Laura Wells

Laura Wells makes her appearance Friday afternoon in Natrona County Circuit Court. Wells, an officer with the Casper Police Department, is accused of abusing her adopted son.

Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune

A Casper police officer appeared in court Friday for the first time since being charged with abusing her adopted son.

Laura Wells had been vacationing out of state when her warrant was issued, and her attorney had been working with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office to arrange a time when she would turn herself in.

Wells, 41, wore civilian clothes at her appearance but was handcuffed. She sat with her head down as Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Steven Brown read the advisement of rights to all the defendants in the courtroom.

Brown set bond at $10,000.

Authorities have also charged her husband, Casper police Sgt. Todd Wells, with misdemeanor child endangerment. He made his initial court appearance last week.

The criminal case against the couple relates to their alleged mistreatment of two children Laura Wells adopted. Both officers were placed on administrative leave in November when the Casper Police Department learned they were the subject of a criminal investigation, Chief Jim Wetzel has said.

Laura Wells’ attorney said the couple’s children are no longer in their custody. Laura Wells said in court that she now lives in Texas.

The case began in May when the couple’s adopted daughter told officials at her school that Laura Wells “had battered her,” court documents allege. Investigators learned that a school official had noticed the girl had a partially bruised eye and swollen lip.

The girl told investigators with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office that Laura Wells had slapped and punched her on multiple occasions, according to court documents.

Court documents show the couple’s adopted son was also interviewed as part of the investigation. It was conducted at an institution that he was then staying after getting in trouble at home for poor grades, lying, stealing and not following Laura Wells’ rules.

The rules, according to the boy, included not being allowed out of his mother’s sight, not being able to get up at night, not being allowed to talk with his sister and a requirement that he ask permission to do almost anything.

Among his punishments for breaking the rules was a requirement that he walk two hours each way to his school in ninth grade and an hour each way to a different school in 10th. He described having to sit on the front step of his home, in sight of a video camera, when he got home, and was not allowed inside unless one of the Wellses was home and awake.

“He had to sit outside, in view of the video camera, no matter the weather,” the documents allege.

The boy also described being locked in his room, being locked out of the house and being monitored by video cameras, including one in his room. He told investigators he was afraid to ask for snacks and would stutter out of fear.

In interviews with investigators, school officials, social workers and therapists outlined a method of harsh punishment that Laura Wells used on the children.

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. A former therapist told investigators that Laura Wells’ parenting style was “militant” and “demeaning.”

Laura Wells spoke with investigators and said she slapped the girl only once during the incident in May. Wells also said she had spanked the girl and had slapped her three or four times in the past, according to the court documents.

Todd Wells told investigators he never saw Laura Wells use excessive punishment on either child. He said did not witness the altercation in May, but that Laura Wells had told him she slapped the girl. He also said he once stopped a fight between his wife and the boy, though he never saw any physical contact between them, the documents state.

At the hearing Friday, Assistant District Attorney Brett Johnson said Todd Wells was charged with the misdemeanor “essentially for allowing this to happen.”

If convicted, Laura Wells could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Todd Wells could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine if found guilty of the misdemeanor offense in his case.

Follow crime and courts reporter Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

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Elise Schmelzer joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and interning at newspapers around the country. As features editor, she oversees arts and culture coverage and reports stories on a broad variety of topics.

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