Wyoming news briefs for June 23, 2022


Man sent to prison for sexual assault of vulnerable adult

CHEYENNE — A man was sentenced Tuesday in Laramie County District Court for sexually assaulting a woman with cognitive disabilities while working as her job coach. 

Matthew Hernandez, born in 1993, was sentenced to six to 10 years in prison by Laramie County District Judge Steven Sharpe. 

Hernandez pleaded no contest in February to third-degree sexual assault, a felony, as part of a plea agreement. Two additional felony charges – first-degree sexual assault of a victim with mental illness, mental deficiency or developmental disability, and exploitation of a vulnerable adult – were dismissed at sentencing, per the agreement. 

Hernandez was accused of sexually assaulting the then-18-year-old woman with developmental disabilities and mental illness in July 2019, and attempting to hide evidence of the assault. 

The woman, at the time, functioned at the level of a 12-year-old, according to a probable cause affidavit. 

Hernandez came into contact with the woman while working for a company called Love, Care & Dignity. A search for “Love, Care & Dignity” online goes to a company named AbiliCare. One number associated with both is no longer in service. A person who answered a second number said the company “no longer exists” and had not “for a couple of years.” 

Speaking during Tuesday’s hearing, Hernandez said he believed he deserved a “strong punishment.” He apologized to the victim in his statement, saying that he would take back what he did if he could.

Arguing for Hernandez’s imprisonment, Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove said such a sentence “should serve as a deterrent for those in our community who would inflict sexual conduct on an adult who cannot legally consent because of cognitive disabilities.” 

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Gillette family, police search for missing daughter

GILLETTE — A 15-year-old girl who was recently adopted from Ukraine by a Gillette family has been missing for more than a week, and her family is concerned for her safety.

Valeriia “Lera” Nudha was last seen June 14 at her home in Gillette, when she left a note for her adoptive parents saying she was running away and would return when she was ready to.

She has been in the country for less than six months and is still learning to speak English.

Nudha had run away before, but always returned, said Bethany Wight, her adoptive mother. But this run away has lasted longer and the family is concerned that Nudha may be in danger.

"This has been a little bit of a pattern, then she’s been either found or has come back,” Wight said.

She may be with an older teenager or a Russian-speaking man she met online, according to an AWARE Foundation release.

Nudha is 5-foot-1 with brown hair and brown eyes. She has a nose piercing and a small heart tattoo on her right ankle.

Contact the Gillette Police Department at 307-682-5155 with information related to her missing person case.

“We’ve been trying to work with the police and update them on anything we find, unfortunately we just don’t have much information on where she might have gone or who she’d be with,” Wight said.

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Cody school board votes to keep book in high school library

CODY — Park County School District No. 6 board members voted unanimously to keep Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” on a library shelf at Cody High School.

The action came in the wake of an earlier request to remove the book due to its adult themes and content.

The KEC, Cody’s Educational Resource Complaint Committee, had already recommended the novel be retained in the library.

The school board reviewed the committee’s decision on appeal from the complainant and discussed the novel and the process of review and appeal.

“We have been able to see the actual complaint and the notes from the KEC committee,” board chair Brandi Nelson said. “I find the committee’s position is consistent with what they should be doing.”

“The Handmaid’s Tale” has been the subject of controversy recently in a number of school districts around the country. The dystopian novel explores a wide range of issues regarding power, gender and religious politics.

“I just want to say I support the decision of the KEC committee,” trustee Stefanie Bell said.

The decision came soon after a review by the committee regarding requests to remove two different books, “The Color Purple” and “How to Be an Anti-Racist.”

The nine-member committee, composed of a mix of community members and district staff, voted unanimously to keep those books on the shelf as well.

The board agreed the novel does deal with some adult issues and can be confusing at times, but agreed the KEC committee had done its due diligence.

“I don’t want to ban books. I don’t think that is a good practice,” Nelson said. “I think it also important to support a committee that is made up of community members and important to support a process we believe in.”

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Worland resident requests change to city’s chicken ordinance

WORLAND — Worland resident Eric Hansen asked the council to consider allowing chickens within city limits on a less restrictive basis than the current city code. 

He said after the issues with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and now with inflation, supply chain issues and the cost of eggs nearing around $5 per dozen, it would be a good time to allow families to raise chickens and their own eggs. 

He said people need to be prepared for a food shortage or even another pandemic. 

Hansen recommended the city allow up to eight hens, which can produce five eggs daily and thus feed a family of four. 

Under the current city code, fowls such as chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and more must be kept in an enclosed, substantial pen. They must also be more than 100 feet from the structure of any school, church, hospital, residence or dwelling, except the residence of the owner of such fowl. 

They are also allowed only in estate residential areas. Hansen said there are few residences that fit within that code to allow people to have fowl. 

Hansen added he recommends allowing only hens, not roosters.

The city could look into a $25 permit which would allow the inspection of coops and tracking of those with chickens, Hansen said.

Worland Police Chief Gabe Elliott said he likes Hansen’s ideas and suggested the council take it up under a work session. The next work session will be July 11. 

Council member Wendy Fredricks said, “I think it’s a good idea. I don’t think they would be anymore of a nuisance than (barking) dogs.”

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