Two Casper police officers face criminal charges related to the alleged ill treatment of their adopted children after an investigation by the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office.
After authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, Casper police Sgt. Todd Wells turned himself into the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday for a misdemeanor charge of endangering children, sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Shatto said. A warrant for the arrest of Officer Laura Wells, who was previously a school resource officer at Centennial Junior High, for a felony charge of child abuse was filed Tuesday in county circuit court.
Casper Police Chief Jim Wetzel said Thursday afternoon that both officers were placed on administrative leave in November when the department became aware of the criminal investigation. Wetzel said the officers will remain on administrative leave throughout proceedings in the criminal cases, as is standard policy.
Wetzel declined to comment further on the case.
Todd Wells’ attorney, John Miner, did not return a call for comment late Thursday afternoon. But in a document filed in Natrona County Circuit Court, Miner wrote that the child involved in the case is no longer in Wells’ household or in contact with the sergeant. Miner also wrote that Sgt. Wells had worked for the Casper Police Department for 16 years.
Wetzel said he wasn’t sure how long Laura Wells had been with the department. A police roster shows she’s served on the force since at least 2011.
The sheriff’s office began the investigation in May after the couple’s adopted daughter told school officials that Laura Wells “had battered her” over the previous weekend, according to court documents. School officials told investigators that the girl, who was 14 at the time, told them Laura Wells had slapped her. The school official said she noticed that the girl had a partially black eye and a swollen lip, the documents show.
The girl told investigators that Laura Wells slapped her repeatedly during a physical altercation between the two, according to the documents, and that the slapping had “occurred her whole life.” The girl also said Laura Wells punched her in the chest on multiple occasions and shook the girl’s head until she got headaches.
The girl also told investigators that Todd Wells had stopped Laura Wells from abusing her brother about three months prior by physically pulling Laura Wells off the boy, the documents state.
A few days later, investigators spoke with the boy, who was 15 at the time of the interview. The teen said one of his punishments for getting in trouble was walking two hours each way to high school and that he wasn’t allowed in the house unless either of the Wells were inside, according to court documents. The teen said he was afraid to ask for snacks.
The teen also told investigators about an incident where he tried to hide his PlayStation in a heater vent in his room, but that the video game console fell down the vent. The teen then damaged the floor and the wall to retrieve the console. He said both Wells were “very upset” at the damage and that Todd Wells said, “Get him out of my house before I snap his neck off,” the documents state.
In an interview with investigators, Laura Wells said she only slapped the girl once during the incident in May, which she said was instigated by the girl. She said she had previously spanked the girl and had slapped her three or four times in the past, according to the court documents.
Todd Wells spoke with investigators the same day and said he did not witness the altercation in May, but that Laura Wells had told him she slapped the girl. He also told investigators that he once stopped a fight between his wife and the boy, though he never saw any physical contact between them, the documents show.
Todd Wells also said he never saw Laura Wells use excessive punishment on either child.
But multiple school officials, social workers and counselors who knew the family painted a different picture to an independent investigator hired by the Wyoming Department of Family Services. That investigator compiled a report of her interviews and records and submitted it to law enforcement.
One 2008 report from a school principal and a social worker said that Laura Wells used “extreme punishment’ to correct the kids’ behavior, including forcing the them to run until they threw up.
At least two counselors said that neither Laura Wells nor Todd Wells “ever showed any affection” toward the boy. One counselor said Laura Wells was emotionally abusive toward the boy. Another counselor said Laura Wells’ parenting style was “militant” and “demeaning,” the documents state.
One family friend said that Laura Wells made her use “table time” as a punishment for the boy when the friend babysat. The friend said the punishment required the boy to sit at the kitchen table “from the time he got up in the morning until he went to bed at night,” the documents state.
On multiple occasions, the family would enter counseling, but Laura Wells would end the therapy prematurely with no explanation, the court documents state.
At the end of her independent report, the investigator from the Department of Family Services answered some questions about the couple’s treatment of the children. In response to a question asking whether their parenting methods caused harm to the process of healing from a disorder that disrupts the formation of healthy relationships, the investigator wrote: “Mother engaged in fear based, threat based and shame based parenting in her home ... Mother meets the criteria for emotional abuse, emotional neglect and physical abuse of her special needs children.”
In January, investigators re-interviewed the teenage boy and asked about Todd Wells’ involvement in the punishments. The boy said that Todd Wells would “make sure” he completed his punishments and that the sergeant “could have stopped it,” court documents show.
Laura Wells could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of the single felony child abuse charge in her case. If convicted of child endangerment, Todd Wells could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.