Three weeks ago, residents of south Casper watched as police stormed into an apartment where a woman was reportedly being held at gunpoint. On a video captured by a neighbor, five uniformed officers can be seen entering the building. About 13 seconds pass before a single gunshot is heard. Then 17 seconds later, a dozen more gunshots are heard in short succession.
After a few seconds, police ordered people out of the home and directed them to the ground. Then two minutes later, a woman who is crying and moaning is brought out in handcuffs. She is bleeding from injuries to her pelvis and arm. Three officers tend to her before the video ends. Although the video doesn’t show it, the man suspected of kidnapping the woman died in the exchange of gunfire.
The officers who walked into a dangerous situation to free a hostage deserve our praise and thanks. From all appearances, they risked their lives to rescue someone from a deadly situation. We’re thankful that no officers were injured, nor were the four people who were brought out of the building before the woman.
Many questions remain about what happened inside the apartment. The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation is now examining the matter, which is standard procedure in Wyoming after shootings involving police.
But as that investigation unfolds, we’re concerned that police have avoided answering basic questions about the incident. Even more concerning, the department’s public statements have so far avoided acknowledging that key questions exist.
Although police did not identify her as such, the woman on the video who was brought out in handcuffs was the hostage. The department released a one-page statement four days after the incident, but it said nothing about how she was shot or by whom. In fact, the statement does not directly say she was shot, instead it mentions, in the passive voice, that she was bleeding from gunshot wounds. When a journalist pressed the department spokeswoman on this point, she said authorities were still investigating who shot the woman. Fair enough. Why not mention that fact in the department’s press release?
The statement left out other crucial facts – ones that are not in dispute. It failed to acknowledge that the hostage was brought out in handcuffs and left bound while police tended to her wounds. If not for the bystander’s video, we wouldn’t know that happened. Why didn’t police feel obligated to address this?
The statement also failed to explain who shot the suspect. Again it uses the passive voice: “One suspect was killed during the incident.” When asked why that information was left out, a police spokeswoman told a journalist authorities were still investigating who shot the man. Fair enough. Why not mention that fact in the department’s press release?
We don’t raise these questions because we suspect that something nefarious happened in that south Casper apartment. There might be completely valid reasons for handcuffing the hostage or why police don’t know yet who shot the suspect or the hostage. But failing to acknowledge those questions in its statement to the public is a failure of transparency.
Simply put: Government has a basic obligation to explain itself to the citizens it serves and who fund it. And that obligation grows in importance along with the power that a government entity possesses. Law enforcement officers have the ultimate government power: the right to deprive someone of their liberty and their life. And with that comes a responsibility to be as transparent as possible when officers use force.
That didn’t happen here. Police told the public that officers rescued a hostage, but failed to tell us the hostage was handcuffed. It took the department four days to even acknowledge – indirectly – that the hostage had been shot. It hasn’t explained why we still don’t know who shot the suspect, when in past cases police provided the public with that information within 24 hours. Saying that DCI is “investigating the exchange of gunfire during the incident,” as the press statement puts it, is not nearly enough. That’s not the same as being upfront with the public on two key facts missing from the public statement: Who shot the hostage? Who shot the suspect?
The officers who rescued the woman showed bravery that deserves our community’s gratitude. It’s now incumbent on the department to be upfront about what occurred in that apartment. We’ve seen in the past months what happens when the public’s trust of police erodes. We don’t want that in Casper. A community that trusts its police, and whose police trust the community, is one that is safer and better for everyone.
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