RIVERTON — The Fremont County Attorney’s Office will take no criminal action against the officers who shot a man to death on a city street last month in Riverton.
The deceased was identified as 34-year-old Nicholas Garcia in a Wednesday press release from Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun, who offered additional details about the Jan. 10 incident in order to support his conclusion that the homicide was justified.
“Garcia ambushed and attempted to kill two (federal) agents,” LeBrun wrote. “The agents had the right, under Wyoming law, to defend their own lives and each others’ lives using deadly force.”
The officers also were within their rights to continue using deadly force “until it was clear Garcia’s intended course had been stopped,” LeBrun said.
“Both men acted reasonably at all times,” he concluded. “This office shall take no further action.”
In the days prior to the shooting, LeBrun said, a citizen “familiar with” Garcia told law enforcement that Garcia had been receiving ammunition “via common carrier delivery.”
“Garcia was a felon, and thus prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition for firearms,” LeBrun wrote.
Garcia also was a registered sex offender, LeBrun said, and had told the anonymous citizen that he “hated having to register as a sex offender” and “blamed the police for his situation.”
“The citizen advised that Garcia was angry at the police and threatened that he would engage in a gun battle, if he was ever stopped by the police,” LeBrun wrote. “Further investigation was conducted, and as a result, a federal search warrant was obtained for Garcia’s residence in Riverton.”
Because of Garcia’s threats and “the danger involved,” LeBrun wrote, law enforcement developed a “specific operational plan” for executing the warrant.
“The plan involved a combination of federal law enforcement and the Riverton Police Department,” LeBrun said.
However, before the operational plan was fully implemented, Garcia left his residence, forcing two agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to follow his Ford F250 pickup truck “by themselves” in their unmarked vehicle, LeBrun wrote.
“Garcia realized he was being followed and attempted to return to his residence,” LeBrun said, noting that the agents could see Garcia “repeatedly glancing in his rearview mirror.”
At that point, the agents decided to activate their lights and siren and stop Garcia’s vehicle at the corner of North First Street East and East Monroe Avenue in Riverton — about one block from his residence, LeBrun said.
He said the decision was made because the agents were concerned that Garcia had weapons and ammunition at his residence, and because of “the advantage” Garcia would have at his home.
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When the agents activated their lights and siren, LeBrun said, Garcia “rolled his vehicle to a stop” and “immediately” got out of the truck holding a black 9 millimeter firearm.
“(He) aimed his weapon at the agents and began firing, (moving) towards the agents as he fired,” LeBrun wrote.
The agents retrieved their weapons and returned fire, LeBrun said, and Garcia moved to the front of his truck, “gun still in hand, seeking a better tactical position.”
“Garcia was mortally wounded, at this location, by the agents’ return fire,” LeBrun said. “The exchange lasted for less than 15 seconds.”
Neither agent was hit by Garcia’s bullets, he noted.
RPD officers — who had been notified of the situation when the agents decided to pull Garcia’s truck over — arrived at the scene shortly after the gunfire ceased, LeBrun continued.
“Life-saving efforts were under taken with RPD assistance; however, those efforts failed,” he said.
One of Garcia’s bullets came to rest inside a home nearby, LeBrun said, and spent shell casings from Garcia’s weapon were recovered at the scene.
On Wednesday, LeBrun said Garcia shot his weapon at least three times, based on the number of shell casings found at the scene.
It’s “hard to say” how many times the ATF agents discharged their weapons, LeBrun said, but “it was many.”
He was not aware of any stray bullets from the ATF agents impacting private property.
The Division of Criminal Investigation was charged with investigating the shooting, LeBrun said, and representatives from that agency “happened to be in town investigating another matter,” so they were able to arrive at the scene shortly after the incident took place.
“The vehicles were in the same location, (and) all the information was there — it just had to be collected by DCI,” LeBrun said, adding that the agency’s investigation is now complete.
He said the DCI agents took measurements, collected shell casings, interviewed the officers involved and interviewed an “eye-witness” who “happened to be driving by” at the time of the shooting.
In their search of Garcia’s truck, LeBrun said officers found a .308 PTR semi-automatic rifle containing a full 20-round magazine, with a round in the chamber.
“Also located was a green tactical vest containing two additional 20-round .308 magazines and an additional 130 rounds of .308 ammunition,” he wrote.
Garcia’s 9 millimeter firearm was located in the area near his body, LeBrun said; one full 9 millimeter magazine was removed from his pocket and another 9 millimeter magazine was discovered “in the immediate vicinity.”