After weeks of back and forth with the county attorney, Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen has called off a public inquest into the September police shooting that killed Anderson Antelope. In a Thursday morning press release, Stratmoen wrote that his office has been "obstructed from completing the process" and that the manner of Antelope's death will be certified as "undetermined."
A Riverton police officer shot 58-year-old Antelope during an encounter outside of a Walmart on September 21, during which Antelope is accused of attacking the officer with a knife. The officer, whose name has not been released to the public, was unharmed in the attack thanks to a body armor vest and has been on paid-leave from his position according to local officials.
Two days after the shooting, Stratmoen announced that he would convene a public inquest to examine the case.
"It is the policy of this office to convene a public inquest in the matter of any fatalities caused, or suspected to be caused, by any law enforcement agency in this jurisdiction," Stratmoen wrote in that September 23 statement.
An inquest jury, composed of three Fremont County residents chosen by Stratmoen, wouldn't have had the power to prosecute the officer or not. Stratmoen said the process would allow for a public airing of the evidence and offer some degree of transparency and closure.
Fremont County Attorney Pat Lebrun first publicly opposed the inquest in an October letter to the editor of the Riverton Ranger.
"The coroner's failure to follow proper procedure under the coroner's statute, unnecessary costs associated with unenforceable subpoenas, and because the process is altogether unnecessary, the Fremont County Commissioners should not authorize taxpayer money to fund it," Lebrun wrote.
Last Friday, Lebrun announced that his office would not file any charges in relation to the case and that he believed the officer was lawfully defending himself and others on the scene when he shot and killed Antelope.
Stratmoen wrote today that without Lebrun's cooperation, he could not "adequately and objectively" present the case to an inquest jury. He also revealed that his office was not informed of Antelope's killing until more than 5 hours after the fact, that local Emergency Medical Service providers have no record of being called to the scene, and that the City of Riverton has refused to provide his office with police records related to the incident.
"Unfortunately, we have seen plenty of examples in other state and national communities of the results of not having transparency in such tragic incidents, which an inquest was designed to mitigate," Stratmoen wrote. "I am disappointed that some have forgotten who we are supposed to serve, and the loss of opportunity to answer the public's questions or concerns in this case."
12/6/19: An earlier headline for this story mistakenly said that the County Attorney suspended the inquest. In fact, it was the County Coroner who suspended the inquest.
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