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Police arrest man after shots fired at Wyoming Medical Center

A man fired multiple gunshots inside Wyoming Medical Center early Monday before police officers arrested him at a nearby building on the campus of the Casper hospital.

The man, whom police identified as 20-year-old Mitchell Taylor, fired shots inside the radiology department shortly after 1 a.m. No one was injured.

Police received multiple phone calls reporting the shooting at 1:06 a.m., Chief Keith McPheeters told reporters during a press conference at the hospital. Officers arrived four minutes later, two minutes after they were dispatched, and began searching for the suspect. The hospital, meanwhile, initiated a lockdown.

Police checked the emergency department, which McPheeters said was secured, but the suspect was not there. Officers then checked the radiology department, where they found signs of a shooting but no suspect.

They began a systematic search of the campus and surprised Taylor inside a nearby building across Conwell Street at 1:26 a.m. Officers used a Taser to take Taylor into custody, McPheeters said.

Multiple shots

J.R. and Yolanda Isaldo, of Casper, visited the emergency department around 11:40 p.m. Shortly after 1 a.m., a nurse was getting ready to discharge Yolanda when they heard a loud bang and a scream, the couple told the Star-Tribune. The nurse left the room to check on the disturbance, and the Isaldos heard at least two more gunshots.

Yolanda closed the door and pushed a hospital bed in front of it, locking the bed’s wheels, they said. They turned off the room’s lights and J.R. called 911. The nurse came by their room twice more and spoke through the door to update them on the police response.

Yolanda said she heard a total of seven shots.

Police did not allow them to leave until the lockdown was lifted at about 2:30 a.m. When the Isaldos left the hospital, caution tape marked off the area around the nurses’ station and entrance to the radiology department.

McPheeters said Taylor was armed with a handgun. Taylor was examined at the hospital’s emergency room before being taken to jail. Prosecutors have indicated they plan to charge him with two counts of aggravated assault, use of a firearm while committing a felony and property damage. He did not appear Monday in court.

The chief declined to say whether Taylor had a specific target or why he had headed to the radiology department, which is a restricted area within the hospital. Investigators have spoken with the suspect, who they believe is from Casper, and there is no indication that anyone else was involved.

Authorities could not say how Taylor gained access to radiology or if there were any staff members in the area at the time. Hospital spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer declined to comment beyond saying that police were investigating and that WMC “will review” its response to the incident after the law enforcement inquiry is complete.

McPheeters said by phone late Monday afternoon that it is not yet clear to police how Taylor gained access to the the restricted area. He said law enforcement does not know of any prior ties between Taylor and the hospital.

The police chief said his agency is “actively investigating” whether Taylor was under the influence of controlled substances at the time of the shooting. He said he could not say why Taylor did not make his initial appearance in court Monday and noted his agency would not play a role in that decision.

McPheeters then handed the phone to investigations Sgt. Joey Wilhelm, who speculated that Taylor “may not have been in the correct state of mind to appear at initials today.”

District Attorney Dan Itzen said the sheriff’s office determines whether a person is capable of making an initial court appearance.

A spokesman for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the Natrona County Detention Center, declined to comment on the case. Speaking generally, Sgt. Aaron Shatto said that if it appears a person in custody is under the influence of an intoxicant, the agency will hold them until they are prepared to appear in court.

Suspect’s movements

McPheeters said police are reviewing information about how the gunman entered the hospital with a firearm. The chief said he didn’t know which entrance he used. Security staff were monitoring cameras and relaying information to officers as they searched for the gunman. The security staff at the hospital were unarmed but responded to the incident, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Spokeswoman Mandy Cepeda said she didn’t believe Taylor used the emergency department entrance, which is on East Second Street. The radiology department is near the emergency department. From north to south, it is directly down the hall and to the left from the ER entrance.

Cepeda said the suspect could’ve followed someone in or used a hospital phone to gain access.

The hospital, which is the largest in Wyoming, does have metal detectors and its main guard station at its emergency department. Those metal detectors are the only ones in the building.

There are a number of other entrances into the facility, which sits at the corner of East Second and Conwell streets in central Casper. Cepeda said the entrance to the hospital’s main lobby in the West Tower would’ve been locked after hours, and to enter the building anywhere else but through the ER, the suspect would’ve had to pick up a phone and call security.

In a statement, Wyoming Medical Center said counselors would be at the hospital Monday to meet with employees who might be experiencing emotional difficulties related to the incident. Bleizeffer said later that counseling would also be made available to people in the ER during the incident and that the hospital would be contacting them.

“The safety of our patients and employees is our utmost concern, and we will work with all involved agencies to review the incident,” the hospital said in the statement.

The hospital said officials there could not comment on the investigation, but they would be working with police throughout the process.

“It is our great honor to serve this community, and we appreciate all the thoughts and well wishes extended to our staff today,” the hospital said in its statement.

House Democrats launch aggressive new Trump probe

WASHINGTON — Democrats launched a sweeping new probe of President Donald Trump on Monday, an aggressive investigation that threatens to shadow the president through the 2020 election season with potentially damaging inquiries into his White House, campaign and family businesses.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said his panel was beginning the probe into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power and is sending document requests to 81 people linked to the president and his associates.

The broad investigation could be setting the stage for an impeachment effort, though Democratic leaders pledged to investigate all avenues and review special counsel Robert Mueller's upcoming report before trying any drastic action. Nadler said the document requests, with responses to most due by March 18, are a way to "begin building the public record."

"Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms," Nadler said. "Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee."

Also on Monday, the Justice Department said Attorney General William Barr will not recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s Russia probe.

Trump dismissed the Nadler probe and others as futile efforts "in search of a crime."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the House probe "a disgraceful and abusive investigation into tired, false allegations."

In a statement Monday night, Sanders said: "Chairman Nadler and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two-year false narrative of 'Russia collusion' is crumbling. Their intimidation and abuse of American citizens is shameful."

Separate congressional probes already are swirling around the president, including an effort announced Monday by three other House Democratic chairmen to obtain information about private conversations between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a letter to the White House and State Department, the House intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform panels sent broad requests for details about Trump and Putin's private meetings by phone and in person. In addition to document requests, the committees are asking to interview interpreters who sat in on meetings, including a one-on-one session in Helsinki last summer.

The State Department pledged to "work cooperatively with the committees."

The new probes signal that now that Democrats hold a majority in the House, Trump's legal and political peril is nowhere near over, even as the special counsel's Russia investigation winds down.

They also are an indication of the Democrats' strategy — to flood the administration with oversight requests, keeping Trump and his associates on trial publicly while also playing a long game when it comes to possible impeachment. While some more liberal members of the Democratic caucus would like to see Trump impeached now, Democratic leaders are more cautious.

Trump told reporters after Nadler's probe was announced that "I cooperate all the time with everybody."

Mueller is investigating Russian intervention in the 2016 election and whether Trump's campaign conspired with Russia. But the House probes go far beyond collusion. The House intelligence panel announced a separate probe not only into the Russian interference but also Trump's foreign financial interests. The Oversight and Reform Committee launched multiple investigations into all facets of the administration.

The 81 names and entities on the Judiciary Committee's list touch all parts of Trump's life — the White House, his businesses, his campaign and the committee that oversaw the transition from campaign to presidency. There are also people connected to Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, including participants in a meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer before the election.

The committee is also asking the FBI, the Justice Department and others for documents related to possible pardons for Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. All three have been charged in special counsel Mueller's investigation.

In a request sent to the White House, the committee asks for information surrounding former FBI Director James Comey's termination, communications with Justice Department officials, the Trump Tower meeting and other matters.

As some Senate Republicans sour on border declaration, Barrasso, Enzi remain mum on vote

As a vote to oppose President Donald Trump’s efforts to circumvent Congressional authority to build a southern border wall approaches, numerous Senate Republicans have begun to publicly distance themselves from the president, declaring in clear terms that they will vote in defiance of the commander in chief.

In the past several days, several high-profile Republicans – Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina – have diverged from the president on one of his signature policy priorities, arguing that Trump’s emergency declaration upsets the traditional balance of power between the executive and legislative branches – the latter of which is responsible for appropriating funds.

Wyoming’s delegation in Washington, however, haven’t said how they will vote on the resolution. Reached through spokespersons on Monday, Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi both declined to share their positions on the resolution opposing the president’s actions.

“[Sen. Enzi] generally doesn’t say how he is going to vote on legislation beforehand,” a spokesman for Enzi wrote in an email.

“We don’t have anything more to add at this time,” a spokeswoman for Barrasso said, referring a Star-Tribune reporter to a comment made to the newspaper last week. “It’s still unclear when the vote will happen in the Senate.”

The Hill newspaper reported 13 Republican Senators were “undecided” on the resolution as of Sunday afternoon. Even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Washington press on Monday that the resolution would likely pass despite the Republican majority, the Senate and House are not expected to have enough votes to achieve the two-thirds majority required to override the veto the president has indicated he will hand down.

Neither Barrasso nor Enzi were on the list.

Both Barrasso and Enzi blamed Democrats for the budget impasse. But Enzi did express apprehension last week that Trump’s emergency declaration might set a bad precedent.

Both men have been reliable allies for the president’s priorities over the past two years. Both Senators boast some of the friendliest voting records for Trump’s policy positions. Wyoming is home to Trump’s highest approval ratings in the country.

On the issue of border security, both have friendly voting records as well. Barrasso has generally voted against amnesty legislation for illegal immigrants in his career – such as the DREAM Act – and has consistently voted for border fence appropriations. In the midst of a national recession, Barrasso also voted for legislation to cancel national economic stimulus funding to, instead, appropriate $250 million for the deployment of the National Guard to the U.S-Mexico border.

Enzi has boasted a similar voting record on immigration. However, as chairman of the Senate Committee on the Budget, Enzi has voted in the past to oppose executive overreach on matters of the national purse, including supporting a resolution defying a 2014 decision by President Barack Obama to increase the national debt limit: a signature battle in an administration defined by fiscal tension.

Though some have argued the president is within his constitutional authority to declare a national emergency to reappropriate funding Congress refused, others have expressed concern that the circumventing the constitutional authority vested in Congress on budgetary matters could lay the groundwork for future bad behavior – particularly for a national emergency numerous critics have pegged as a “manufactured crisis.”

Trump himself added to those questions when, at a press conference, he said he “didn’t need to” declare an emergency, but would speed up the process.

Energy in brief
Kemmerer mine sale approved by bankruptcy judge

A federal bankruptcy judge in Houston approved the sale of the Kemmerer mine, from bankrupt Westmoreland Coal Co. to Virginia businessman Tom Clarke, on Saturday. The company has since received approval to sell other assets, including the Colstrip mine in Montana, to its biggest creditors.

The company filed for bankruptcy in October carrying $1 billion in debt. Its executives expect to emerge from Ch. 11 by the end of the month, according to a statement from the firm Monday.

Photos: Westmoreland Coal's bankruptcy leaves a southwest Wyoming community on the brink

Westmoreland’s mines in Montana, New Mexico and Canada will go on operating under new ownership “in the normal course, emerging with a strengthened balance sheet and better positioned to succeed,” the company stated.

Westmoreland acquired the Kemmerer mine in southwestern Wyoming in 2012 from Chevron Mining Corp. The mine, which employs just fewer than 300 people, produces a high heat coal that is sold to PacifiCorp’s nearby Naughton power plant, and is sold in much smaller amounts to nearby industrial customers.

The company bankruptcy knocked out health care benefits for the mine’s retirees and froze pensions. It also eliminated the existing union contract, a demand made by the planned buyer of the mine, Clarke of Virginia.

Clarke stated in recent interviews with the Star-Tribune that the cost of that legacy health care was more than any buyer would be willing or able to afford.

Clarke, who will spend $7.5 million in cash, and $207.5 million in secured promissory notes, to acquire the Kemmerer mine, has noted that most provisions in the contract would stand. The union put out a statement Friday saying that as soon as the union reached an agreement on health care for retirees with Westmoreland it would be prepared to complete contract negotiations with Clarke and offer the new contract to rank and file for consideration.

The $6 million that the bankruptcy judge ordered Westmoreland to set aside for retirees, and retiree dependents, health care costs won’t last the year, the union said Friday.