A Laramie police sergeant struck a protester with her vehicle during a demonstration Wednesday night near downtown Laramie, marking the latest episode amid weeks of protests for police reform in Wyoming’s largest college town. Police say the protester, who was uninjured, complied with an officer’s attempt to get him out of the street, but a separate law enforcement agency later cited him in connection with the incident. Meanwhile, a local police reform group is condemning the police’s handling of the situation.
The incident — captured in a video shared Thursday by the reform group, the Laramie Human Rights Network — occurred during a demonstration outside of a meeting by Albany County Democrats to begin the process of vetting candidates to replace outgoing Albany County Sheriff David O’Malley.
Editor’s note: This video contains explicit language.
Video released by the police department Thursday afternoon, from the vantage point of a drone and from the driving officer’s body cam, shows the front right side of the vehicle striking the protester on Sixth Street near the intersection with Grand Avenue. From all vantage points, he is shown at first in the street with a camera pointed up and into the police car. He’s then directed by another officer to move back toward the curb, which meant crossing in front of the vehicle.
The officer points toward the curb and appears to put his hand on the protester’s back, directing him out of the street and in front of the vehicle. The protester then begins to move toward the curb.
The officer in the vehicle, Sgt. Sally Dalles, switches on her lights, and within two seconds moves forward, hitting both the protester and the officer directing him toward the curb. She briefly stops and then continues driving.
Laramie Police Chief Dale Stalder confirmed that the protester was complying and moving out of the street. He said Dalles was looking backward when she put the car in drive.
“When she moves forward, her attention comes back to the front, and she very visibly puts on the brakes when she realizes what’s happening,” he said.
He defended her not looking forward when she put the car into drive by saying “she was very focused on removing herself and the person she arrested” from the “very volatile situation, to try to decrease the volatility.”
Asked if she could be characterized as focused despite not looking forward, Stalder said that “people will have to make that judgment.”
“She absolutely could’ve waited that two seconds (to look forward before moving), but she also absolutely had every authority as an emergency vehicle to move herself out of that,” he said. “And she was absolutely engaged as an emergency vehicle by state statute.”
Dalles did have her lights switched on when she began to move, but she turned them on only a few second before the car bumped into the protester and the officer directing him out of the street.
“What I would point to is that my officers have to do things in tense, uncertain, rapid, evolving situations on a regular basis,” Stalder said.
“I’ll defend Officer Dalles’ action based on what was occurring in those split seconds,” he added. Dalles has not faced any disciplinary proceedings.
In all videos, protesters can be seen crowding the vehicle, though most are on the sidewalk and all but one protester are out of the way of the SUV when the officer begins to drive forward.
According to the Laramie Human Rights Network, the officer driving the vehicle had arrested Illyanna Saucedo, a demonstrator who is a person of color, for allegedly stepping into the street “for a matter of seconds,” despite the fact that white protesters had done so without repercussions. Saucedo said she was singled out because of her race and that she was misidentified on police paperwork as white.
Stadler said he didn’t know anything about Saucedo being misidentified because that paperwork isn’t handled in the field. He said the “discussion” around officers misidentifying protesters’ race stems from an incident in late June, when an officer ran a black woman’s name in the computer system as a white female. The woman corrected the officer, Stalder said.
Saucedo told the Star-Tribune she had been walking in the street with two other white protesters who had also been warned not to move into the street. She said she alone was singled out for arrest; she and others said LPD had singled out protesters of color for arrest previously.
Stalder said Saucedo was not targeted because of her race. He said she was repeatedly in the street and that officers identified her over the radio by the white flag she was carrying and the black shirt she was wearing, not by her race. He said that she was out in the street more than anyone else. On video, a white flag can be seen in the street repeatedly.
Saucedo, who was in the back seat when Dalles hit the protester, said the officer didn’t say anything. Saucedo said it was “obvious” that she’d hit the man.
The arrest, depicted in a video of the incident provided to the Star-Tribune as well as a video later posted to Facebook by Laramie police, shows a police officer walking Saucedo to a parked police vehicle amid a crowd of protesters yelling “shame on you.” The protester is seen taking video in the street, in front and just to the left of the vehicle as the officer climbs into it and starts the vehicle.
The protester was not injured in the incident, other protesters who were at the scene say. The Laramie Human Rights Network described the incident as “a choice of fatal use of force” in a letter to Laramie police chief Dale Stalder Thursday morning.
“The officer’s actions were indisputably out-of-line, and her patrolling and reaction to peaceful protesters is escalatory and racially motivated,” according to a copy of the letter provided to the Star-Tribune. “We hope your reaction to these incidents is adequate and in support of your community members who are continually threatened by her.”
In a separate video and statement to its Facebook page Thursday, the Laramie Police Department defended the arrest, saying officers had repeatedly warned the demonstrator to leave the roadway over an eight-block span.
According to the statement, Wyoming Highway Patrol later identified and ticketed the protester struck by the vehicle. Laramie police cited Saucedo for obstructing traffic.
“The Laramie Police Department regrets that a member of our community was hit and would remind all demonstrators that police vehicles, when being operated as an emergency vehicle according to Wyoming State Statutes, must be yielded to both by other vehicles and pedestrians,” the department wrote in the statement. “In this instance, the police vehicle was displaying red lights and sirens when the officer was attempting to leave the area of the arrest.”
The highway patrol investigated the incident because Laramie police were involved, the police department said in its Facebook statement. The protester who was hit initially declined to provide his identification to troopers because he didn’t know if he was being arrested, other protesters said, and he was waiting for legal counsel to arrive. He was threatened with arrest, those protesters said, as was his legal counsel. He was eventually cited.
Through the members of the human rights group, the protester declined to comment. The highway patrol did respond to a request for comment before press deadlines Thursday.
Karlee Provenza, a member of the sheriff’s candidate selection committee and a Democratic candidate for the Wyoming Legislature, said she initially advised the protester who was hit to wait until legal counsel arrived on the scene before speaking with law enforcement.
In an interview with the Star-Tribune, Provenza said that officers on the scene promised the man who was hit that he “would not get in trouble” with the police, only to be cited by the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
She said she believes if a civilian had behaved similarly to Dalles, they would likely have been treated differently.
“If someone is crossing the street at an inconvenient time for you, you don’t get to hit the gas pedal,” she said. “That is called aggravated assault. What is the effort at deescalation there?”
Provenza said that both the incident itself — and the decision to charge the protester with a crime — indicate the need for change within local law enforcement and the need to end the practice of officers investigating other police officers.
“That conflict of interest needs to be removed,” she said. “We need civilian oversight boards. We need trained civilians to investigate these types of incidents and come to an unbiased result.”
Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter
Get the latest in local public safety news with this weekly email.