CHEYENNE — Two recent incidents in which suspects were shot and killed by local law enforcement were the first officer-involved shooting deaths in Laramie County in nearly five years, according to information from two agencies.
Last weekend, a member or members of the Cheyenne Police/Laramie County Joint SWAT Team shot and killed a suspect out of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, who was wanted on charges that included second-degree murder. Officers had located the man in a local residence, and killed the suspect, Davin Darayle Saunders, after he “pulled a firearm,” according to a Cheyenne Police Department news release.
The release said Saunders “had a history of violence and was considered armed and dangerous.”
A deputy with the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office shot and killed 31-year-old Rance Tillman of Cheyenne on April 2, reportedly following a “slow-speed pursuit,” an LCSO news release said at the time. Tillman was apparently a suspect in a prior assault.
Investigations of both incidents are currently in progress by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, that agency has said.
Before Tillman, a Laramie County Sheriff’s deputy last shot and killed a suspect in 2007, Undersheriff Capt. Kevin James told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. A suspect was shot and wounded, but not killed, in 2011.
The last time an officer with the Cheyenne Police Department shot and killed a suspect was in December 2017. Scott Addison, 49, reportedly fired a rifle at law enforcement, CPD Public Information Officer Alexandra Farkas said. Three CPD officers and one LCSO deputy returned fire.
Wyoming has seen 22 shooting deaths of civilians by law enforcement since Jan. 1, 2015, according to a Washington Post database last updated Thursday. In the U.S. as a whole, 7,426 people were killed in this way since 2015 began.
These numbers do not include deaths of people in police custody, fatal shootings by off-duty officers or non-shooting deaths.
Outside of Saunders and Tillman, three other men have been shot and killed by on-duty officers in Wyoming so far in 2022. These are 22-year-old Ismael Trinidad Montes in Gillette, who police said “charged at them while swinging a large, edged weapon”; 29-year-old Blaine Clutter in Evansville, who was apparently armed with a gun; and an unidentified man in Gillette who was contacted by officers after residents reported he was “shooting a handgun in the street.”
And while the total number of officer-involved shooting deaths since 2015 is on the low end compared other states in the U.S., Wyoming’s rate of officer-involved shooting deaths per million people is “relatively high,” University of Wyoming criminologist Malcolm Holmes pointed out in a Friday interview.
At 38 officer-involved shooting deaths per million people since the start of 2015, Wyoming’s rate is higher than nearby states, such as Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Colorado and Montana’s rates, at 49 and 47 shootings per million people, respectively, outpaced the Cowboy State.
States with the highest rates are New Mexico, Alaska and Oklahoma, at 76, 69 and 54 officer-involved shooting deaths per million people, respectively.
Holmes, who is a professor emeritus with UW’s sociology and criminal justice programs, stressed the importance of looking at rates, rather than simply the number of officer-involved shootings.
Texas, for example, has had 659 officer-involved shooting deaths since 2015, but just 24 deaths per million people.
Holmes also offered one potential contributing factor to a higher death rate. While there are exceptions, “States that seemed to be high all have large rural populations. And that doesn’t mean people who are living in rural areas are more likely to get shot by the police, but it may mean that they’re more likely to die” because of lack of proximity to a hospital or trauma center, he said.
“There are other factors that weigh into it, certainly. But I think that would explain why we have such a high death rate, relatively speaking,” the professor said.
Texas has several very large cities where rates of violent crime are much higher than in rural areas. But if someone is shot in those cities, they’re much more likely to make it to a trauma center in time, and more likely to survive, Holmes explained.
When it comes to officer-involved shooting deaths, Holmes said, the data collected by the Washington Post are “probably the best we have.”
This year, just six of 82 local law enforcement agencies in Wyoming, or 29 percent of the state’s sworn law enforcement officers, provided use-of-force data to the FBI, according to the federal agency’s website. The previous year was only slightly better at 32 percent.
Use-of-force data collected by the FBI at the state level appear not to be available.
“This is a terribly difficult area to investigate, simply because the data are really not very good overall,” Holmes said.
One member of CPD’s civilian use-of-force review board told the WTE on Friday that he believes law enforcement agencies should be more transparent following officer-involved shootings.
“I always want to see more,” said Stephen Latham, who is also branch president for the Cheyenne NAACP and a local pastor. “When it’s a police shooting, they’re always giving less information. But if somebody shoots an officer, they’re getting all the information that they can, trying to paint (a suspect) in a bad light. The transparency still needs to be improved in all areas.”
Undersheriff James said in an email that it was “difficult, if not counterproductive” to comment on or release details about “an investigation that we are not actively involved in.”
“We balance the need to release details of the incident against the need to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation that is now being conducted by an outside law enforcement agency,” James continued. “We take a cautious approach to releasing too much unvetted information prematurely.”
CPD said it “makes every effort to communicate with transparency by adhering to its policies and following many best practices established by police departments in comparatively-sized communities.”