Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy Wants Out of Casper Wrongful Death Suit
The Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy trained two Casper police officers, but it cannot legally be responsible for their actions when they shot and killed a man in east Casper a year ago, according to the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office.
The Douglas-based academy responded to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Linda Lennen, mother of 36-year-old Douglas Oneyear, who claims the city and police department created the policies, and the academy did the training that enabled officers to shoot him after he was reported behaving erratically on Feb. 26, 2018, according to the complaint filed by Lennen's attorney Todd Hambrick of Casper.
"Plaintiff alleges that the Officers in this case were plainly incompetent and knowingly violated the law when they caused Douglas Oneyear's unwarranted and excruciating physical and mental anguish and death," according to the complaint.
But the academy responded that Lennen’s civil rights claim should be dismissed in part because the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars lawsuits for damages against state agencies.
A state agency is not a “person” that can be sued under the civil rights act, and the academy has sovereign immunity as an educator for peace officers, according to the academy’s response.
The teachers at the academy are educators, not peace officers, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Even if the academy employed peace officers, they could only legally be considered such if there were on the property in Douglas, they were providing security for Wyoming officials, or while acting under an emergency.
The Attorney General's Office also said Lennen erroneously lumped the academy with the City of Casper, the police department and the officers.
“The Plaintiff does not explain, ‘what each defendant did to him or her; when the defendant did it; how the defendant’s actions harmed him or her; and what specific legal right the plaintiff believes the defendant violated,’” according to the response citing a previous case.
The city, police department and the officers have yet to respond to Lennen's lawsuit.
After the shooting, the case was turned over to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. The uninjured officers, Jonathan Schlager and Cody Meyers, were placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
In April, Police Chief Keith McPheeters said officers acted lawfully and appropriately, and no charges would be filed. McPheeters also released a video of the incident.
Former District Attorney Mike Blonigen said later that officers faced a "suicide by cop situation" and had no choice but to shoot Oneyear, who had mental illness and substance abuse issues.
Meanwhile, Oneyear's family through Hambrick said he was carrying a toy sword and didn't pose a threat that required deadly force.