A former Casper police officer pleaded guilty to felony child abuse and misdemeanor child endangerment charges Tuesday afternoon stemming from allegations she mistreated her two adopted children.
If Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey accepts the terms of the plea deal at Laura Starnes-Wells’ sentencing, she will serve one to five years of supervised probation.
As a condition of the deal, Starnes-Wells’ plea to the felony charge will not become final until a later date. If she successfully completes her probation, the felony charge will be dropped and she will not be convicted on that count.
She will serve a term of probation for the misdemeanor charge to run at the same time as the felony probation.
In court Tuesday, Starnes-Wells admitted to inflicting mental injuries on one of her children by acting recklessly. She also admitted to negligently endangering the health of the other child.
Starnes-Wells was arrested and charged with felony child abuse in February. During previous hearings, investigators and prosecutors outlined instances of “extreme” punishment Starnes-Wells allegedly used to discipline the children. They also allege Starnes-Wells did not meet the mental health needs of the kids.
The case began in May 2016 when the officer’s adopted daughter told officials at her school that Starnes-Wells “had battered her,” court documents allege. Investigators wrote that the girl came to school with a partially bruised eye and swollen lip.
The girl told investigators with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office that Starnes-Wells had slapped and punched her on multiple occasions, according to court documents.
Starnes-Wells was previously a school resource officer at Centennial Junior High.
Former Casper Police Chief Jim Wetzel said in February that Starnes-Wells was placed on administrative leave in November 2016 when the department became aware of the criminal investigation. He said at the time that she would remain on administrative leave throughout proceedings in the criminal cases, as is standard policy.
City Manager Carter Napier said earlier this month Starnes-Wells was back working for the department in an administrative capacity. Tracey Belser, support services director for the city’s human resources department, declined earlier this month to say why Starnes-Wells had returned to work for the department, citing privacy due to personnel matters.
Napier told a reporter Tuesday evening that Starnes-Wells had subsequently resigned from the department.
Prosecutors initially filed a misdemeanor child abuse charge against Starnes-Wells’s husband, Sgt. Todd Wells. That charge was later dropped. Wells is still working for the police department.