Annette Osnos was about to sort her recycling at the edge of the Teton County Fairgrounds just before noon Friday when she witnessed what she thought was going to be a shooting.
“I looked catty-corner and saw a civilian standing with a gun pointing at a teenager,” Osnos said. “It was pretty horrifying.”
The 17-year-old man was lying on his stomach in the grass, Osnos said, and the woman was about 5 feet away pointing her weapon at him, yelling, “I have a gun, and I will shoot!”
“I don’t know what I did!” the young man yelled back.
Osnos was standing with another eyewitness just across Snow King Avenue.
Osnos said while the other witness called 911 she screamed at the woman, “Put your f---ing gun down!”
Police arrived within two minutes, Osnos said, but the woman, who is an off-duty officer from Colorado, didn’t put her gun away until officers placed the teenager in handcuffs.
Police are now trying to figure out what made the woman pull her weapon on the teen and if she committed a crime when she did.
“The female said that she was with a family member and when they crossed the intersection she heard a loud noise,” Jackson Chief of Police Todd Smith said. “It drew her attention to a window that was open and a screen was hanging off.”
The woman thought she had witnessed a break-in, so she got out of her truck and called police, Smith said.
Then she saw the teen running.
“She was doing all the right things initially by being a good witness,” Smith said. “But at some point she reaches into her purse, pulls out her gun and yells, ‘Stop, police!’”
But the teenager told police he was simply running back toward the bus stop after forgetting his phone charger at home.
That leaves Smith to believe that the 31-year-old off-duty officer had no business pointing her gun at the man.
“She has no authority here,” Smith said. “Would I do what she did in another jurisdiction? No, absolutely not.”
Smith called her actions “unreasonable” but said the prosecutor will be the one to decide if criminal charges will be filed.
“I think she crossed over a certain line,” Smith said. “If he chooses to prosecute we will stand by that.”
Smith said depending on what happens legally, it could be argued that the teenager’s civil liberties were violated.
“What she reported was he was robbing someone,” Smith said. “There’s a big difference between robbery and burglary. She didn’t see property being taken by force.”
Wyoming law that covers “arrest by a private person” says a person who is not a peace officer may arrest someone for a felony committed in his presence or a felony which has been committed, even though not in his presence, if he has probable cause to believe the person to be arrested committed it.
The statute also says a private person can make an arrest if a misdemeanor theft offense or property destruction offense is committed in his presence.
The off-duty officer is considered a private citizen in Wyoming, Smith said, and she pulled her gun when there was no risk to her life. That’s where the law might be against her, Smith said.
“You can’t do that if there’s not risk to you or if someone else is not in danger,” Smith said.
The 17-year-old, although found to be wrongly targeted, was cited for possession of a controlled substance.
He was released but records show he has a felony warrant out for his arrest on delivery and possession charges.
On the same day of his run-in with the off-duty officer, his attorney filed a motion to quash the warrant, saying he lives with his parents in Jackson and is not a flight risk or a danger to the public.
The state of Wyoming responded Tuesday, saying it’s “concerned about the potential threat the defendant poses to the community.”
“A cursory search of the defendant for weapons led to the discovery of additional controlled substances,” Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Weichman wrote in the motion.
Officers called the substance a “weaponized form of marijuana.”
“In a final twist of irony, the law enforcement officers on scene failed to check the defendant for wants and warrants,” Weichman wrote. “The defendant, consequently, emerged unarrested from his brush with Colorado law — albeit relieved of a heavy burden of his illicit drugs and burdened by a new citation for possession of a controlled substance.”
The off-duty officer’s name has not been made public but her department in Colorado was notified of the investigation, Smith said.
“Her department needs to assess whether or not she did the right thing,” Smith said. “We regulate the off-duty behavior of our officers, as does any department. I would not want my officers to do that in someone else’s town.”
A decision on criminal charges is expected by week’s end.
The News&Guide is not naming the teen because he is a minor. — Ed.