Tuesday’s police shooting in Casper was the third in six months, an unusual string of encounters for a city that can go years between incidents.
District Attorney Michael Blonigen said there have been more police shootings in Casper than he can remember during his tenure — and the veteran prosecutor doesn’t know why.
In an interview Wednesday with the Star-Tribune, Blonigen said his office does not track the number of police shootings because they have typically been rare. Casper police would sometimes not shoot anyone for years at a time, Blonigen said. That has changed.
“Obviously, something is very, very wrong,” the prosecutor said.
Blonigen, who will not seek re-election when his term ends this year, said he reviews each of the shootings independently of one another. He does, however look for “common threads.” What the threads are isn’t entirely clear, he said.
Blonigen attributed the rise to a “blaze of glory mentality” among crime suspects. He said that he does not know why resistance to police would be on the rise.
According to a database maintained by the Washington Post, Wyoming law enforcement shot and killed one person last year. Scott Addison fired at officers in Cheyenne before he was killed.
In 2016, U.S. Marshals shot and killed Jasen Ramirez, 44, in Douglas and a Mills police officer shot and killed Jeff Hyde, 50, in Casper.
At the start of this year, on-duty Casper police officers had not shot and killed anyone since 2015. That quickly changed.
In late February, officers Jonathan Schlager and Cody Meyers shot and killed Douglas Oneyear in east Casper after encountering him in the street with a sword. Blonigen cleared the two officers and concluded Oneyear provoked the confrontation in an attempt to end his life.
Oneyear’s family maintains the officers could have resolved the situation without killing him.
In May, Casper police shot and killed David P. Wolosin, 38, during a shootout in east Casper. Wolosin shot and critically injured Officer Jacob Carlson during the gunfight.
Both Carlson and Officer Randi Garrett, who exchanged fire with Wolosin, remain on administrative leave. Blonigen’s office has received the results of a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation inquiry into the incident, but has yet to make a final decision on whether to file charges against either officer.
Blonigen said Wednesday that his initial review of the investigative report did not show any criminal conduct by the officers. He expects to make a final decision in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, an as-yet unnamed officer shot and killed a 21-year-old man. The Natrona County Coroner’s Office has not yet identified the dead man. In a Wednesday news release, Coroner Connie Jacobson stated that not all of the man’s immediate family had been contacted.
The man had threatened people, including the officer who eventually killed him, in the hours and moments leading up to his death, police say.
Police Chief Keith McPheeters said he was not yet fully familiar with facts relating to the deaths of Wolosin and the 21-year-old who died Monday. Speaking generally, he said he has ongoing concerns about interactions between police and people suffering from mental illness. He said his officers were generally effective when interacting with people suffering from mental illness, but they are sometimes unable to connect people to proper help in time.
McPheeters called for a greater community emphasis on providing resources to help treat people who are mentally ill. He said more focus on providing those resources could help prevent tragedies.
“This is not just a police issue, it’s a societal issue,” he said.