Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters told reporters Tuesday that he failed to effectively communicate with a wounded officer who had accused the city’s top cop of calling him back to work against medical advice.
McPheeters’ comments came during the second press conference of the day regarding Officer Jacob Carlson, who told the Star-Tribune on Monday that McPheeters ordered him on Aug. 14 to return, despite the fact that doctors had not medically cleared him. Carlson’s attorney, Don Fuller, also sent a Monday letter to McPheeters requesting he reconsider returning Carlson to the force.
The day began with a bizarre argument between Fuller and City Attorney John Henley, during which Henley ultimately expelled Fuller — who was followed by Carlson — from a morning press conference hosted by City Manager Carter Napier.
At the morning event, Napier said Carlson remained on administrative leave — allowing him to draw a full salary without working or taking vacation days. However, Fuller provided a letter signed by McPheeters to the Star-Tribune during the press conference that stated the department was removing Carlson from administrative leave and that he should return to work Monday.
Carlson did not work Monday. The 27-year-old Army veteran was shot several times and severely injured in a May 6 gunfight that left his assailant dead. He underwent multiple surgeries, received more than 100 units of blood and blood products and spent a month in the hospital. He is still recovering from his injuries.
Carlson told the Star-Tribune on Monday that McPheeters texted him at about 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 14 and told him to attend a meeting that afternoon. At that meeting, the chief told Carlson to return to work the following day, according to the officer and his attorney. When Carlson said he did not have a doctor’s clearance, McPheeters gave him until Monday to return, the officer said.
A Casper police officer gravely wounded while on the job says the chief of police is demanding he return to work against medical advice.
A doctor’s letter dated Monday said Carlson would be able to return to light duty on Aug. 27.
Fuller provided to the Star-Tribune on Tuesday morning a letter signed by McPheeters and dated Aug. 14 — the day of the meeting — which stated Carlson would be released from administrative leave the next day. It calls for Carlson to report to the Career Services Unit and work 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday. The letter states Carlson is not to undertake any work “contrary to the expectations of (his) treating physicians.”
When asked about the letter, Napier said it had been drafted but never sent out. However, Fuller said the letter was sent to Carlson.
The press conference, announced via an email sent at 9:39 a.m., got off to a rocky start. After Fuller and Carlson entered the room, an argument broke out between Fuller and Henley.
“What you did yesterday was reprehensible,” Henley said.
“You know better than that,” Fuller responded at one point.
Henley banished Fuller from the room — at City Hall — but said Carlson was welcome to stay without his lawyer. Carlson declined to do so. The press conference was ultimately attended by four city council members, multiple reporters, city employees and one private citizen.
Napier, seated at a table flanked by Mayor Ray Pacheco and Council members Chris Walsh and Kenyne Humphrey, gave a statement saying he supported the officer.
“The actions of this organization have been consistent with that doctrine and that belief,” Napier said.
The city manager went on to say he has reviewed medical documents that indicate Carlson was able to return to work in a limited capacity.
Pacheco then spoke, saying he was “very disappointed” with the article published in Tuesday’s Star-Tribune.
Walsh said Carlson is receiving 100 percent of his typical paycheck and he did not believe McPheeters had intended to do any harm.
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“Of course you want to get your officers back to work,” Walsh said. “I don’t think that man deserves a public crucifixion for it.”
Humphrey declined to make an initial statement but said she supported the other officials’ statements.
Councilman Dallas Laird then entered the room and seated himself next to Humphrey.
In response to media questions, Laird said he thought Carlson and Fuller should be invited back to the meeting. He said kicking Fuller out effectively barred Carlson from attending. Neither Carlson nor Fuller returned to the room.
“We weren’t invited into his press conference,” Napier responded, in an apparent reference to Carlson’s interview on Monday with the Star-Tribune.
Napier said that Carlson had been partially cleared by doctors to participate in work activities. He said he was not encouraging Carlson to take medical retirement and he hopes the wounded officer remains with the department.
When asked about Carlson’s statements to the Star-Tribune that he had not been medically cleared, Napier said he could not comment on Carlson’s “purported statements.” Carlson, meanwhile, was seated with his attorney in the lobby.
In comments to the Star-Tribune, Carlson said he told the chief during the Aug. 14 meeting that he was considering medical retirement and would like to take a part-time job at the department to supplement the drop in his income. The chief said he would not be able to offer him a part-time job, Carlson said.
At the afternoon press conference, McPheeters said he acted in accordance with his “perception” of Carlson’s wants and needs and had drafted the letter calling Carlson back to work in anticipation of a medical clearance.
McPheeters said the first time he received a medical opinion regarding Carlson’s ability to work was Monday. Carlson will remain on administrative leave until a doctor’s approval goes into effect, McPheeters said, in an apparent reference to the doctor’s letter clearing him for partial duty on Aug. 27.
Carlson suffered at least four gunshot wounds in the May shooting. A three-year veteran of the force, he responded to a dirt lot near Fairdale Park to provide backup for Officer Randi Garrett, who was speaking with a man who had allowed a young child to drive a car.
The man, 38-year-old David Wolosin, began moving away from the officers. When Carlson reached out to grab him, Wolosin pulled out a pistol and began firing.
Despite being wounded, Carlson returned fire as he fell to the ground, a police dash cam video shows. Both officers took cover behind the vehicle and rose up to fire at Wolosin. Garrett fired only once, killing Wolosin.
District Attorney Michael Blonigen ruled earlier this year that Carlson and Garrett were fully justified in shooting at Wolosin.
“Officers Carlson and Garrett reacted in a commendable and appropriate way to protect themselves from a deadly and unprovoked assault upon them,” Blonigen wrote in a letter announcing his determination.
After being shot, Carlson remained in the hospital while doctors treated him for a shattered pelvis, a severed artery in his pelvic area, infections and nerve damage. At first, he needed help from two to three people just to walk.
He is now attending physical therapy twice a week as he attempts to recover from his injuries, Carlson said Monday. He doesn’t have full mobility in his left foot and he has difficulty walking on uneven ground. He is 29 pounds lighter than he was prior to being shot.
Last month, McPheeters presented Carlson with a Purple Heart and Medal of Valor at a public ceremony at David Street Station. Roughly 1,000 people attended the event.