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Fremont County Attorney Says Officer Had "No Other Option" In September Killing

Savannah Maher

It's been just over two months since a police officer shot and killed 58-year-old Anderson Antelope outside of a Walmart store in Riverton. This afternoon, Fremont County Attorney Patrick Lebrun released a statement saying that the officer's actions were justified, and that his office will take no further action on the case.

"Under Wyoming law, the Officer […] had the absolute right to defend his own life, and the lives of the several people within his immediate vicinity, with deadly force. Every action the Officer took was proper and lawful," Lebrun wrote. The officer's name has not been released.

According to Lebrun's statement, Antelope was intoxicated and refusing to comply with the officer's orders, including an order to stand up from his seat at a picnic table. Antelope produced a knife when the officer, who had been trying to bring Antelope to his feet so that he could be put under arrest, was distracted by an onlooker.

"This momentary distraction appears to have allowed Mr. Antelope sufficient stealth to retrieve a concealed knife approximately 6 inches in length using his right hand. Mr. Antelope then attempted to drive the knife into the Officer's chest. The rifle plate in the center of the Officer's armored vest stopped the knife from penetrating," Lebrun wrote.

After Antelope ignored at least two verbal orders to drop the knife, Lebrun wrote that the officer had "no other option" but to draw his gun and shoot Antelope, killing him instantly.

From the beginning, members of Antelope's family have expressed doubts about whether he could have posed a real threat to the officer. They say he suffered from chronic alcoholism and had recently sustained a brain injury, leaving him physically disabled and prone to bouts of confusion. Dozens of people attended a vigil outside of Riverton City Hall and a march down North Federal Street in Antelope's honor.

At both events, family and community members circulated a petition demanding the release of the name of the officer who killed Antelope and any body camera or surveillance footage that may have captured the shooting.

Lebrun wrote that his statement is based on evidence compiled by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). It is not yet clear whether that includes video evidence, or when the DCI report will become available to the public.

County Coroner Mark Stratmoen has stated that his office will conduct a public inquest, which will allow a jury of three Fremont County citizens to review the evidence and make a judgment on Antelope's cause and manner of death. In his statement, Attorney Lebrun argued that such an inquest would "serve no purpose" and could "delay the healing process."

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.

Savannah comes to Wyoming Public Media from NPR’s midday show Here & Now, where her work explored everything from Native peoples’ fraught relationship with American elections to the erosion of press freedoms for tribal media outlets. A proud citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, she’s excited to get to know the people of the Wind River reservation and dig into the stories that matter to them.
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