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Man shot by police had gun

Dec 7, 2014 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has released reports regarding the officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of Justin Philip Steele, 26, of Pavillion, in July. (Click HERE to download the documents.)

Steele had a gun when he was shot to death by an officer, the report shows.

The BIA previously refused to release the information, citing the ongoing investigation into the incident among other privacy considerations.

In October, however, the Wyoming U.S. Attorney's Office concluded that the BIA officer involving in the shooting did not violate any federal law.

The names of individuals present at the time of the shooting remain redacted.

Background

The incident that led to Steele's death began at about 8 p.m. July 29 in Pavillion, when someone called police to say a man had shot out the window of a vehicle with a 9-millimeter pistol.

The man reportedly was still armed and "walking around town," according to the Fremont County Sheriff's Office.

The reporting party referred to the suspect as "brother-in-law" and said that the suspect had "shot out a friend's car window and is now walking by ... still armed."

Local officials said no one was injured as a result of the gunfire in Pavillion.

While responding to the call, a deputy saw the vehicle with the missing window traveling on Wyoming Highway 132. The deputy made contact with the vehicle, which contained three occupants. Two of the people were compliant, but reports state the third person -- Steele -- was not.

Guns drawn

The officer who shot Steele was dispatched at about 8:10 p.m. July 29 from the Riverton area to mile marker 10 on Wyoming Highway 132 to assist with the felony traffic stop.

He arrived at the scene at about 8:30 p.m. along with a special agent, who also wrote a narrative about the incident.

Both men described several FCSO vehicles blocking the southbound lane of the highway just north of a white Dodge Durango, which was parked in the southbound lane facing south.

According to other officers' incident reports, the deputies had their weapons drawn and pointed at Steele.

"I grabbed my duty rifle (.223 Rock River) from my patrol vehicle," the BIA officer wrote in his report.

He and the special agent approached one of the FCSO vehicles. A man was sitting handcuffed on the ground behind the vehicle, and a deputy was standing to the side of the truck.

"His duty weapon (was) pointed at the white Durango," the BIA officer wrote, describing the deputy.

"I took a position to his right and asked about the situation."

The deputy said Steele was in the back seat of the Durango and possibly had a handgun. The other two passengers had said there was a gun in the vehicle and that Steele was possibly under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine.

Autopsy reports show Steele had a blood-alcohol content of .302 at the time of his death. He was not under the influence of methamphetamine.

Cell phone

The BIA officer said he saw Steele in the back seat talking on a cell phone and "moving around." A deputy was using a public address system to tell Steele to come out of the vehicle with his hands up.

Steele got out of the car and turned to face the officers.

"(He) had a black cell phone in his left hand, and his right hand was tucked inside his waistband of his pants," the BIA officer wrote.

The deputy on the PA system told Steele to get on the ground and show his hands. Instead, Steele "started yelling and cussing" and walked from the rear passenger door of the Durango to the front passenger door.

"I observed the male open the door and sit in the (front) passenger seat," the BIA officer wrote. "(A deputy) advised that the gun was left in the (front) passenger seat of the Durango."

Other reports state the gun was on the front passenger-side floorboard.

The BIA officer said Steele still was on a cell phone and was now "moving around" in the front seat. Another officer said Steele was making "suspicious movements" while in the front passenger compartment.

'He has a gun'

Next, Steele got out of the car facing west -- still on the cell phone. When Steele leaned his right arm against the rear passenger side door, the BIA officer saw a black handgun in his right hand.

"I yelled out, 'He has a gun in his right hand,'" the officer wrote.

A deputy continued issuing verbal commands over the PA system, but Steele did not comply.

The BIA officer saw him turn to his right and start "yelling and cussing" again.

"His right arm and the handgun were still resting on the window sill of the right rear passenger door," the officer said.

The special agent noted that the rear passenger window was missing.

At one point, both of Steele's arms were by his side as he stood at the side of the car. He then turned his head toward the BIA officer and said, "Just ... shoot me," or, "Don't ... shoot me."

"I was unable to determine if the statements were directed at us or someone on the cell phone," the officer wrote.

Steele then turned his body toward the officers, crouched down slightly and moved his right arm upward to the windowsill of the open rear passenger door.

"I observed the handgun was still in the male's right hand as it cleared the right rear passenger door's window area," the BIA officer wrote. "I yelled, 'He has a gun.'"

The special agent, who was with the BIA officer southwest of the Durango, also saw a "long shiny black object" being raised up from behind the door toward the window area. The agent was unable to immediately determine what the object was, but he heard the BIA officer say it was a gun.

The BIA officer said his duty rifle was pointed at the upper part of Steele's body.

"I observed the male point the handgun at (the special agent) and I," the officer wrote.

"I observed that the male was preparing to fire the handgun. I yelled, 'He is pointing the gun at me.'"

The special agent also saw Steele raise his hand to the window and stick the barrel of the gun through the opening.

"(He) was now pointing a gun in (our) direction," the agent wrote. "It appeared Steele was preparing to fire the weapon at (us)."

The agent heard the BIA officer say, "He is pointing a gun at me."

"As I aimed my rifle at Steele, (the officer's) weapon fired three times and Steele immediately fell from behind my rifle sites," the agent wrote.

The BIA officer remembers firing three to five times. Later, investigators said they found three shell casings at the scene. Other officers said they heard three shots.

Deceased

After he was shot, Steele fell back against the front passenger door. About 15 seconds later, the BIA officer and the special agent approached him and saw him leaning against the front passenger seat.

"(We) continued approaching the male with our duty rifles pointed in his direction," the officer said. "I gave the male verbal commands, 'Drop the gun and show me your hands.' The male did not move."

The BIA officer said the gun was in Steele's right hand. The agent grabbed Steele by the shirt and moved him away from the vehicle; he said the revolver was on the ground at that time.

"I slid the handgun back away from Steele," the agent said.

The BIA officer said the handgun had fallen next to Steele. He described the firearm as a cylinder-style handgun with a black barrel and wooden grip.

He also noticed a black cell phone next to the front right tire of the Durango.

Other officers at the scene handcuffed Steele. They attempted to locate his pulse but were unsuccessful. An ambulance was dispatched to the scene but was later cancelled by deputies.

After Steele was secured, the BIA officer returned to his patrol vehicle and placed his duty rifle and magazine on the trunk of the police car.

Other officers took possession of the rifle and transported it to a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Steele was wearing a baseball cap, a black jacket and blue jeans at the time of his death. He is described as 6 feet tall weighing 170 pounds, with blonde hair and blue eyes.

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