Trooper chief says shooting is evidence of challenges for officers
RIVERTON — The fatal exchange of gunfire between a Lander man and a state trooper on Sinks Canyon Road in June is just one among many signs of increasingly challenging times for law enforcement, according to a state police leader.
Wyoming Highway Patrol Col. Kebin Haller on Thursday detailed the June 25 officer-involved shooting.
He spoke at a meeting in Riverton of the Wyoming Legislature's Committee on Tribal Relations.
Haller, commander of the WHP, opted to name the trooper publicly for the first time, providing details of the events not reported previously.
"Phil Pendergrass, about a four-year trooper," Haller said, "was ending his day with a drive through Sinks Canyon" after a day shift. While ascending the road on what Pendergrass had described as a "beautiful afternoon," he clocked a compact vehicle speeding down the road at more than 100 mph.
"Anyone that's been on Sinks Canyon Road knows that that's a very high speed for that particular roadway," Haller said.
Pendergrass turned around, followed the vehicle until it stopped in a residential driveway, and ordered the male driver -- later identified as 24-year-old David Fann -- to exit the vehicle. There also was an adult female passenger.
"Like everybody in this room," Haller said, "you can tell when something's not quite right, and (Pendergrass) knows something's wrong, but he's just not quite sure what it is."
Fann at first appeared compliant, although "unbeknownst to the trooper, the suspect had a 9 millimeter handgun stuffed in his waistband."
When Pendergrass tried to initiate investigative custody, "there begins to be a knock-down drag-out," Haller said, which he deemed "chilling to watch" on the patrol vehicle's dash-camera footage.
Fann pointed the handgun at Pendergrass's head, Haller said, emulating a side-to-side swaying by which the trooper repeatedly dodged the barrel's aim. Pendergrass got behind Fann and pulled him in.
Fann fired a round into the Pendergrass's left thigh.
The bullet, Haller said, went into the trooper's thigh, hamstring, through tendons, tissue and muscle, eventually lodging in his calf.
He pushed Fann away and discharged three rounds, all of which were hits.
Several law enforcement and emergency medical personnel responded, including another WHP trooper, who applied his field tourniquet to Fann.
Fann later died from his injuries.Post-mortem toxicology reports revealed that Fann was highly intoxicated due to several substances.
Pendergrass was flown via fixed-wing aircraft to Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, where a police vehicle escort was standing by. He had surgery and was released the next day.
"After having gone through a lot of physical therapy, andhe's been very receptive to all the counseling, he's been cleared for duty, and we'll be welcoming him back to full duty in two weeks," said Haller.
"He's quite an impressive man. I wish I could clone 200 of him."
In a September statement following an investigation by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun concluded that the trooper's actions were justifiable under Wyoming self-defense law.
Haller said the June 25 incident points to a culture shift in the law-enforcement world. There have been three deadly use-of-force incidents, all shootings, within the WHP alone in the last three years, Haller said.
There have been four fatalofficer-involved shootings in Fremont County since January 2019, comprising one ATF incident, two Riverton Police Department incidents, and the WHP event Haller described Thursday.
The WHP leader also lamented the loss of Casper Police Department Lt. Daniel Dundas, who committed suicide Sept. 27, due in part to what CPD deemed "traumatic events, over and over again" throughout his career.
"There is a lot of trauma going on around the country. We see it via the news outlets, but I'm here to report that it is moving into our state," said Haller.
He added that the change is characterized by an increase in violence against law enforcement, a growing unwillingness to comply with lawful orders, and a greater occurrence of police pursuits.
Often, pursued individuals "are wanted," Haller said.
"They have controlled substances still in their property, weapons in the vehicle. We're seeing this at an increasingly alarming rate, almost 400 percent from years past."
Haller also noted that in WHP traffic stops, "drugged driving now has surpassed drunk driving.”