By Clair McFarland
Via Wyoming News Exchange
RIVERTON — Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun has several legal concerns about the public inquest planned in the matter of a fatal, officer-involved shooting that took place Sept. 21 in Riverton.
Anderson Antelope, 58, died in the incident.
The Riverton Police Department officer involved was uninjured, though officials said Antelope stabbed him in the chest with a 6-inch knife.
The officer's body armor prevented the blade from penetrating, officials said; when Antelope continued the knife attack, he was shot.
The officer had been called to the area in response to a report of intoxication at Walmart.
Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen says it is the policy of his office to hold public inquests after all fatalities involving law enforcement.
"The family of the deceased in these circumstances deserves an independent, outside and public inquiry in order to assess the truth of the matter regardless of appearance,” he has said.
However, according to LeBrun, the method and reasoning behind the planned inquest are incompatible with state law.
In a letter to the editor Thursday, LeBrun wrote that the legal purpose of a coroner's inquest is to determine the cause and manner of death in a fatality.
In this case, though, LeBrun says the cause and manner of death already have been determined, with forensic pathologist James Wilkerson ruling that Antelope’s death was a homicide by gunshot wound.
“(It’s) a settled matter,” LeBrun wrote.
Instead, he continued, Stratmoen “intends to use the hearing to determine justification in officer-related encounters.”
“(That) is outside the scope of the authorizing statute,” LeBrun said.
The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation is conducting an independent investigation to determine whether the officer was justified in shooting Antelope.
State Rep. Andrea Clifford (D-Ethete) announced last week that Stratmoen has asked her to sit on the three-person inquest jury.
Stratmoen said he is considering Clifford because "she's well known in the community" and because of her special interest in the case. However, Clifford's public comments surrounding the announcement have produced doubt among community leaders as to whether she is objective in the matter.
“We do have a Northern Arapaho tribal member on that police force, and I do believe that if he had been the one that had answered that call, Andy would still be alive today,” Clifford said.
Clifford is a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, as was Antelope.
When asked whether the Fremont County Commission intends to fund the inquest, Commission Chairman Travis Becker said “that's something that we will need to probably discuss.”
Speaking as an individual, Becker said that, if the inquest is to take place, jury members "should be as impartial as possible.”
“They should not have a preconceived judgment, and that is of great concern,” he said.