On the heels of arresting a Natrona County School District employee on suspicion of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, the Casper Police Department is reminding people of the state law which prevents authorities from publicly naming the suspect.
Following publication of a police news release regarding the arrest, Casper residents took to social media to voice their frustration at the miniscule amount of information released about the case.
His name and age have not been made public. Authorities are also withholding his job title and name of the school or schools where he worked.
One Facebook user asked, “So why are we not allowed to know his name?”
“The name of the school should be a mandatory disclosure,” another wrote.
Following the initial announcement of the arrest, which was light on details, the school district issued a similarly vague statement, saying it “has put in place appropriate safeguards to preclude the suspect from having further access to students.”
The district’s statement was clearly intended to reassure parents. However, for some, it did not have the intended effect — evidently the result of absent details.
A Facebook user asked, “‘appropriate safeguard’ what does this mean?? Fired..removed..on leave? Where can parents get some more information???!!”
“Exactly. We at least need [the] school name or where ever [sic] the person was with access to our kids. We NEED to know…” another commented.
Thursday evening, police spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd issued another statement to news media, saying the department understands the concerns of local residents, but must withhold certain details under state law.
“We are committed to transparency with our citizens, especially on matters involving crimes such as this. Yet, we are also committed to following the same laws that allow us to apprehend and prosecute the crimes that harm our community,” Ladd said. “As soon as information can be lawfully released that may aid our community in better understanding this crime, we will do so.”
Wyoming Statute 6-2-319 prohibits any public employee, except as authorized by a judge or in order to apprehend a suspect, from releasing the name of the accused or the victim in cases involving any sex crime before the criminal charge has or charges have been filed in district court.
In Natrona County, that often takes about a month from the time of the suspect’s arrest.
First, the suspect makes an initial appearance in Natrona County Circuit Court. During this hearing, the judge sets bond and allows the suspect to enter pleas to any misdemeanor charges; the suspect may not enter a plea to a felony charge in circuit court, because felonies are handled exclusively by the district court.
After that, a preliminary hearing is set to determine whether the state has enough evidence for the charge or charges to be bound over to district court for trial. The preliminary hearing takes place 10-20 days after the initial appearance.
Then, if the state meets the evidentiary threshold or the suspect waives the preliminary hearing and concedes that the state has sufficient evidence, the case is sent to the district court. At that point, the charges are filed with the district court, meeting the statutory requirement for the public release of the suspect’s name by government officials.
There are numerous cases filed in Natrona County each year involving sex crimes, and Wyoming Statute 6-2-319 plays a role in each of them. However, it is rare that a public employee to whom dozens if not hundreds of children have been exposed is arrested for the sexual abuse of a child.
In response to further questions from K2 Radio News on Thursday evening, Ladd said much of the requested information is still under investigation or would make the suspect publicly identifiable, therefore she could not immediately release those details.
“I do apologize for not being able to answer your questions at this time but hope to do so soon,” Ladd said in a text message. She emphasized that the suspect was in custody as of Thursday evening.
District spokeswoman Tanya Southerland, in a separate text message, explained that she was similarly restricted from releasing much information.
“We are working together with the Casper Police Department, this is an open an on-going investigation, the information provided by NCSD is the information we have lawfully available to release,” Southerland said. “We will share more information, together with the Casper Police Department, as available to be released.”
“We want to reiterate, appropriate safeguards have been put into place by NCSD to ensure the individual does not have access to students,” Southerland concluded.
Anyone with information about the case is urged to contact the Casper Police Department at 235-8278.