Officer Cleared In June Shooting; DA Says Better Mental Health Care Is Needed
A Mills police officer has been cleared in the shooting death of a man in Casper in June, District Attorney Mike Blonigen said Tuesday.
The events of the night of June 21 also underscore the need for better mental health care to identify people who need help before another tragedy happens, Blonigen said.
Officer Jake Bigelow was among dozens of officers from numerous agencies who responded to the 100 block of North Fenway Street, where a man began shooting at his next-door neighbor's house.
After the shooting, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation found Bigelow was justified firing back at Jeffrey Hyde during the standoff in the 100 block of North Fenway Street.
The DCI reviewed police statements and videos taken by neighbors.
The DCI's report persuaded Blonigen to not file charges against Bigelow, who was among dozens of officers from several law enforcement agencies that responded, he said.
"We established very clearly that the officer only returned fire after being shot at by Mr. Hyde," Blonigen said.
"It does not appear at all that there's any basis for charging; it was a reasonable response," he said.
Hyde had fired about 30 rounds at the neighboring houses by the time he was shot and killed, Blonigen said. "So there was a clear danger to the community and to the officers."
Neighbors told police that Hyde was a generous man who grew a large, productive garden in his back yard.
But his behavior and mental health apparently had declined rapidly during the weeks before the shooting, they said.
The tragic incident, Blonigen said, highlights the growing nationwide problem of greater resistance -- accompanied by the increasing use of firearms -- to law enforcement. "And that can't help but end up badly."
Casper also needs to do more to identify and help people suffering from serious mental health issues before they harm themselves or others, and it can't leave it to law enforcement and the courts, he said.
"We're left in this situation that the criminal justice system has become this de facto mental illness agency, and we're not really equipped to deal with it, Blonigen said.
There were no reports before the shooting that warranted involuntarily committing Hyde to an institution, he said. "But what do we do when we know citizens are having problems?"