In sworn statements, two of central Wyoming’s top law enforcement officials contradicted one another about whether they discussed possible criminal charges against a former Casper city councilman.
In a deposition, Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen said that Casper police Chief Jim Wetzel came to him in his office at the request of former city manager John Patterson shortly after he was appointed chief in 2014. He said that Wetzel asked if it would be possible to charge former City Councilman Craig Hedquist with breach of peace for an altercation between Hedquist and City Engineer Andrew Beamer.
According to the deposition transcript, Blonigen said he told Wetzel that a criminal charge wouldn’t be appropriate.
Wetzel, in his deposition, denied that any such conversation took place.
Both men were speaking under oath while answering questions for a deposition, which is a meeting between attorneys for both sides of a civil lawsuit and potential witnesses. During the meetings, the attorneys can ask witnesses or other parties questions related to the suit. As with sworn testimony during court, if a person lies while under oath in a deposition they could potentially face criminal charges. Transcripts of the two men’s depositions became public record when they were filed in federal court in September as part of a lawsuit that Hedquist filed against the city.
In an email Tuesday afternoon, Blonigen said he had no further comment in regard to his deposition. “I think the deposition speaks for itself,” he wrote.
Wetzel also said that he stood by his deposition and said he couldn’t speculate on why his deposition differed from Blonigen’s.
“Different people remember things differently,” Wetzel said. “I believe I’m being completely and accurately truthful in my account.”
The altercation between Hedquist and Beamer sparked in August 2013 at a construction site after a conversation between the two men became heated. After a tense discussion about progress on various construction projects, Hedquist told Beamer, “You f——— going to stand up, b——?”
Beamer recorded the conversation and a later internal investigation found that Hedquist’s comments constituted workplace violence. The depositions were conducted as part of Hedquist’s lawsuit alleging that city employees and city council unlawfully bullied him and kept his construction company from winning city contracts. A federal judge ruled in favor of the city last week.
In his March 28, 2016, deposition, Blonigen recounts why he told Wetzel that pursuing criminal charges in the incident would be inappropriate. He later noted that Wetzel seemed reluctant to ask the question and that Wetzel told him he was doing so only at the request of former city manager John Patterson.
“I mean, a construction site where people raise their voices or swears — that’s not very unusual,” Blonigen remembered saying. “I would run out of tickets if I wrote everybody a ticket that swore on a construction site.”
“Mr. Wetzel seemed almost embarrassed to bring it up,” Blonigen continued.
In response to a question from attorney John Robinson, who was representing Hedquist in the civil suit, Blonigen specifies that Wetzel said Patterson sent him to ask about criminal charges.
In total, Blonigen said the conversation between him and Wetzel lasted five or 10 minutes, though he could not remember specifically what day the conversation took place. Later in his statements, Blonigen noted that recent health problems had affected his memory, specifically his ability to recall timelines.
In his deposition, conducted March 8, 2016, Wetzel denied that any conversation related to potential criminal charges in the incident ever occurred.
Wetzel said that he talked to Blonigen about laws regarding recorded phone conversations after learning that his calls from the police department were automatically recorded and some of those recordings became public.
Attorney Frank Chapman, who was representing Hedquist, asked Wetzel a series of questions, including whether Wetzel remembered asking Blonigen about charges in connection to the altercation and whether Patterson asked him to go to Blonigen.
To each question, Wetzel responded with a flat “no.”
Patterson, who retired in 2015, also denied in his deposition ever asking Wetzel to approach Blonigen with the question.