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Casper
breaking
Judge tosses lawsuit brought against former Casper police chief by ex-city councilman

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit brought by former Casper City Councilman Craig Hedquist, who alleged a former police chief violated his privacy in an attempt to sabotage his political career.

Hedquist, who served on the City Council for three years before his 2015 resignation, sued former police chief and current Councilman Chris Walsh in October 2016. In court documents, Hedquist’s lawyers wrote that Walsh had used a police database to produce a report for a former city manager.

In granting summary judgement against Hedquist, Judge Alan Johnson wrote in Monday’s ruling that Hedquist “has not shown ... Chief Walsh should have known that his specific actions were prohibited, if his actions actually even were prohibited.”

Hedquist’s lawyers had argued that Walsh had used a police records system to search for information on Hedquist in an attempt to keep the then-councilman from earning another term on the City Council.

Walsh said in a deposition that he used the records system in 2013 to search for information on Hedquist but that he could not remember why. He said the search may have been related to a traffic ticket.

Defense attorneys argued Walsh had conducted the records search in order to investigate tips from city officials alleging Hedquist lived in Ward 1, not Ward 2, which he represented. If that allegation were true, Hedquist would have been breaking Wyoming law and could have been punished with up to five years of imprisonment upon a conviction.

Because Hedquist owned a number of properties across Casper, Walsh was unable to determine where Hedquist actually lived, Walsh’s lawyers said. The former police chief did not ask for an investigation into Hedquist’s address and the former councilman was never charged with a crime.

In his ruling, Johnson wrote that Walsh and the city are granted immunity by Wyoming law because Hedquist’s attorneys did not present any case law indicating the search was illegal. He further stated Hedquist’s lawyers did not explain why it was outside the scope of legitimate searches.

They likewise did not indicate Walsh should have known he was searching for an improper reason, the judge wrote.

Walsh served as police chief for two and a half years, resigning in 2014 for reasons he has said were unrelated to any scandal. He was elected as a city councilman in 2016 and has represented Ward 3 since January 2017.

When reached by phone on Tuesday, Walsh said he was relieved to have the case resolved.

“I didn’t do anything out of any political motivation toward him,” Walsh said. “The judgement speaks for itself.”

Frank Chapman, one of three attorneys representing Hedquist in the case, declined to comment and referred a Star-Tribune reporter to his co-counsel, John Robinson.

Robinson did not immediately return a Tuesday afternoon phone call seeking comment.

Hedquist also sued the City of Casper and two officials in 2014, claiming city officials used their clout to exclude his construction business from city projects. Johnson, the same federal judge, dismissed the suit in spring 2017. Hedquist has appealed the suit to a higher court.

Attorneys argued the appeal in March. A ruling has yet to be handed down.


Energy
Wyoming's economy isn't robust, but with oil up, energy services are hiring

Aaron Stump walked into the Ramkota Hotel in Casper Tuesday morning looking for a job. A slim manila folder held copies of his resume. A single page showed the 46-year-old’s life in boiler plate: a college degree, posts in various industries, most recently bentonite.

Thanks to a bachelor’s degree, Stump landed work in the lab of a local mine until March 9, when he was laid off. He had recently bought a new house.

He’s feeling desperate, hoping for a good paying job. An oilfield services firm, Stallion, had seemed promising.

“I’m thinking energy,” he said.

He walked passed the empty bar and the quiet indoor swimming pool to an open room in the back of the Ramkota, where dozens of men and women like Stump came with the same goal in mind: find work.

Tuesday was the largest job fair that the Casper Workforce Center, an arm of the state’s Department of Workforce Services, has ever hosted. More than 70 employers from the U.S. Marine Corp. to Chesapeake Energy held booths, and by 11 a.m. nearly every booth had someone picking up a flyers and or dropping a resume.

About 15 energy-related businesses were hiring, mostly service firms from the oil and gas sector — trucking, water haulers and drilling services.

Scott Dumas is the shop manager in Casper for Stallion Oilfield Services, a national firm present in a number of oil and gas regions across the country. A big part of Dumas’ work is in repairs, fixing the portable homes that serve as so called “man camps” for the oil fields. During the downturn, his staff of more than a dozen fell to two.

Now they’re hiring for his shop, and looking to swell their ranks to a little over 20, he said.

They aren’t the only ones. Demand for energy jobs is large enough now that a few months ago the Department of Workforce Services broke tradition on their annual job fair and held an extra fair just for energy folks. On Tuesday, energy came again.

“A couple years ago when the economy wasn’t doing too well, we had the flip flop,” said Mary Orr, an employment specialist with the state. “There were so many job seekers, not as many openings. Now we’ve got a good atmosphere, a lot of good work out there.”

***

Things are picking up for the service firms that have shops in central Wyoming thanks to an oil price hovering around $60 a barrel. Firms are drilling again or setting up to drill, and that means demand for mechanics, drivers and machinists.

This isn’t a boom. The price of oil hasn’t shot skyward. And everyone notes, with a shrug of resignation, that all good things depend on the price of oil remaining steady.

A lot of companies are having trouble finding eligible workers, said Laura Berry, HR manager for the Fluid Management Division of A&W Water Services, which is hiring.

Wyoming’s economy is still fairly weak. A triple bust in gas, oil and coal knocked out a significant portion of the workforce over the last three years. In a fossil fuel state, when the jobs go, so do the workers. The state’s unemployment rate was 4 percent in February. It’s low for a reason — many people looking for jobs left.

“You do end up losing people, because you can’t find enough work to keep them going,” said Marcie Klein, manager of safety services for Bar-S Services Inc. “When the downturn hit around this area, everybody fled.”

The family-owned company serves a number of needs in the oilfields from roustabout crews to rig movers. It’s headquartered in Cheyenne.

A backlog of applications to drill has some anticipating significant activity in the years to come if the price of oil is stable. But Klein said her company isn’t staffing for the future. They are staffing for now.

Service companies like A&W Water Services say the same. They started to see a turnaround in demand for oil field services last year, with a surge around January.

The firm can offer positions where making $80,000 a year is do-able, but they have to find the people.

***

The humid scent of chlorine from the Ramkota pool lay over the room as dozens of people milled from table to table or sat off to the side filling out applications.

The notice for the job fair printed in the Star-Tribune said to come dressed and prepared for an interview. For many that meant a nice shirt above jeans. Others wore their dusty work boots. Some donned sports coats and ties.

Stump came in clean shaven, a zip-up hoodie over his broad shoulders. He hopes his bachelor’s degree will give him an edge, as it did in the bentonite industry. He’s coming up on a month out of work and money is thin. This isn’t his first job fair.

His family can help with the house payments. They can’t be expected to support him from one day to the next, he said.

“To tell you the truth, I’m just looking for anything,” Stump said. “You hate to go to fast food. But, if I have to, I have to.”

He’s not alone. The room was full of Wyomingites that don’t have a job, or have one but can’t make ends meet. They were there looking for something else, something better, or just something.

A man who had wanted to be a police officer looked for a plan B after failing to qualify for the force. An older man dressed in camouflage had once been a truck driver in the military. Life is simply better behind the wheel, he told the director of Sage Truck Driving Schools. A young man fresh out of high school looked for his first shot at joining the workforce. Stump looked for his way back in.

On Tuesday, the workforce had open arms.


Washington
AP
Impatient for wall, Trump wants US military to secure border

WASHINGTON — Frustrated by slow action on a big campaign promise, President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants to use the military to secure the U.S.-Mexico border until his promised border wall is built.

Trump told reporters he's been discussing the idea with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

"We're going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military," Trump said, calling the move a "big step."

It was unclear exactly how the proposal would work or what kind of troops Trump wanted to deploy.

Federal law prohibits the use of active-duty service members for law enforcement inside the U.S., unless specifically authorized by Congress. But over the past 12 years, presidents have twice sent National Guard troops to the border to bolster security and assist with surveillance and other support. An official said the White House counsel's office has been working on the idea for several weeks.

Trump has been annoyed by the lack of progress on building what was the signature promise of his campaign: a "big, beautiful wall" along the Mexican border. He's previously suggested using the Pentagon's budget to pay for building the wall, arguing it is a national security priority, despite strict rules that prohibit spending that's not authorized by Congress.

The Department of Homeland Security and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. At the Pentagon, officials were struggling to answer questions about the plan, including rudimentary details on whether it would involve National Guard members.

But officials appeared to be considering a model similar to a 2006 operation in which President George W. Bush deployed National Guard troops to the southern border.

Under Operation Jump Start, 6,000 National Guard troops were sent to assist the border patrol with non-law enforcement duties while additional border agents were hired and trained. Over two years, about 29,000 National Guard forces participated, as forces rotated in and out. The Guard members were used for surveillance, communications, administrative support, intelligence, analysis and the installation of border security infrastructure.

In addition, President Barack Obama sent about 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010 to beef up efforts to battle drug smuggling and illegal immigration.

Texas has also deployed military forces to its 800-mile border with Mexico. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now serving as Trump's energy secretary, sent 1,000 Texas National Guardsmen to the Rio Grande Valley in 2014 in response to a sharp increase in Central American children crossing the border alone.

Trump met Tuesday with top administration officials, including Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to discuss the administration's strategy to address what White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders described as "the growing influx of illegal immigration, drugs and violent gang members from Central America."

In addition to mobilizing the National Guard, Trump and senior officials "agreed on the need to pressure Congress to urgently pass legislation to close legal loopholes exploited by criminal trafficking, narco-terrorist and smuggling organizations," Sanders said.

The meeting and comments came amid a flurry of tweets by the president on the subject over the last several days.

Trump has been fixated on the issue since he grudgingly signed a spending bill last month that includes far less money for the wall than he'd hoped for.

The $1.3 trillion package included $1.6 billion for border wall spending — a fraction of the $25 billion Trump made a last-minute push to secure. And much of that money can be used only to repair existing segments, not to build new sections.

Trump spent the first months of his presidency bragging about a dramatic drop in illegal border crossings, and indeed the 2017 fiscal year marked a 45-year low for Border Patrol arrests. But the numbers have been slowly ticking up since last April and are now on par with many months of the Obama administration. Statistics show 36,695 arrests of people trying to cross the southwest border in February 2018, up from 23,555 in the same month of the previous year.

Trump appeared to take credit Tuesday for halting a caravan of about 1,100 migrants, many from Honduras, who had been marching along roadsides and train tracks in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

"I said (to Mexican officials), 'I hope you're going to tell that caravan not to get up to the border.' And I think they're doing that because, as of 12 minutes ago, it was all being broken up," he said.

But the caravan of largely Central American migrants had never intended to reach the U.S. border, according to organizer Irineo Mujica. It was meant to end at a migrants' rights symposium in central Mexico later this week.

The caravan stopped to camp at a sports field in Oaxaca over the weekend. Mexican immigration officers have been signing them up for temporary transit visas, which would allow them to travel to the U.S. border, possibly to seek asylum, or to seek asylum status in Mexico.


Hedquist


Health
topical
Opioid Epidemic
Northern Arapaho Tribe sues drug companies, citing opioid epidemic on central Wyoming reservation

The Northern Arapaho Tribe sued several opioid manufacturers and distributors in federal court Monday, claiming the companies knowingly caused a public health epidemic on the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming by deceptively marketing and distributing the drugs.

The tribe has suffered “substantial loss of resources, economic damages, and damages to the health and welfare of its members,” attorneys for the tribe wrote in the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.

The lawsuit states that child welfare and foster care costs related to parents with opioid addictions have skyrocketed, while law enforcement, health services, education and rehabilitation costs have also become overwhelming. It blames these tolls on the drug companies, citing a failure to control the supply of opioids in central Wyoming and reckless marketing schemes that put profits over public health.

“(A)lmost every tribal member has been affected,” the lawsuit states.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe also argued that opioid addiction has damaged the community in more holistic ways.

“The Tribe has ... suffered substantial damages due to the lost productivity of tribal members, increased administrative costs, and the lost opportunity for growth and self-determination,” tribal lawyers wrote.

Impact across Indian Country

The Northern Arapaho join a host of tribes across the nation who have sued pharmaceutical companies in recent months, highlighting the disproportionate impact of the opioid epidemic in Indian Country.

Fremont and Hot Springs counties, where the Wind River Reservation is located, have an opioid prescription rate far above the national average of 66.5 per 100 people, according to the lawsuit. Fremont has a rate of 83.3 per 100 people and Hot Springs a rate of 98.1.

“Opioid addiction hits Indian Country harder than any other place or people in the United States today,” Northern Arapaho Business Council Co-Chairman Lee Spoonhunter said in a statement. “We brought this lawsuit to stop the destruction of lives here on the Wind River Reservation, and we encourage other Tribes to join us in this important effort.”

Spoonhunter declined an interview request.

Janet Abaray, an attorney with the firm Burg Simpson, which is representing the tribe, said that the Northern Arapaho lawsuit is likely be combined with some of the other suits filed by Indian tribes.

The National Indian Health Board has testified before Congress in recent weeks regarding opioid addiction in Indian County. Though not mentioned in the Northern Arapaho lawsuit, NIHB director Stacey Bohlen said that underfunding Indian Health Service, the federal program that offers free healthcare to members of recognized tribes, had contributed to the crisis.

“Instead of being referred for surgeries or simpler treatments, patients are often simply placed on prescription opioid medications to address their pain as they wait for treatment,” she said during a March hearing.

The 2018 federal budget, approved last month, appropriated $55 million for treating opioid issues on reservations.

Broad claims, few specifics

The Northern Arapaho lawsuit makes broad claims about the impact of opioid distribution on and near the Wind River Reservation, though it is light on specific details.

For example, it states that the opioid distributors should have known that “flooding the market in and around the Tribe with highly addictive opioids would allow opioids to fall into the hands of children, addicts, criminals, and other unintended users.”

Distributors “were aware of widespread prescription opioid abuse in and around the Tribe, but... they nevertheless persisted in a pattern of distributing commonly abused and diverted opioids in geographic areas — and in such quantities, and with such frequency that they knew or should have known these commonly abused controlled substances were not being prescribed and consumed for legitimate medical purposes,” the tribe’s attorneys wrote.

Instead of statistics regarding opioid addiction on the central Wyoming reservation, the lawsuit relies on broader data about Native Americans across the country. According to the lawsuit, 10 percent of American Indian teenagers and adults abused opioids, double the rate of white Americans. While the number of drug overdose deaths for all Americans increased over 200 percent from 1999 to 2015 it increased by more than 500 percent among Native Americans.

In Congressional testimony three years ago, Sunny Goggles of the White Buffalo Recovery Program on the Wind River Reservation said that various forms of substance abuse were having a devastating impact on the reservation.

“Families are torn apart, lives are lost, and personal injury is the result. In addition, private and public property is destroyed thus, creating a reflection of the community’s lack of self-esteem and pride,” Goggles said. He added that the Northern Arapaho Tribe was taking proactive steps to address the problems.

Voice in litigation

Abaray said while there were many ongoing lawsuits related to the culpability of pharmaceutical companies in the opioid epidemic, it was important for the Northern Arapaho Tribe to have a voice in the litigation.

“It’s important for the tribe to make sure that they’re included so that they get compensated and can take of their members,” Abaray said.

The lawsuit is seeking damages against the pharmaceutical companies partially through the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law originally used to bring down organized crime bosses during the 1970s.

The companies named are Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan Sales, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Actavis Elizabeth, Mallinckrodt LLC, McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen.

The companies have denied wrongdoing in other lawsuits.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe is represented by both national plaintiff trial firm Burg Simpson and local attorneys from Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd.