By Katie Roegnik
Via Wyoming News Exchange
RIVERTON — A public inquest into a fatal, officer-involved shooting that took place in January in Riverton will be held next month.
No officers were injured in the Jan. 10 incident, which resulted in the death of Nicholas Garcia, 34, after an altercation with two agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun determined last month that he will not press charges against the officers involved.
But Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen said it is his agency's policy to convene a public inquest whenever a fatality is caused, or suspected to be caused, by law enforcement in his jurisdiction.
"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," Stratmoen said in published reports.
"Otherwise there is room for doubt, justified or not, (or a) feeling in the public that something was covered up."
The inquest, which has been scheduled for 9 a.m. April 5 in the old circuit court room at 818 S. Federal Blvd., will determine the cause and manner of Garcia's death.
In a press release Wednesday, Stratmoen noted that, while the inquest proceeding is open to the public, space in the old court room is limited, and relatives of the deceased will have priority seating.
He requested that all cell phones silent during the inquest and said no photo or audio or visual recordings will be permitted.
"The public will be expected to observe the usual decorum and behavior as for any court room," Stratmoen wrote.
In previous reports he explained that he will select three people to sit on the inquest jury.
The jury will determine the manner and cause of death in the case after examining the information collected in the course of the law enforcement investigation into Garcia's death. The jury and Stratmoen also may question witnesses. After the inquest, Stratmoen said all of the evidence presented will be filed with the Clerk of District Court.
In a press release announcing his decision not to pursue charges in the case, LeBrun offered additional details about the incident in order to support his conclusion that the ATF officers were justified in shooting Garcia, who had "ambushed and attempted to kill" the two federal agents.
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, so the two ATF agents followed his Ford F250 pickup truck "by themselves" in their unmarked vehicle.
"Garcia realized he was being followed and attempted to return to his residence," LeBrun said. Agents could see Garcia 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.
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."
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.
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, "it was many."
The Division of Criminal Investigation was charged with investigating the shooting, LeBrun said. 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.”