Cheyenne city attorney asks AG office to prosecute abuse case

Hannah Black, Wyoming Tribune Eagle via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 8/20/21

Cheyenne’s city attorney has filed a petition asking the Laramie County District Court to request that the Wyoming Attorney General’s office investigate, and potentially prosecute, a case declined by Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Cheyenne city attorney asks AG office to prosecute abuse case


CHEYENNE — Cheyenne’s city attorney has filed a petition asking the Laramie County District Court to request that the Wyoming Attorney General’s office investigate, and potentially prosecute, a case declined by Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove. 

The petition was filed by City Attorney Michael O’Donnell on behalf of the Cheyenne Police Department. Filed Aug. 10, the petition begins by asking the Attorney General’s office to investigate Manlove’s “refusal to act and prosecute a criminal matter.” 

It explains that the department received a call about the sexual assault of a minor on Aug. 30, 2020. A probable cause affidavit was then submitted to Manlove’s office on Oct. 29, and a 32-page investigative report was completed on Nov. 2 by Detective Allison Baca. 

It was not until June 7 this year that Baca had any communication with the District Attorney’s office regarding the affidavit in the case, the filing says, and on June 9, the police department received a “declination of case” letter from the DA’s office, “outlining numerous alleged deficiencies in the investigation of the case, and requested answers and additional information,” according to the petition. 

Upon return from a vacation on or about June 21, Baca responded to Manlove’s questions, according to the petition. 

Lt. Rob Dafoe, the department’s detective commander, then sent a letter to Manlove on July 2 with additional clarifications, also pointing out that some of the evidence or information requested had been available to Manlove’s office as early as January. 

“It is clear to the city of Cheyenne that the District Attorney’s office is not administering justice for the citizens of Cheyenne,” the petition says. “The refusal to charge perpetrators for dangerous crimes puts the community at risk and puts the Cheyenne Police Department in a difficult situation of how to charge a criminal, make sure criminals are prosecuted to the fullest extent available and protect the citizens of the city.” 

Though neither the alleged victim nor her mother are named in the filing, the information and timeline of events line up with the case described in a July letter from Dafoe to Manlove. 

In the letter, Dafoe expresses frustration that it took Manlove more than seven months to request further information, at the same time as she declined to prosecute the case. 

In his letter, obtained and written about by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle earlier this month, Dafoe called the disclosure, facts and probable cause in the alleged sexual abuse of a minor case “one of the most substantial I’ve seen in 20 years of law enforcement.” 

The original affidavit was resubmitted to the DA’s office on July 7, and as of Aug. 10, there had been no communication from the office to CPD “regarding any questions, responses, or information” about the resubmitted affidavit, the petition says.

Another reason to assign the case to the Attorney General’s office, according to the filing, was a 2020 Wyoming Supreme Court opinion that said Manlove committed prosecutorial misconduct in a September 2019 case involving sexual abuse of a minor. 

Manlove said she had no comment on the filing. O’Donnell also declined to comment. 

Cheyenne Police Department spokesperson Alex Farkas said the department had “nothing further to add” to the filing. 

Attorney General Bridget Hill did not respond to questions or a request for comment. 

The petition was filed in accordance with Wyoming Statute 9-1-603©, which says that, if a district or county attorney fails or refuses to act in any criminal or civil case in which the state is involved, the Attorney General can act on behalf of the county, state or other agency at the request of the county’s board of commissioners or a district judge from that county, “if after a thorough investigation, the action is deemed advisable by the Attorney General,” according to legal information website Justia. 

Former Laramie County District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg said he was not aware of any recent examples in which this statute had been used to have the Attorney General’s office take over a case refused by the DA. 

While he said he wouldn’t comment on this specific case, Sandburg said it was the responsibility of a prosecutor “to go back through the case, all the information available, kind of with a fine tooth comb, and ensure that there actually is a case there.” 

“I can think of a number of situations where we got these cases handed to us and the agency really wanted to see prosecution occur, and we had to come back and say, ‘Look, you guys just don’t have a case,’” Sandburg said. “I would never want to comment on somebody else’s case – I don’t have the body of information that they may have, the public doesn’t have that, only law enforcement and the prosecutor has that. So it’s a tough call, and it’s going to be a tough call for the judge.” 

Sandburg was elected the county’s District Attorney in November 2014, and in 2018 said he would not run for another term. 

On Aug. 12, Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher assigned the case to Sweetwater County District Judge Suzannah Robinson, according to court documents. 

Sandburg said this kind of reassignment may have been made to protect Froelicher from a future conflict of interest, should the case come back before the judge in Laramie County District Court as a criminal matter at a future time. 

In December 2020, Froelicher, along with the county’s other three district court judges and the county’s three circuit court judges, sent a letter to the Wyoming State Bar, alleging that Manlove was abusive toward her employees, causing an employment shortage, dismissed an excessive amount of cases and categorically refused to prosecute certain types of cases. 

“In short, we are concerned that Ms. Manlove’s personnel management and caseload management cause prejudice to the administration of justice in Laramie County,” the letter reads, in part. “We are very concerned for Ms. Manlove because her recent conduct suggests she is experiencing an enduring personal crisis that permeates all facets of her office and elected position. We are also concerned for this community because it appears that there is a strong likelihood that Ms. Manlove’s continued tenure cannot provide our citizens with the representation in the District Attorney’s office they deserve.” 

This letter also stated that Attorney General Hill approached the judges in November requesting they consider appointing her office to prosecute cases refused by Manlove, also under Wyoming Statute 9-1-603©. 

However, the judges wrote that they had concerns whether the statute could be applied to broad categories of cases, as opposed to an individual case. 

On June 11, Wyoming State Bar special counsel filed a formal charge against Manlove with the Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility, alleging “incompetence and lack of professionalism.” 

It outlined three investigations it had undertaken against Manlove, one of which it said had been initiated by the Laramie County judges’ letter, which it called “unprecedented.” 

Manlove, through her attorney, Stephen Melchior, filed her formal response to the charge on July 20. 

She largely denied the allegations against her, including that her alleged behavior violated any of the Rules of Professional Conduct described in the formal charge. 

On July 29, the Attorney General’s office filed a petition asking the Wyoming Supreme Court to forbid the BPR from reviewing or making any decisions about complaints related to an alleged violation by Manlove of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as personnel matters described in the charge, saying they fall outside of the board’s jurisdiction. 

The Bar pushed back last week, with a BPR attorney arguing in a filing with the Supreme Court that, because the BPR’s jurisdiction extends from the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court is singular in its ability to oversee the conduct of Wyoming attorneys, the court can consider “any allegations of misconduct which, if proven, show the respondent attorney is incompetent or has committed acts prejudicial to the administration of justice.”