By Ray K. Erku
Via Wyoming News Exchange
RAWLINS — On Tuesday, the final settlement figure for a U.S. District Court civil case regarding John Randall Veach, an unarmed man who was shot dead by members of the Rawlins Police Department in 2015, was revealed.
According to Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney representing the Veach estate, who filed suit in 2017, the settlement reached a final tally of $925,000 in damages. Mohamedbhai said that much of that figure will be paid for through state funds, using a “risk pool.”
Rawlins City Manager Scott Hannum confirmed on Tuesday that the “lion’s share” of that figure will be paid for by a Local Government Liability Pool (LGLP) and a State Self-Insurance Program (SSIP).
The City of Rawlins, meanwhile, as of now, will defray a $5,000 deductible through LGLP.
Mohamedbhai also informed the Rawlins Times that the overall settlement is perhaps one of the largest in Wyoming history.
To confirm this claim, the Times attempted contact with Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill by telephone and email, but no comment was made as of press time.
Veach, who was 39 years old at the time of his death, was originally a Ft. Collins, Colo. resident. Mohamedbhai said that Veach was en route to northern Wyoming for work.
To garner some extra gas money, said Mohamedbhai, Veach was allegedly selling marijuana in the parking lot of a Rawlins Kum & Go gas station on the night of Dec. 30, 2015, when RPD officers Jared Frakes and Joe Balestrieri were dispatched to the area.
Police dash-cam footage shows that Frakes approached Veach’s vehicle, a four-door Ford pick-up truck with a camper attached at its hitch, from the front passenger’s side window. Meanwhile Balestrieri approached from the driver’s side window.
Another law enforcer, former Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy Caleb Hobbs, stood behind Frakes on the right side of the vehicle.
Only after a few moments following initial contact with law enforcers, Veach, who also had a warrant for his arrest stemming from a probation violation in Colorado, tried to elude.
With snow on the ground and a large camper attached to his truck, however, Veach’s vehicle struggled to get away as it slowly accelerated. Just as Veach tried to accelerate, in fact, officer Balestrieri shattered his driver’s side window with the butt of his service flashlight.
Seconds later, gun shots can be heard firing, and Veach was later pronounced dead on site.
Under the U.S. Constitution, police officers cannot use deadly force unless they or members of the public are in imminent danger. Sergeant Frakes and Officer Balestrieri were in no such danger when they killed Mr. Veach, according to a recent press release sent to the Times on behalf of Veach estate representatives.
According to the initial civil complaint, Mohamedbhai accused Frakes and Balestrieri of shooting Veach from both sides of his truck “execution style.”
“Sergeant Frakes and Officer Balestrieri took the law into their own hands, serving as judge, jury, and executioner. Mr. Veach should still be alive. They killed Mr. Veach without reason. The killing of John Veach is a stain on the entire Rawlins Police Department,” said attorney David Lane, another legal representative of the Veach estate.
A subsequent investigation conducted by the Uinta County Attorney’s Office, however, determined Frakes and Balestrieri’s actions to be justified, and they were exonerated of any criminal recourse.
Loretta R. Howieson Gerrard, Uinta County and Prosecuting Attorney, found the officers’ lives to be placed in immediate danger once Veach attempted to evade, as she was quoted in a 2017 RT report saying, “That officer, in my determination – according to the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigations report, dash-cam footage and the autopsy – was acting reasonably in believing his life was in jeopardy.”
But, Mohamedbhai told the Times on Tuesday, Hobbs told DCI during a subsequent investigation that he didn’t see Frakes and Balestrieri in “any danger at all,” which contradicted Frakes’ account.
“The officers’ initial version of events diverged wildly from what the video revealed to be the truth,” Mohamedbhai said. “Without the video evidence, it is likely that the family of John Veach would never have received justice for their enormous loss. This case demonstrates the importance of video cameras.”
Gerrard’s decision also sparked ensuing public suspicion, as Frakes and Gerrard are both 1993 graduates of Rawlins High School.
Gerrard was unavailable for comment as of press time.
The original civil case was to go to trail earlier this year in Casper; however, the agreed settlement waived those procedures.
Said Mohamedbhai on Tuesday: “Generally, in a civil rights case…. it’s just better for those involved to fashion a resolution.”
He added that Veach’s ex-wife, Rachel, “is just focused on raising her young children. And she was happy to be a part of the process.”
Matt Cron, another Veach estate representative, emphasized that the RPD should use this case to improve protocol.
“Rawlins Police Department should use this tragic case to better itself,” he said. “This case revealed a systematic failure by the police department to train, investigate, and discipline its officers. Despite clear video evidence, the Rawlins Police Department failed to discipline its officers. The City of Rawlins deserves police officers who think with their heads and not with their guns. The City of Rawlins deserves a police department that will hold officers accountable when they violate the law.”
When asked to provide comment on Tuesday, RPD Chief Troy Palmer referred the Times to city officials.