A wrongful death lawsuit against Casper police moved to state court this week, federal filings show.
The suit was brought by the mother of Douglas Oneyear, who was shot and killed by Casper police in 2018. Officers were responding to reports of a man threatening a gas station employee and someone matching his description swinging a crowbar while walking down 15th Street on the city’s east side.
Video from the shooting shows two officers stopping Oneyear and ordering him to drop the sword he was carrying. About 12 seconds elapse between the first command and when the first shots were fired.
Oneyear’s mother, Linda Lennen, filed the lawsuit in federal court on the first anniversary of his death. The suit claimed the shooting violated Oneyear’s civil and Fourth Amendment rights.
A federal judge dismissed the civil claims last week. Judge Scott Skavdahl wrote in his ruling that he found the officers “acted appropriately in response to Mr. Oneyear’s conduct and did not violate his constitutional rights.”
But Lennen’s attorney, Todd Hambrick, said the case is far from over. The federal court has jurisdiction over civil rights claims and constitutional violations, but since Wyoming has a specific wrongful death statute, that aspect of the case can still be tried in the state court.
The complaint filed last week in Natrona County District Court is brought against the city of Casper, Casper Police Department and officers Jonathan Schlager and Cody Meyers.
The defendants have yet to file a response to the claim in state court, as of Thursday. Defense lawyer Hampton O’Neill declined to comment on the case.
The complaint accuses CPD of not giving adequate training on non-lethal measures and dealing with citizens with mental disabilities. Only one of the officers, according to the suit, was trained in crisis intervention. Oneyear was still a dependent of his mother’s at 36, and receiving Social Security disability benefits. According to the complaint, he did not drive and had some trouble hearing.
Hambrick said the case was about a month away from going to trial in federal court, and he hopes it will be expedited at this level.
“These people have waited over three years now since Linda’s son was killed,” Hambrick said. “Now, it’s just another delay.”
Hambrick said the case will likely go before a jury in Natrona County, but that the plaintiffs would accept a bench trial.
Claims in the federal case accused the officers of using excessive force and the police department of inadequately training officers. The officers asserted their qualified immunity in the suit, which protects government officials from liability when making reasonable judgments on the job.
Skavdahl’s federal court opinion found that the officers shooting and killing Oneyear was “not unreasonable” given what information they had at the time, if not with the benefit of hindsight. For example, Oneyear was carrying an unsheathed dull prop sword, which the officers did not know wasn’t sharp.
Follow city and crime reporter Ellen Gerst on Twitter at @ellengerst.