Sheriff clarifies photos of tragic accident

Zoom meeting screenshot Big Piney rancher Tim Thompson addresses the Subeltte County Board of Commissioners at the Oct. 17 meeting.

SUBLETTE COUNTY – During the Sublette County Board of Commissioners’ meeting at Marbleton Town Hall on Oct. 17, Big Piney rancher Tim Thompson approached during public comments and blasted Sheriff KC Lehr and deputies.

Thompson told commissioners he believed that a deputy wrongfully took photos of the tragic death of rancher Jay Downs, also of Big Piney, who died several days earlier in a mechanical haying accident.

Thompson asked Lehr about a deputy taking several photos at the scene with a cell phone; he said Lehr replied that was not proper protocol and that the sheriff would look into it. Thompson expressed anger to commissioners that Lehr later said the deputy was acting in a proper capacity.

Lehr said Monday that was indeed the case. An investigator did not report to the scene after it was determined Downs’ death was an accident; therefore, it fell on the responding deputies to chronicle the scene.

Lehr’s email states: “Our normal protocol/procedure on any death other than an attended death, meaning the individual was under the care of medical personnel, is to have an investigator respond to the scene to conduct a thorough investigation. This is done primarily to help determine cause or manner of death. As well, to determine if there was foul play, i.e. a homicide.

“In this particular call, as I found out later, the deputy on scene contacted the investigator and informed them of the circumstances surrounding the death. As it was apparent that this was an accidental death due to mechanical asphyxiation, the investigator was called off and did not respond to the scene. The deputy realized that neither deputy on scene had their body cameras on and no pictures were taken since the time of their arrival and in the course of trying to free Mr. Downs from the baler.

“Well after Mr. Downs had been removed from the baler, the deputy used his cell phone to take a series of five photos: one at a distance capturing the ambulance and Mr. Downs covered with a white sheet and the baler to his side; the second and third of the baler; and the last two of Mr. Downs in a supine position with the white sheet removed.

“I believe the last two photos the deputy took are what Mr. Thompson witnessed and has caused him concern ever since. When he called me the evening after the event, I did say that was not our standard procedure, and assured him that I would look in to the matter further.

“After speaking with the deputy, the investigator, and looking in to the case report, I don’t believe our deputy did anything that was unprofessional or disrespectful. It was all done with the intent of trying to preserve the scene, albeit not very timely. The photos were uploaded to the case report and deleted from the phone.”