A letter from the Natrona County District Attorney declining to prosecute the Casper police officers involved in the May 6 shooting that killed a Casper man has brought more details of the case to light.
In the early hours of May 6, two CPD officers conducted a traffic stop on North Elma Street which escalated when the driver of the car exited and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat before taking off with one of the officers in the car.
The man, Thomas Joseph Roeber, then drove onto I-25 via an off-ramp into oncoming traffic. Officer Jake Bigelow, after being in the car with Roeber for just over a minute and repeatedly yelling at him to stop driving, shot Roeber four times. Roeber was pronounced dead upon being taken to Wyoming Medical Center.
According to the letter from DA Dan Itzen, the office found the shooting was justified and that Bigelow would have reasonably believed his life was in danger.
“It was Roeber who at every turn refused to stop,” Itzen wrote. “It was Roeber who endangered the lives of citizens and law enforcement. It is Officer Bigelow who was left with no choice but to act.”
The letter states the original reason for the traffic stop was the car’s lack of a light on its rear license plate. The officers also reportedly noticed the driver became “wide eyed” and Roeber tried to hide his face upon seeing the patrol car.
The Division of Criminal Investigation said Tuesday that their investigation is still ongoing, as some evidence in the case still needs to be returned.
Itzen said in his letter, dated June 7, that the DA’s office received the investigation, reports and police footage for review as of June 1. He confirmed that on Tuesday, saying he understood that DCI had made all possible findings and conducted all relevant interviews at that time.
The investigation was relatively cut-and-dry as far as police shooting cases go, Itzen said, since only one officer was involved in the gunfire.
DCI, according to Itzen, said that the original driver in the car cooperated with law enforcement following the incident.
The man told investigators that before he got out of the car, Roeber had tried to convince him to drive away. At that point, the man’s testimony and video of the incident show he got out of the car with hands up, telling the officers he wasn’t “part of this.”
The letter also indicates that when officers were initiating the traffic stop, Roeber gave Bigelow the name of another man who turned out to be a resident at the Casper Reentry Center.
The original driver also told investigators that Roeber “may” have used methamphetamine the day before the incident, according to Itzen. There were two glass pipes and two bags totaling about one ounce of meth found in the car.
An autopsy reportedly found Roeber had 1066 ng/mL of methamphetamine in his system, but does not specify whether that number comes from a blood or urine sample. Wyoming does not define impairment levels for methamphetamine in state statute, but other states including Nevada define 500 ng/mL of a urine sample or 100 ng/mL from a blood draw as grounds for a DUI charge.
Roeber was also reportedly on parole at the time of the shooting, on a charge of child endangerment with methamphetamine from Campbell County. The investigation also found an active warrant out for Roeber at the time, after he violated parole and left drug treatment in Sheridan.
Follow city and crime reporter Ellen Gerst on Twitter at @ellengerst.