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Natrona County DA finds Casper Police justified in firing weapons during March incident

Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 4:32 PM CDT
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CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - The events of March 18 and March 19, 2022, were related to an extensive investigation conducted by multiple agencies.

Wyoming News Now obtained a full copy of the letter from the Office of the District Attorney for Natrona County which included new details about the March 18 and 19 standoff.

According to the letter, the Division of Criminal Investigation had been working on a several-month investigation of meth distribution in Natrona County and other parts of Wyoming. On March 18, DCI officers executed arrest and search warrants throughout Natrona County.

Law enforcement had an arrest warrant for Blaine Clutter, who resided in Evansville. Officers also had a search warrant for his address. DCI partnered with the Evansville Police Department to serve the warrants. Law enforcement planned to “pinch” Clutter before he could get inside his residence.

The initial encounter between law enforcement and Clutter was captured by Evansville Elementary School video. It has been determined the time stamps from the video are accurate.

At 5:18 p.m. the order was given to move in, but Clutter was able to retreat into the home before law enforcement could arrest him. After Clutter retreated into the house, two agents ran to the front door in an attempt to detain him. Two juveniles and an older female exited the residence. The older female, who turned out to be Clutter’s mother, lied to law enforcement about her identity for an extended period of time.

Law enforcement had received information from Clutter’s cousin that he intended to “shoot it out” with officers, the cousin also said Clutter wanted to “kill a fed.” Throughout the night Clutter called and texted his uncle, who confirmed the comments and added that Clutter had said he was “not going back to prison. He would die first.”

At 5:19 p.m. At least one shot and as many as three were fired by Clutter with a rifle from an upstairs window. The DA’s office letter states one of the vehicles driven by DCI had a number of bullet holes in the front of it. After being shot at, one agent returned fire. It was determined they missed Clutter. Clutter then retreated further into the residence.

Officers set up a perimeter around the back of the residence, as they set the perimeter, Clutter fired a single round at officers. One officer recalled the round was close enough to their head it made a “snapping” sound, but law enforcement did not return fire.

At 6:28 p.m. the negotiations team began to make contact with Clutter. According to the DA’s letter, neighbors attempted to make contact with Clutter every five minutes for 16 hours, totaling 720 attempted phone calls and text messages. Commands were also given over a loud speaker, these attempts totaled over 700 as well.

At one point, Clutter spoke to law enforcement about surrendering for approximately one hour. He refused to come out of the residence. Clutter also communicated with negotiators through text for a short period of time. One text read, “come in here and do your job,” another read, “I’m shot it won’t be long now.”

Referencing the text messages from Clutter to negotiators, the letter from the DA states, “It was clear from the texts that Clutter was attempting to bait officers inside the house in order to engage them into a shootout.”

The Natrona County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team utilized pepper spray and other forms of gases on Clutter in multiple attempts to drive him out of the residence as negotiations continued and failed.

A camera on a pole was placed in a window on the back side of the house. Clutter fired a round at officers who tried to utilize the camera. Law enforcement did not return fire.

At different times over the 16 hours of the incident, law enforcement used “all measures” to get Clutter to leave the house. All attempts failed.

It was believed Clutter was hiding in the attic or a closet of the home. Law enforcement determined the best way to protect officers was to get Clutter to move from his hiding spot. Water was sprayed into the house in an attempt to make Clutter expose his location. During that time, Clutter spoke to two friends on Facebook Messenger saying, “My time has come to shoot it out with DCI.”

As the water was sprayed into a closet of one bedroom, an officer heard Clutter fire two rounds at the officers with the firehose. Shortly after, Clutter fired two more rounds at the same officers. The officer engaged Clutter, stating he believed Clutter was trying to kill him and other officers. Clutter went back into hiding.

Another agent who was on the water team described “big holes and chunks of debris coming at us.” They stated they felt rounds pass between their arms and another officer’s head. They returned fire, attempting to shoot through the same bullet holes Clutter’s rounds made.

An officer on the perimeter in the rear of the residence fired into the room they believed Clutter was in. They never saw Clutter, but heard the shots and saw an officer slip and fall. They shot, believing their rounds would force Clutter to stop shooting and give the water team time to back up.

The water crew continued with the firehose. Clutter again engaged the water team with gunfires. Officers associated with the water team returned fire. One member of the team said he thought, “he [Clutter] is going to keep shooting at us till he kills one of us.”

A member of the water team who did not see Clutter reported when they returned home after the incident, they discovered their boots had two bullet holes in them. The boots were inspected and copper-colored shrapnel was removed from them.

After 18 hours, Clutter’s body was recovered from the residence. An autopsy was performed by Dr. Tom Bennett who noted that Clutter had one gunshot to the chest. In Clutter’s pocket were nine rounds for his rifle and five rounds for his pistol. Clutter’s body was sent for toxicology, it was found at the time of his death, Clutter had methamphetamines in his system.

On May 17, 2022, the findings of the joint investigation into the officer-involved shooting were completed by a joint investigation team from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office. The individual investigators assigned to conduct the investigation from these two agencies were not directly involved in the initial criminal investigation or in the incident itself. The findings of the joint investigation were then submitted to the Natrona County District Attorney for review and a determination as to whether the involved officers were justified in the discharge of their weapons during the incident.

On June 3, 2022, the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office delivered a letter of determination to the Casper Police Department in which the District Attorney’s Office rendered the determination that the officers who fired their weapons were justified in doing so.

In the letter, Natrona County District Attorney Daniel Itzen wrote: “The question to be answered is did law enforcement use reasonable self-defense. In answering that question, one must look at the totality of the circumstances. Officers can use deadly force when a reasonable officer under similar circumstances would believe that the person poses a threat of serious harm to himself or others. In this case, it was Clutter [the suspect] who shot first each and every time the officers responded. Law enforcement is entitled to the same rights of self-defense, as anyone else would be. Officers talked about how close the bullets were. In fact, one person’s boots had bullet holes in them. It was painfully obvious that Clutter wanted to kill police officers. 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. Each of these officers have a legitimate self-defense claim or a defense of another claim. As you are aware, it is the State’s burden to disprove a self-defense case. Given the overwhelming evidence that law enforcement had a reasonable belief that Clutter posed a substantial risk, the State could not meet its burden. Further, given the circumstances, the officers’ actions were reasonable in all respects. For the reasons listed, the State declines this case.”

In a press release, the Casper Police Department noted, that as part of its commitment to regional public safety needs, regularly assigns CPD Officers to serve as task force officers with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations as well as assigning CPD Officers to serve on the Special Response Team of the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office. Both of these entities responded during this incident, and that response included the CPD officers who normally serve as part of these teams.

After the incident, the CPD officers who discharged their weapons were placed on leave. Following the District Attorney’s determination, the four involved Casper Police Officers were returned to full, unrestricted duty.

The Casper Police Department says it maintains a commitment to releasing body-worn camera footage of all officer-involved shootings. The CPD press release said multiple factors including competing against the functional battery life of CPD’s body-worn cameras ensured that no footage was recorded for the actual incident in which officers were fired upon by the suspect, nor the officers’ return fire toward the suspect. All available footage ends several hours prior to the last shots being fired during the early morning, daylight hours on March 19, 2022.

The Casper Police Department reviews these incidents to verify that policies were followed and to better prepare equipment, tools, technology, and officers to deal with similar critical incidents. That process is ongoing.

To see the original report of the March 18 and 19 incident, click here.

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