Prosecutors determine shooting by police was justified

CASPER — Prosecutors in Natrona County have determined a fatal police shooting at an Evansville standoff was justified, Casper police announced Tuesday.

Police shot and killed Blaine Clutter, 29, after he fired upon them, Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen noted in a letter on his findings tied to the March 19 standoff and shooting.

“It was painfully obvious that Clutter wanted to kill police officers,” Itzen concluded. “When officers were put in this position, they are left with little choice but to protect the citizens of Natrona County, including themselves. All alternatives to end this situation peacefully were tried. It was Clutter’s actions, and his actions alone, that led to this result.”

Four Casper police officers — Sgt. Joshua Albrecht and officers Donald Bauer, Andrea Husted and Justin Price — fired during the shooting. The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office also had officers on scene, and Itzen’s letter indicates at least two also used their firearms during the standoff.

All four Casper officers have been returned to duty following the DA’s decision. In line with department policy, they were placed on administrative leave after the shooting.

Clutter died from a shot to the chest from police in the “early morning daylight hours” of March 19, according to CPD.

Natrona County Coroner James Whipps previously told the Star-Tribune that an autopsy found just one gunshot wound on Clutter’s body and no other contributing factors to his death.

He had been barricaded inside an Evansville home for around 18 hours in March, after officers attempted to serve him an arrest warrant related to narcotics and narcotics distribution ordered by DCI. According to Itzen’s letter, officers also had a search warrant for the home.

Those warrants came from a “several-month” investigation into meth distribution in Natrona County, and Itzen’s letter indicates other warrants related to the investigation had also been served that day.

Casper police were providing support during the standoff, Tuesday’s announcement stated.

Itzen noted that Clutter shot first in each instance, and that one officer reported having bullet holes in their boots. A DCI vehicle also had bullet holes in its front. When officers first tried to go inside, the letter states, Clutter appeared in an upstairs window with a rifle and “was actively engaging law enforcement.”

“It was Clutter’s actions, and his actions alone, that led to this result,” Itzen wrote in his letter.

There is no body camera footage from the shooting, police said.

The cameras officers were wearing at the time ran out of batteries, according to police, meaning video of the standoff ends around 3 a.m. on May 19, “several hours prior to the last shots being fired.” The scene was cleared around noon. Typically, CPD said, they are committed to releasing body camera footage “of all officer-involved shootings.”

“If there is an extensive situation happening, most times officers are able to trade out body cameras if they have an extra available. That’s not always the case,” police spokesperson Rebekah Ladd said in an email Tuesday. “In this situation, officers were being actively fired upon. It wasn’t safe for them, or the community, to have the officers leave their positions.”

Ladd said CPD is looking into how to “avoid, as much as possible, this scenario in the future.”

The department said it is still reviewing the officers’ conduct in the standoff to determine whether policy was followed and how “to better prepare our equipment, tools, technology, and our officers to deal with similar critical incidents of this nature.”

A toxicology test found methamphetamine in Clutter’s system. Whipps, the coroner, declined to release the exact amount, but said there was “not enough (meth) to kill him.”

According to Itzen, officers had heard from Clutter’s cousin that Clutter would plan to “shoot it out” with police. He had also reportedly told his uncle that he would “die first” rather than go back to prison.

The letter says Clutter was working on a car outside when officers arrived, and ran into the house alerting others that DCI was there. Other residents of the house left, as well as a pitbull. The dog, according to Itzen, bit two DCI agents, one of whom then shot the dog.

After hearing “at least 1 and as many as 3 shots” from inside, Itzen’s letter says officers returned fire and set up a perimeter around the house.

Negotiators made 720 attempts to reach Clutter by phone or text over a 16-hour period, Itzen said, and made more than 700 commands over a loud speaker. At one point, the letter says,

Clutter talked to officers about surrendering for around an hour, and also texted back in an apparent attempt to “bait officers inside the house.”

Officers used pepper spray and “other forms of gases,” and attempted to put a camera on a pole inside the home in an effort to get Clutter outside, according to Itzen. They then used a water hose, which led to Clutter shooting at least four rounds at the officers with the hose, according to the letter.

Nine rounds of rifle and five rounds of pistol ammunition were found in Clutter’s pocket after his body was recovered, the letter says.