As an explosive Tuesday came to a close, Casper City Council members appeared divided on how to appropriately care for a wounded Casper police officer who said the chief of police ordered him back to work against doctors’ advice. One Council member suggesting making a $25,000 “token” payment to the officer, while others suggested waiting for the chief to decide.
Officer Jacob Carlson, who was shot in a May 6 shootout in east Casper and nearly died, on Monday told the Star-Tribune that Chief Keith McPheeters had demanded he return to work against medical advice. Carlson suffered a shattered pelvis, a severed artery, nerve damage and infections. He still has difficulty walking on uneven ground.
At a Tuesday morning press conference ultimately attended by four members of the City Council, City Manager Carter Napier said Carlson had been medically cleared for some work responsibilities. He denied that Carlson had been removed from administrative leave and said the officer was still drawing his full paycheck.
However, a letter provided to the Star-Tribune by Carlson’s attorney, Don Fuller, stated the officer had been removed from administrative leave as of Aug. 15. The letter was signed by McPheeters and had been placed in Carlson’s mailbox. Still, Napier said the document had not been sent. Tuesday afternoon, McPheeters told reporters he failed to effectively communicate with Carlson and the officer would remain fully paid on administrative leave until a doctor’s approval goes into effect.
By Tuesday night, as the Council convened for its regularly-scheduled meeting, Mayor Ray Pacheco echoed a talking point from the morning’s press conference, saying the entire Council was in support of Carlson and his chief.
“He wants nothing more than to make sure that Officer Carlson is taken care of,” Pacheco said of McPheeters.
After the meeting got underway, the day’s tumult went mostly unmentioned, while McPheeters and Randi Garrett — the officer who shot and killed Carlson’s attacker — sat uniformed at the back of the room in seats reserved for police officers.
During the Council’s closing discussion time, in which members bring items of interest that are not on the agenda, Councilman Chris Walsh — who has previously served as Casper’s police chief — suggested placing video from the morning press conference online.
The video had not appeared on the city’s YouTube channel by noon Wednesday.
Councilman Dallas Laird then suggested paying Carlson $25,000 as a gesture of goodwill from the city. He said the potential payment would not require Carlson to sign anything and was not meant to compensate the officer for his injuries, but would simply demonstrate the council members’ support.
“I think it’s the Christian and spiritual thing for us to do,” Laird said.
Walsh said he would prefer to keep Carlson’s pay rate the same as it had been before he was wounded and find a position in the department appropriate for him. Walsh said Laird’s intentions were good but could be misinterpreted. He suggested waiting for McPheeters to work out a plan for Carlson’s future with the wounded officer.
Councilman Jesse Morgan said he did not know if the payment would be legal and suggested creating a “community officer” position to be staffed by Carlson. Morgan did not detail what the position would entail, except to say that it would include engagement at “meet and greets” and other community events.
Pacheco and Vice Mayor Charlie Powell both said the situation should be handled by McPheeters. If the chief comes to Council with a request to help Carlson or his family, it “will be taken very seriously,” the vice mayor said.
Councilman Mike Huber then asked Napier to explore the concept and legal implications of the payment, along with the Council’s other suggestions.
After Napier said he would do so, Laird asked him to “do it faster than the speed of government.”