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Crime-and-courts
Hundreds attend rally for wounded Casper police officer; Jacob Carlson remains in critical condition

More than 500 people bowed their heads in Conwell Park on Tuesday evening as police detective and pastor Adrian White led them in prayer for Jacob Carlson, the officer who was severely wounded in Sunday’s shootout in east Casper.

Carlson, a three-year veteran of the force, underwent a successful surgery Monday after he was struck five times in a gunfight with David P. Wolosin, 38, of Casper, in a dirt lot near Fairdale Park. Wolosin was shot and killed during the incident.

Police Chief Keith McPheeters told the crowd that Carlson was still “fighting for his life” after two days at the hospital.

Organizers held the gathering at Conwell Park, directly across the street from Wyoming Medical Center, where Carlson is receiving treatment. The evening rally, hosted by the United Way and Town Square Media, drew a crowd that included uniformed and plainclothes first responders, local prosecutors and city officials.

Before the gathering began, City Councilman Dallas Laird shook hands with a line of Patriot Guard Riders, who held American flags and faced a hospital window where Carlson’s family stood and watched.

“God, we thank you for what you’ve already done,” White said in prayer, before asking for Carlson’s return to health. “Make everything that was as it was.”

Carlson was severely injured, McPheeters said at an afternoon press conference, in which he identified the injured officer. Carlson was shot in the legs, chest and back. One of the bullets struck a major artery near his lower waist, and Carlson has received more than 100 units of blood and blood products at Wyoming Medical Center. The chief commended the work of the hospital staff.

“Our hearts and our prayers continue to go out to him,” McPheeters said. “Great effort has gone into preserving the life of Officer Carlson.”

McPheeters said Carlson, an Army veteran, was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time. The vest “was of great assistance,” McPheeters said.

After the department disclosed that multiple shipments of blood were brought in to Wyoming Medical Center due to the extent of Carlson’s injuries, Casper’s United Blood Services clinic experienced a flood of donations on Monday. That outpouring of support continued online, with a GoFundMe.com fundraiser collecting more than $35,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.

McPheeters called the fundraiser integral for paying for expenses like the travel of Carlson’s family to Casper.

“We’ve not spent a lot of time worrying about who’s paying the bills,” McPheeters said.

McPheeters said Carlson’s biological mother was escorted by the Wyoming Highway Patrol to an airplane and she was flown to Casper so she could be near to her son sooner.

The shooting has caused “a great deal of angst and anxiety” among officers in the department, McPheeters said.

“There is an army of support that has mobilized,” McPheeters said. Chaplains and counselors have been available to officers and Carlson’s family.

After the news conference, McPheeters said nearby agencies had handled the work of Casper patrol teams so that officers could focus on supporting Carlson. The officers on Carlson’s patrol team are particularly close to him, and his recovery is important to them, the chief said. Many officers used their time off to visit Carlson, McPheeters said.

Officers will be given further opportunities to process the events, the chief said.

Agencies from across the state had offered to help cover Casper’s 911 calls, McPheeters said. In addition to the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, the Mills Police Department, Evansville Police Department and Wyoming Highway Patrol also assisted in taking calls since the shooting.

“There’s been no loss in police services anywhere in Natrona County,” McPheeters said.

Casper police resumed their typical coverage duties at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The chief said he plans to identify the other officer involved in the shootout by the end of Wednesday. He will also release in-car video of the incident, McPheeters said.

The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, meanwhile, is examining the shootout, as is typical when officers are involved in a shooting.

On Tuesday, DCI Commander Matt Waldock declined to comment on specifics of the investigation.

“We are knee deep in this investigation,” Waldock said. “It’s far from over.”

Waldock said he expects the investigation to take another month before his agency is ready to deliver a report to District Attorney Mike Blonigen.

The video below depicts the shooting. It may not be appropriate for all readers.

A lawyer representing the two officers involved in the shootout said Monday afternoon that Wolosin drew his gun when police tried to stop him from walking away. Carlson was shot in the back while running for cover, Don Fuller said.

Waldock likewise declined to comment on Fuller’s description of the shootout.

Witnesses at the scene of the shootout Sunday told the Star-Tribune that Wolosin had been teaching children to drive when police confronted him. None of the four neighbors who spoke to the Star-Tribune were able to describe what took place just before the shootout began.

Two of the neighbors said police used Wolosin’s car as cover while they exchanged gunfire with the him. Wolosin was shot and fell before dying, they said.

Sunday’s incident is the second police shooting in east Casper in just over two months. In late February, police shot and killed a man carrying a sword after he threatened a clerk at a gas station on 15th Street and Wyoming Boulevard. Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen cleared the two officers who were involved and concluded the man, Douglas Oneyear, provoked the confrontation in an effort to end his life. Fuller represented the officers involved in that shooting.

Oneyear’s family maintains the officers could have resolved the situation without killing him.


Health
breaking
Carbon County files lawsuit against more than 15 opioid manufacturers, distributors

Carbon County filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against more than 15 opioid manufacturers and distributors — including giants Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson — for “alleged misrepresentation about the addictive properties” of the medications.

The county is the first in Wyoming to file a suit against opioid manufacturers. But it joins more than 600 counties across the United States “to bring an end to the opioid epidemic,” according to a press release from the county’s private attorney, Jackson’s Jason Ochs.

“Drugs are a problem no matter what. Prescription drugs are an even greater problem, in our opinion,” said Leo Chapman, a Carbon County commissioner. “There’s a hell of a lot more production for those things than the need requires.”

The Northern Arapaho Tribe filed a lawsuit against a number of opioid manufacturers in April. Counties in Colorado, Idaho and Nebraska, plus the state of Montana, have all filed suits against opioid makers and distributors.

Among the named defendants in the Carbon County suit is Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin and other opioids. The company made $1.8 billion from OxyContin in 2017, according to Vox and Bloomberg, and the opioid makes up about 30 percent of the overall painkiller market.

Other defendants include Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon Inc., Endo Health Solutions, Actavis Pharma and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation.

Some, like Purdue, created the drugs, while others, like AmerisourceBergen, distributed them. Attorneys wrote that “(e)ach participant in the supply chain shares the responsibility for controlling the availability of prescription opioids.”

The 72-page suit “does not ask this Court to weigh the risks and benefits of long-term opioid use,” according to the complaint. “Instead, the People seek an order requiring Defendants to cease their unlawful promotion and distribution of opioids, to correct their misrepresentations, and to abate the public nuisance they have created.”

The suit alleges that in the 1990s, the companies “began a sophisticated marketing and distribution scheme premised on deception to persuade doctors and patients that opioids can and should be used to treat chronic pain.”

Much of the suit centers on the companies’ methods of selling the medications. It alleges that the companies intentionally steered physicians toward prescribing the synthetic opioids to patients with chronic pain. Previously, the suit says, the drug had been used to treat acute pain, like that felt after surgery.

The companies used groups of doctors to help push the medications in the medical community, the lawsuit alleges, and spread misleading information about addiction rates, the efficacy of the drugs and the dangers of overuse.

For instance, OxyContin has long been touted by Purdue as a 12-hour painkiller. Carbon County joins a lengthy list of entities to push back on that claim.

“In fact, OxyContin does not last for 12 hours—a fact that Purdue has known at all times relevant to this action,” the suit says. “According to Purdue’s own research, OxyContin wears off in under six hours in one quarter of patients and in under 10 hours in more than half.”

As a result, patients may take another dose quicker, which may set them on the path toward dependence.

Like the Northern Arapaho’s suit, Carbon County’s lawsuit is relatively light on specific problems suffered by the area that’s home to about 16,000 Wyomingites. It centers on the overall effects opioids have had on communities — including Carbon County — across the country and how the allegedly misleading efforts by the manufacturers and distributors exacerbated them.

Ochs and Chapman both said there was a problem in the county and that the commissioners felt the need to intervene and, in Chapman’s words, “draw attention” to the abuse of the drugs.

According to a recent report by the Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center, retail pharmacies in Carbon County filled 767 opioid prescriptions per 1,000 people between 2014 and 2016 — the 10th highest in the state. Between 2014 and 2015, the county had the most opioid-related inpatient hospital discharges.

Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ochs said Carbon County had the third-highest overdose death rate in Wyoming, after Fremont and Uinta counties.

Similar suits across the country have all been brought under a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio. But Ochs said in the press release that he plans to have the “case decided in Wyoming, by a Wyoming jury.”

“Nobody wants an Ohio jury to make decisions for Wyomingites,” he added to the Star-Tribune.

Ochs declined to say whether he had heard of or spoken with other Wyoming counties about joining the lawsuit. Chapman said he and his fellow commissioners had previously spoken with their counterparts from across the state.

The lawsuit — which Ochs said will take years — seeks financial remediation from the companies, as well as “an absolute stop to the false marketing, to the distribution chains that are coming into Wyoming that are providing way too many opiate medications for the population, an injunction or restraining order against each of these companies against doing anything would be remotely against the law,” Ochs said.

Health officials in Wyoming have said that it’s difficult to tell how serious the opioid epidemic is here. Laura Griffith, the executive director of Recover Wyoming, told the Star-Tribune in March that the state hadn’t been hit by the full brunt of the epidemic that had ravaged rural areas elsewhere in the country and that officials were working to keep it that way.


State-and-regional
Wyoming's 2017 births were lowest in more than a decade

There were fewer than 7,000 babies born to Wyoming residents last year, the first time the birth total dropped below that level since 2005, according to the state Department of Health.

The figure — 6,904 births in 2017 — was a 7 percent drop from 2016, when there were 7,384. It continues a recent trend of decline. Births have dropped by more than 800 since 2015, when there were 7,716 infants born.

There are a handful of possible explanations, said Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti. For one, Wyoming’s overall population has fallen in recent years, itself a statistic likely related to the state’s struggling economy.

In December, the state’s Economic Analysis Division found that nearly 6,500 residents have left Wyoming since the energy industry here took a nosedive. That’s the most significant population dip since the bust of the 1980s, in which 57,000 Wyomingites left over seven years.

Deti also pointed to a drop in teen births and to the state’s aging population as other factors in the decline in resident births. Health Department officials have said the latter is a problem that will exacerbate an already-stressed state Medicaid system.

Deti cautioned that Wyoming’s low population can produce somewhat drastic swings when the numbers shift.

“It’s something to pay attention to, but you have to take that step back and say our numbers are unusual in some ways because of our low population,” she said.

Resident deaths, meanwhile, ticked upward slightly to 4,762 in 2017, from 4,706 the previous year. Deti said that might also be related to the aging population, but she “didn’t want to assign ... a trend there prematurely.”

There were also fewer marriages — 4,125 compared to 4,145 — and fewer divorces — 2,278 to 2,461 — in 2017 from the previous year.

Emma and Wyatt were the most popular names given to the babies who were born last year. Both also topped the list last year. Ava, Harper, Olivia and Charlotte were the top choices for girls names after Emma. Carter, Liam, Oliver, Benjamin and Logan fell behind Wyatt for boys.

Deti noted last year that name popularity often tracks pop culture, which may explain Charlotte: Princess Charlotte is the three-year-old daughter of England’s Prince William and his wife, Catherine.


Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Chris Ruegsegger, who goes by the artist name "Rugie" grabs a rag while working on a mural.


Washington
AP
Trump: US leaving Iran nuclear deal

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark nuclear accord with Iran on Tuesday, abruptly restoring harsh sanctions in the most consequential foreign policy action of his presidency. He declared he was making the world safer, but he also deepened his isolation on the world stage and revived doubts about American credibility.

The 2015 agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration and included Germany, France and Britain, had lifted most U.S. and international economic sanctions against Iran. In exchange, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program, making it impossible to produce a bomb and establishing rigorous inspections.

But Trump, a severe critic of the deal dating back to his presidential campaign, said in a televised address from the White House that it was “defective at its core.”

U.S. allies in Europe had tried to keep him in and lamented his move to abandon it. Iran’s leader ominously warned his country might “start enriching uranium more than before.”

The sanctions seek to punish Iran for its nuclear program by limiting its ability to sell oil or do business overseas, affecting a wide range of Iranian economic sectors and individuals.

Major companies in the U.S. and Europe could be hurt, too. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that licenses held by Boeing and its European competitor Airbus to sell billions of dollars in commercial jetliners to Iran will be revoked. Certain exemptions are to be negotiated, but Mnuchin refused to discuss what products might qualify.

He said the sanctions will sharply curtail sales of oil by Iran, which is currently the world’s fifth largest oil producer. Mnuchin said he didn’t expect oil prices to rise sharply, forecasting that other producers will step up production.

Iran’s government must now decide whether to follow the U.S. and withdraw or try to salvage what’s left with the Europeans. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he was sending his foreign minister to the remaining countries but warned there was only a short time to negotiate with them.

Laying out his case, Trump contended, “If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

The administration said it would re-impose sanctions on Iran immediately but allow grace periods for businesses to wind down activity. Companies and banks doing business with Iran will have to scramble to extricate themselves or run afoul of the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, for nations contemplating striking their own sensitive deals with Trump, such as North Korea, the withdrawal will increase suspicions that they cannot expect lasting U.S. fidelity to international agreements it signs.

Former President Barack Obama, whose administration negotiated the deal, called Trump’s action “misguided” and said, “The consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.”

Yet nations like Israel and Saudi Arabia that loathed the deal saw the action as a sign the United States is returning to a more skeptical, less trusting approach to dealing with adversaries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s announcement as a “historic move.”

Trump, who repeatedly criticized the accord during his presidential campaign, said Tuesday that documents recently released by Netanyahu showed Iran had attempted to develop a nuclear bomb in the previous decade, especially before 2003. Although Trump gave no explicit evidence that Iran violated the deal, he said Iran had clearly lied in the past and could not be trusted.

Iran has denied ever pursuing nuclear arms.

There was a predictably mixed reaction from Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the Iran deal “was flawed from the beginning,” and he looked forward to working with Trump on next steps. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, slammed Trump in a statement, saying this “rash decision isolates America, not Iran.”

In a burst of last-minute diplomacy, punctuated by a visit by Britain’s top diplomat, the deal’s European members had given ground on many of Trump’s demands for reworking the accord, according to officials, diplomats and others briefed on the negotiations. Yet the Europeans realized he was unpersuaded.

Trump spoke with French President Macron and Chinese leader Xi Jinping about his decision Tuesday. Hours before the announcement, European countries met in Brussels with Iran’s deputy foreign minister for political affairs, Abbas Araghchi.

In Iran, many are deeply concerned about how Trump’s decision could affect the already struggling economy. In Tehran, Rouhani sought to calm nerves, smiling as he appeared at a petroleum expo. He didn’t name Trump directly, but emphasized that Iran continued to seek “engagement with the world.”

The first 15 months of Trump’s presidency have been filled with many “last chances” for the Iran deal in which he’s punted the decision for another few months, and then another. As he left his announcement Tuesday, he predicted that Iranians would someday “want to make a new and lasting deal” and that “when they do, I am ready, willing and able.”


Energy
Oil and gas firm chastened by Wyoming governor for breaking sage grouse rules

Breaking Wyoming’s sage grouse rules cost an oil and gas firm $20,000 and a stern lecture from Gov. Matt Mead in a Tuesday hearing before the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Ballard Petroleum Holdings LLC was facing a tight deadline in late February to drill a well in the Powder River Basin. The well would lie within a two-mile buffer of a sage grouse mating ground. As a condition of its permit to drill near the bird, Ballard could not operate between March 15 and June 30.

But it did anyway.

The company faced a number of complications, explained Mike Perius, director of engineering and operations for Ballard. A storm delayed a rig move. Drilling did not go smoothly.

Though aware that it was violating the terms of the permit, Ballard continued drilling until March 17, when it hit total depth. Ballard then spent five days plugging the well and moving the rig from the site. The well was dry.

Perius was penitent before commissioners Tuesday. He has worked for Ballard for nearly 40 years and the company has never been called before the commission, he said.

“We took a risk when a rig showed up late due to a storm,” Perius said. “I stand in violation. We are extremely sorry that we have done this.”

***

Though the firm was not drilling in one of Wyoming’s core habitats, which carry heavier protections for the sage grouse, Ballard’s disregard of the rules was not taken lightly by the commission.

Mead pressed Perius to confirm that company officials knew about the stipulations. When the operations director answered in the affirmative, Mead appeared frustrated.

“So somebody made a decision to just go ahead and violate it?” he asked.

The governor is one of the most influential sage grouse leaders in the West, and balancing the bird’s conservation with Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries has been a key responsibility during his eight years as governor.

Ballard’s violation comes at a tenuous political time regarding sage grouse and energy in Wyoming.

Two years ago, federal and state protection plans assured that sage grouse would not be put on the endangered species list. It was a relief for Wyoming. The state is home to 30 percent of the sage grouse habitat in the West, and its drilling and mining industries would be greatly impeded by an endangered species listing.

Now, the federal plans are currently at the center of a wide controversy. Suggested changes to the plans by the Interior Department have alarmed environmental and land advocacy groups, who argue that the federal government is capitulating to energy developers. A number of lawsuits have been filed against the Interior Department over the bird’s protections.

Mead has walked a fine line during this period: acknowledging that some changes are necessary in the federal plans; promoting the underlying efforts from Wyomingites that staved off an endangered species listing; and cautioning against changes that will risk a listing down the line.

Addressing Ballard’s representative and lawyer, Mead noted the significance of choosing to break rules that play a key role in preserving industry.

“You put a risk on other oil and gas development,” the governor said.

***

Commissioner Ken Hendricks, formerly of Anadarko Petroleum, was sympathetic to the decision Ballard faced.

The issue to Hendricks wasn’t the choice to keep drilling after the deadline, but in choosing to begin the project in the first place.

“Once the well was drilled and the well needed to be plugged, you had no recourse really. You would be exposing sage grouse and everything else to more risk had plugging not occurred,” he said. “I think front-end decision making probably was the problem.”

Perius said the company had expected it would be able to complete the job in time.

Ballard’s fine could have been up to $40,000, Wyoming Assistant Attorney General Michael Armstrong told commissioners — $5,000 for each day of activity past the March 15 cutoff. But, Ballard’s long history of compliance in Wyoming, potential penalties from the Bureau of Land Management and the company’s agreement to buy 10 sage grouse mitigation credits reduced that fine, he said.

“We thought there should be some give and take,” he said.

Mead supported the proposed fine due to Ballard’s good history, but noted the commission’s need to be aware of the spotlight on sage grouse rules.

“For the commission, we have to be very sensitive to this issue,” he said. “It is at times under attack from different sides.”