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Dec 14, 2014 By Steven R. Peck

Perhaps the police cases elsewhere led local authorities to release records on July 19 shooting

Whether the Bureau of Indian affairs decision to release documents related to July's fatal shooting of a Pavilion man was mere coincidence or a calculated decision, it hardly could have been more timing.

Nearly half the year had passed before anything other than a cursory press release was divulged about that day in July when Justin Steele was shot and killed. Our newspaper had been requesting more information almost from the start.

During that interim, of course, two cases involving police actions that took the lives of private citizens became national sensations. Most recently, decisions by grand juries not to indict the officers involved sparked protests nationwide, from the streets in front of the Missouri and New York courthouses, to major thoroughfares on college campuses, cities coast to coast, and even NFL football stadiums.

Such a climate is not one in which to continue withholding information about a police shooting, even in Wyoming. And, finally, details of the police report have been released.

It must be made clear that the July shooting in Pavilion does not have the controversial elements of the cases in Ferguson Missouri and Staten Island, N.Y. There is no talk of convening a grand jury or making an accusation against the officer who fired the fatal shots. We do not try to make any such connection here.

A point that does apply, however, is that the public is better served by the fullest possible disclosure of pertinent information when an event such as that on July 29 takes place. As the Ferguson in the Staten Island cases illustrate, civilian deaths at the hands of police are hard enough to handle when due legal processes are being carried out. When the only public "process" that can be discerned is silence, delay, gossip and rumor, then the interests of needed a public nor the police are served.

The official account of the Pavilion shooting is that Steele had a gun and had adopted a threatening posture with that weapon. Anyone confronting police under those circumstances might well expect to get shot. That official account is now in the public eye, and it will serve to quiet much of the speculation.

It is believed that there are additional accounts of what happened that day, involving others who were at the scene, that also are part of the official record compiled during this investigation. We have requested that those records be released as well.

In finally releasing the police account of the shooting, authorities said they did so after it had been determined that the officer would face no charges for his actions, which have been ruled self-defense.

That determination had been made weeks earlier. That it finally came to light during the national uproar and conversation about Ferguson and Staten Island, might well lead to many in Fremont County to presume something good has come from the ugly cases in those far-off cities. It would be unfortunate if it took another such incident to facilitate the release of the remaining information about Steele's death.


March 18: Police interview of second subject at site of cop-involved shooting gives detail

Dec. 11: BIA releases documents in officer-involved shooting death

Dec. 7: Man shot by police had gun

Oct. 14: No charges to be filed in police shooting

July 30: Man shot to death in altercation with police on reservation

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