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No charges against deputy who killed Pavillion resident

Apr 12, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Fremont County attorney Brian Varn said charges would not be filed against the deputy sheriff who shot and killed a distraught Pavillion man in late February.

On Tuesday, Varn said there was no evidence deputy Mike Hutchison violated training, policy, procedure or laws when he fatally shot a knife-wielding Micheal Eugene Huff, 42, Feb. 29.

Hutchison, who Sheriff Skip Hornecker said is a "well-tenured deputy sheriff with this agency," was put on paid administrative leave immediately after the shooting, pending the outcome of the investigation, which was handled by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.

"Deputy Hutchison will be returning to full duty this week," Capt. Ryan Lee said.

Huff was pronounced dead at 10:45 p.m. Feb. 29 at Riverton Memorial Hospital. County Coroner Ed McAuslan said Huff died from a gunshot wound to the left part of his chest.

Late last month, McAuslan ruled Huff's death a suicide because it was his opinion that Huff put Hutchison in a position that forced the deputy to shoot in self-defense.

Details

Deputies responded to a call at 8:35 p.m. Feb. 29 concerning a report of a suicide threat at a trailer house in the 300 block of South Pine Street in Pavillion. Varn said deputies were told Huff was possibly attempting suicide by taking a large number of pills.

Hornecker said two Lander deputies and a Riverton supervisor accompanied Hutchison to the scene.

"When deputies arrived at the residence there was no response from anyone inside," Varn said in a news release. "Therefore, deputies entered the residence by force to check on the condition of Mr. Huff."

Deputies confronted

Varn said Huff confronted deputies in the kitchen with a large knife before retreating to a back bedroom where he closed the door.

Deputies attempted to engage Huff in conversation to determine his physical condition and his intent, Varn said.

Deputies became concerned as to Huff's physical condition when he started slurring his words, indicating evidence of an overdose, Varn added.

"Later, science tests verified a lethal dose of medication in Mr. Huff's blood," he said.

McAuslan said an autopsy conducted on Huff in Loveland, Colo., revealed Huff had Xanax and cannabis in his system as well as an alcohol concentration level of .11 percent when he died.

The legal limit for driving a vehicle in Wyoming is .08 percent.

Forced entry

Varn said a decision was made by deputies to use force to gain access into the bedroom, where Huff had barricaded himself, in order to subdue him and get him medical assistance.

Deputies used a "flash-bang" type device to distract and disorient Huff. In a follow-up interview, Varn described it as a "grenade-type device" often used in hostage situations.

"It makes a loud noise, and it helps disorient the person," he said.

"It's a common tool that we use in this business," he said. "It's a safer approach that we often call a less-than-lethal tool. Unfortunately, it did not provide the level of tactical advantage in this situation that we wanted."

When deputies entered the bedroom, Varn said it became apparent the door was barricaded.

"Upon entry, the device used to barricade the door pushed the door closed, effectively trapping the deputies in the room with Mr. Huff," Varn said.

At that time, Varn said Hutchison and the other deputies were within 6 or 7 feet of Huff.

Huff, who was not disoriented by the flash-bang device, raised a large knife in a threatening manner, stared at Hutchison and moved toward him, Varn said.

Hutchison fired his weapon at Huff.

"All deputies present immediately leapt to render medical assistance to Mr. Huff," Varn said. "In addition, they aided EMT personnel in the rescue, including one deputy driving the EMT vehicle to Riverton Memorial Hospital."

Varn said he received the final report from DCI on April 2. He said he spent more than a week examining all of the evidence and reviewing policies, procedures and the law before he rendered his decision not to file charges.

"I wanted to make sure I reviewed all of the evidence," he said, adding that this included photographs and audio tape recordings of interviews. "It took a little longer than I expected. ... I looked at the entire event with my eye on the shooter, but still looking at all of the actors involved."

Normally, Varn forwards cases involving local law enforcement to special prosecutors outside of Fremont County.

"But given the potential seriousness of this, I opted to do it in-house," he said.

Hornecker said his agency reviewed the shooting incident with "finite detail" to look for what could have been done differently.

"We are not finding anything that could have been done differently," he said.

He said the incident was distressing for his department.

"The situation doesn't turn out like this for us every day," he said. "The impact to this agency has been pretty traumatic, you know, we take this job pretty seriously."

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