thursday to protest what they view as government overreach, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

The governor’s current order, which closed many public places and banned gatherings of 10 or more people, extends until April 30.


Campbell County school board approves armed educator policy

GILLETTE (WNE) — Select employees in six rural schools in Campbell County will be allowed to carry concealed firearms after local school trustees adopted a policy on its second and final reading Tuesday night.

Those six Campbell County School District schools are Conestoga, Rawhide, Rozet, 4J, Recluse and Little Powder elementary schools.

The policy requires 56 hours of district-approved training, including 32 hours of training with live fire, with participants showing at least 80% proficiency in the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy’s close-range pistol proficiency course.

The measure also requires 24 hours of scenario-based training to replicate the mental, emotional and physical stress of an actual encounter, including de-escalation and verbal-control techniques. Applicants also must show 80% proficiency in that training.

The school board initially approved the armed educator policy at the end of January. 

Since then, it has held three public hearings, including one Tuesday night.

That public hearing, along with the school board meeting, was held on Zoom, and no one from the community provided any comment.

Board chairwoman Anne Ochs then allowed board members to give their thoughts on the policy. All of them were supportive of it, and it passed unanimously.

“Kudos to our school district for still working on this while handling everything else that’s going on,” said Ken Clouston. “I’m really proud of the team effort that’s been put forth.”

Toni Bell called it “a good move forward for the protection of our students.”


Cody man rides horse into Maverick gas station, gets citation

CODY (WNE) — It’s a story that’s about as Wyoming as it gets; all Jimmy Basso wanted was a can of chewing tobacco.

So he and a companion took his brown horse Rooster for an evening ride.

They moseyed down from his residence on the Belfry Highway to the Maverick gas station on Big Horn Avenue. The automatic doors of the store parted like the Red Sea and they rode on in.

“It was not a terrible thing,” Basso said.

According to the Cody Police blotter from March 22, two people were seen on the store’s surveillance camera entering via horseback.

But Basso said he and his friend left almost as soon as they came – possibly getting cold hooves – even before trying to purchase a can of Copenhagen at 1:15 a.m.

Basso, 39, did receive a property destruction ticket from the incident, as the horse’s hooves allegedly scratched the floor at the gas station.

The gas station does allow service animals inside, but even the cattle rancher Basso admitted it would be a stretch to make this claim regarding his quarter horse.

“Yeah, not really,” he said.

Basso will have his court date May 11 in circuit court before Judge Bruce Waters.


Lovell police: party of young people in confined space ‘disgusting’

LOVELL (WNE) — Approximately 25 young adults were found gathered together in a close confined space Friday by Lovell Police in an event Lovell Police Dan Laffin called a blatant violation of countywide health orders. 

“The most important issue here is the blatant and disgusting disregard for the community’s safety,” Laffin said. “Most citizens are doing their best to maintain social distancing and adhere to the prudent safety precautions to help minimize the potentially gruesome effects of this pandemic. The selfish actions by this group jeopardize the significant sacrifices endured by this community.”

Late Friday evening, Lovell Police responded to the east end of town where they located a gathering of teenagers and young adults inside a garage having a party and drinking, according to Laffin. The adults on scene were not cooperative and initially attempted to deny entry to officers.

Once officers gained control of the situation it was determined most were consuming alcohol. Multiple citations were issued for underage drinking. More important than the underage drinking is the danger it may potentially put Lovell in, Laffin said.

“This is an arrogant and blatant disregard for the safety of our citizens. It is this very type of behavior that puts this small tight knit community in jeopardy,” he said. “The behavior is not excusable and is outright disgusting.”

It’s essential that Lovell continues to practice and encourage social distancing, Laffin said. “It’s important to recognize the efforts the majority of the citizens have been making in keeping our community safe,” Laffin said. “Please keep up those prudent safety measure with regard to social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. Help us educate and direct the younger generation to the seriousness of this virus and how easily it spreads.”


Riverton man shot by police after armed standoff

RIVERTON (WNE) — An active shooter engaged for hours in a standoff with police Wednesday has been taken into custody, seriously injured after being shot by a law enforcement officer.

Scanner traffic indicated a subject at 1412 Aspen Drive in Riverton was upset and was arming himself. When police went to confront the subject, the man became increasingly hostile from within his home.

At around 2:20 p.m., the man fired a single shot. Minutes later he fired another eight shots in rapid succession, for a total of nine. Five minutes after that he fired roughly another eight shots, totaling 17.

No officers were injured.

A woman was escorted safely out of the home by the Riverton Police Department and was the only occupant besides the shooter, according to an interview with The Ranger by RPD Chief Eric Murphy. The woman was visibly upset.

Police evacuated neighbors from the area throughout the afternoon.

Although the Fremont County SWAT team arrived on scene - as did emergency medical services and the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department - local authorities called the Natrona County SWAT team, to utilize that department's "Bearcat" armored vehicle.

Natrona County SWAT arrived at about 6 p.m. The man was shot and extricated moments later, but Murphy could not ascertain as of Wednesday evening which agency the shooting officer was from or where in the neighborhood the officer was situated.

Officers used neighbor's roofs, houses, and yards to surround the residence.

The man was taken to SageWest Health Care with life-threatening injuries.