One arrested after assault behind Cowboy Bar

Deputy County Attorney Clayton Melinkovich and Sheriff KC Lehr address concerns from Meeks’ family and friends who attended the July 19 commissioners’ meeting. Meeks’ alleged attacker, Chett Whitman, was arrested hours later. Photo by Cali O'Hare, Managing Editor.

Victim recovering from extensive facial fractures

SUBLETTE COUNTY — More than two dozen people attended the July 19 Board of Sublette County Commissioners meeting in person and via Zoom to show solidarity for Boulder resident Chris Meeks who, according to court records, sustained “extensive facial fractures” from a July 9 assault. Meeks suffered broken “orbits, bilateral maxillary sinuses, nasal bones and right zygoma,” resulting in the “need to be intubated at the Pinedale Medical Clinic and transported to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center via fixed-wing aircraft.”

In the 10 days following the attack, people accused Eden resident Chett Logan Whitman.

Speaking to the commissioners, Meeks’ family and friends took issue with the fact that no arrests had been made at that point.

What they did not know then is that a warrant was issued for Whitman’s arrest. Deputy County Attorney Clayton Melinkovich told the crowd, “In the event that there were a warrant, I couldn’t talk about it, nor could the sheriff, because notifying a person that there’s a warrant out for them can put officers at risk and can put the community at risk.”

Roughly six hours later, Whitman was booked into the county jail at 6:58 p.m. Tuesday, on a felony charge of aggravated assault and battery resulting in serious bodily injury. He appeared in Sublette County Circuit Court via videoconference from the detention center Wednesday morning, represented by defense attorney Rives White. His parents attended the hearing, where Judge Curt Haws denied Whitman’s request to reduce his bond from $50,000 cash or surety to $10,000 cash or surety. Although the judge was not convinced Whitman was a flight risk due to his familial connections in Sublette County and his employment with SOS Well Services in neighboring LaBarge, Haws described the 25-year-old as “a threat to the community.”

Prosecutor Mike Crosson pointed to Whitman’s 2014 convictions, including reckless endangering and stalking, along with a probation revocation, when arguing that the man’s bond should not be reduced.

According to an affidavit filed by Sublette County detective Sgt. Lance Gehlhausen, Deputy Josh Peterson found Meeks unconscious and “bleeding substantially from the head” behind the Cowboy Bar near midnight on July 9. Off-duty EMTs Danny Long and Shaundel Bennette were trying to stabilize Meeks’ injuries. Pinedale Clinic attending physician Dr. Alice Jacobson told the deputy Meeks was “in critical condition,” had been intubated and airlifted to an out-of-state trauma facility. At least two witnesses named in the affidavit told the deputy that Meeks never threw a punch, and that Whitman struck Meeks in the face at least three times, once while they were standing and twice after Meeks fell to the ground.

Under Wyoming statute, aggravated assault and battery is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both. Whitman could also be held financially responsible for any out-of-pocket expenses related to Meeks’ medical care, including the cost of the life flight and his upcoming surgeries.

Criminal charges are often dropped or reduced, and Whitman is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. A circuit court preliminary hearing is set for July 28 at 11:30 a.m.