RIVERTON — A mock theater inquest into the 2019 killing of Anderson Antelope by a Riverton police officer took place without incident this month despite concerns about safety expressed beforehand by members of the community.
Officials at Central Wyoming College, where the mock inquest was held Aug. 13, said they were contacted in the weeks before the event by board members, staff members, community members and others who said they feared for the safety of those attending, and for employees, residents students, and community members, “due to the emotional nature of the topic being discussed.”
In response to the “higher-risk circumstances,” CWC marketing director Lori Ridgway said the college developed a “proactive” plan to provide additional security at the event.
CWC also contacted the lead organizer for the event, Riverton Peace Mission member Chesie Lee, to ensure she was “comfortable with our plan,” Ridgway said.
College officials had told Lee she could move the mock inquest to a different location “if she was uncomfortable with our planning,” Ridgway noted. But Lee, in an email to the RPM, said she “refused to move the event.”
Instead, she said, four security guards were visible near the registration tables at the entrance to the mock inquest, with one officer “sometimes at the doorway listening to the speakers.” Their presence caused discomfort for some in attendance, Lee noted, including Antelope’s friends and family, some of whom said they felt intimidated. One relative even mentioned the presence of police during the audience discussion period, saying, “As I stand here and speak, I’m making eye contact with that officer back there.”
Several people in attendance Aug. 13 repeated calls for an official inquest into Antelope’s death.
Then-coroner Mark Stratmoen had scheduled an inquest in 2019, but the proceeding was suspended due to a lack of cooperation from other local agencies, in particular the Fremont County Attorney’s Office.
Lander City Councilman Chris Hulme, who served as one of three mock jurors during this month’s event, said an official inquest would provide the public with more information about the incident, allowing the coroner to present officer-involved shooting statistics, for example, or “suicide by cop” case histories, after which a jury of experts could “come to a very logical and intelligent conclusion.”
Instead, Hulme said, Antelope’s cause of death is listed as “undetermined.”
“That’s not OK,” Hulme said. “He deserves more than that. … “I would really support an inquest coming in the future for Andy’s sake and for his legacy.”
When asked what could be done to make an official inquest happen, Wyoming Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Ethete, targeted local officials, encouraging residents to “get to the voting box and get a good county attorney in there that will listen to the people.”
“I really believe in the native vote,” she said. “I think we can be swing voters … when we show up. (Let’s) swing those elections and get good people in there that represent the people, truly the people.”
Witnesses said Antelope stabbed the RPD officer before being shot. The officer’s protective vest blocked the knife.
At the state level, Clifford said she is working on legislation to require an inquest after any fatal officer-involved shooting in Wyoming.
She also spoke out against Wyoming’s budget, which she said prioritizes support for mineral development over the people of the state.
Her comment about the budget came in response to a question about emergency mental health services, funding for which has “been a huge struggle,” according to Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.
“The fight has been about who pays for that,” Case said during the audience discussion. “And that’s terrible to have a fight about that. … We need to do better. (The) way we’re treating humans is not sustainable.”
Antelope should have been under mental health supervision at the time he was killed, Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said in published reports read during the mock inquest.
Larsen, who had known Antelope “for years,” said Antelope had been committed involuntarily to the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston but had been released due to “limited space” there .
He later received care in Fremont County, Larsen said, but he was eventually released from the hospital because he did not have a current psychological evaluation.
“The system failed him,” Larsen said. “He should not have been released from mental health care that he had been receiving.”