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Wyoming lawmaker says state safety net failed Northern Arapaho man killed by police
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Wyoming lawmaker says state safety net failed Northern Arapaho man killed by police

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Vigil for man killed in police shooting

A photograph of Anderson “Andy” Antelope lies on top of a memorial of flowers in front of Walmart in Riverton last month near the spot where he was shot and killed by Riverton police during an altercation.

FORT WASHAKIE — A state lawmaker says the state’s social services failed the Northern Arapaho man killed by police late last month.

At a state Joint Committee on Tribal Relations Committee meeting on Monday, Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said Anderson “Andy” Antelope shouldn’t have been at the Riverton Walmart where he was shot and killed after authorities said Antelope got into an altercation with a police officer. Instead, Antelope should have been in a hospital that day, Larsen said.

In the months before the shooting, Antelope, 58, had been in and out of hospitals, including a Lander hospital and Wyoming State Hospital in Riverton, Larsen said. Instead of being outside Walmart, he said Antelope should have been getting help with his addiction issues.

“We have a problem in Wyoming, and I think that the system really failed us in this instance, and it doesn’t matter that he was a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe,” Larsen said. “Our system in Wyoming for handling those addiction recovery issues and preventing recidivism and helping get the counseling and getting some stable legs under them before they’re back in the community is problematic in our system, and we somehow have got to get that fixed.”

Larsen said Antelope had been involuntarily committed to the state hospital for four months before the shooting. He had been released and found himself at the hospital in Lander for two months. Larsen said the hospital attempted to send Antelope back to the state hospital, but the Evanston hospital wouldn’t take him until he had a psychological evaluation.

When Antelope did receive that evaluation, there was no room at the Evanston hospital or any other private or public facilities in Wyoming to address his addiction issues, Larsen said.

“Mr. Antelope shouldn’t have been there that day,” he said. “He just shouldn’t have been there.”

Larsen said he wanted to share some additional information about the shooting because many in the Fremont County area have been discussing the topic. While he didn’t offer any specific solutions, he said the state’s system for handling those with issues like Antelope’s needs to be fixed.

Another committee member, Rep. Patrick Sweeney, said in cases like Antelope’s money and eligibility to continue to hold a patient run out. He said finding additional money, especially for the Wyoming State Hospital, could help solve the problem.

‘Pleasant as can be’

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A police officer shot Antelope on Sept. 21 at a fundraising barbeque outside of the Riverton Walmart after authorities alleged he stabbed an officer with a knife, which didn’t penetrate because of the officer’s body armor. Family members have said the Northern Arapaho tribal member was shot once in the head.

Family members have also said Antelope had struggled with health issues and alcohol abuse. They’ve also said he was prone to periods of confusion.

Those who knew Anderson – Larsen included – have described Antelope as a likable man who cared about his family and valued his Arapaho culture.

“He was just as pleasant as can be,” Larsen said.

Authorities have released few details, frustrating family members and tribal leaders.

The shooting has prompted multiple vigils, marches and community events, where participants have called for answers to the shooting and talked about how to move forward and prevent future police shootings of tribal members. A petition has also called for authorities to release any security camera footage, the name of the officer involved and any complaints or disciplinary issues related to the officer.

The Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation, which typically examines police shootings, is investigating. Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen has said he intends to convene a public inquest and present evidence from the shooting after the investigation is complete.

Rep. Andi Clifford, who is also a Northern Arapaho tribal member, said at the meeting the factors that led to the shooting are more complex than the state failing Antelope as Larsen said.

She said there are many “underlying factors” other than than any problems with the state’s social services, adding that if a Northern Arapaho police officer had responded to the incident, Antelope would be alive.

“It does matter that he was a Northern Arapaho member of our tribe,” she said. “This is part of our reservation ... I stand for my people and I feel that it is my duty to find out ...the facts of this case ... we do have a lot of problems with addition, but to discount him? It is my job to protect the memory of the deceased.”

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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