Prosecutor: Police shooting of man at funeral in Wyoming was justified

November 8, 2016 GMT

CASPER, Wyo. — A U.S. marshal was justified in shooting and killing a man in a Douglas church parking lot because the man appeared to be reaching for a gun, the Converse County Attorney’s Office announced Friday.

A deputy U.S. marshal shot and killed 44-year-old Jasen Scott Ramirez of Colorado on June 30 while trying to arrest Ramirez as he left his father’s funeral. Ramirez was wanted in Wyoming on federal drug and weapons charges.

“A death is unfortunate and tragic, heartbreaking to family and friends; but under the law, this is a justifiable homicide,” Converse County Attorney Quentin Richardson said in a letter Friday

Ramirez was walking into the parking lot of St. James Catholic Church after the funeral when three marshals attempted to arrest him. After seeing the agents, Ramirez ran toward a car parked in the lot, opened the passenger door and “lunged” into the vehicle, according to the letter.

Two of the marshals “confronted” him when he got into the car. Then, almost simultaneously, one agent tasered him in the leg while another, Deputy Marshal Zachery Cantrell, shot him seven times with a handgun, according to the letter.

Nearby local law enforcement responded to the scene after hearing the gunshots and gave medical care to Ramirez before he was transported to Converse County Memorial Hospital emergency room. He was declared dead at 2:40 p.m. An autopsy determined that there was meth in Ramirez’s system when he died.

Law enforcement officers later searched Ramirez’s vehicle and found a loaded automatic handgun, a revolver, ammunition, almost 80 grams of methamphetamine, a scale and a pipe used to smoke meth. It is unclear whether the revolver was loaded and Richardson said Monday he couldn’t remember either way. Investigators also later found 13 grams of meth on Ramirez’s person and about $2,400 in cash.

“Mr. Ramirez was most likely running to the vehicle to obtain his loaded pistol located in the vehicle (why else did he lunge into the passenger side of the vehicle with the car keys in his pocket),” Richardson wrote. “He appeared to be reaching for that pistol.”

A federal court had previously sentenced Ramirez to 14 years in prison in 2002 for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

He was arrested again in March in Platte County on suspicion of selling meth. He was released in lieu of $50,000 bond a few days after his arrest.

A federal grand jury indicted Ramirez in May on three charges -- conspiracy to distribute meth, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and felon possession of a firearm -- and an arrest warrant was issued.

The federal marshals asked local law enforcement to find Ramirez the day before the shooting, but the local officers were not able to locate him, Richardson said in his letter. The marshals were serving the arrest warrant when they killed Ramirez.

In his letter, Richardson said Ramirez faced a lengthy prison sentence if convicted of the pending charges.

“The recitation of his criminal record above is necessary, not because the deputies have the right to shoot him based upon his criminal record, they do not,” Richardson wrote in the letter after explaining Ramirez’s criminal background. “But rather it shows Mr. Ramirez’s state of mind on the prospect of returning to prison, and it shows the state of mind of the agents in their attempt to arrest Mr. Ramirez.”

“His actions, of course, speak loudly as to the danger he imposed.”

Cantrell, the deputy who killed Ramirez, took a few weeks paid administrative leave after the shooting, said Rick Guzman, supervisory deputy U.S. marshal at the Casper office. Cantrell had been a U.S. marshal for at least 6 years, Guzman said.

The deputy who discharged the Taser also took a few days administrative leave before returning to work.

The U.S. marshals have no strict policy regarding leaves of absence after a deputy shoots someone, Guzman said. The absences weren’t punitive measures, Guzman said, but were but were meant to help the deputies cope with a “stressful situation.”

Ramirez was the second person shot and killed by law enforcement in Wyoming in 2016. A Mills police officer shot and killed a Casper man firing at his neighbors’ houses in on June 21. The shooting was declared justified in October.

Law enforcement killed six people in Wyoming in 2015, and local prosecutors determined that all the shootings were justified.

Wyoming had the second-highest rate of fatal police shootings per capita in 2015, according to a database compiled by British newspaper The Guardian. Washington, D.C., had the highest. The U.S. government does not collect data on shootings by police.