By Ellen Gerst
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — A man found dead Saturday in an Evansville home after an 18-hour standoff with police exchanged gunfire with multiple Casper officers, authorities said Monday.
It’s still unclear whether the man, identified as 29-year-old Blaine Clutter, died by his own hand or from police gunshots.
His rental home was severely damaged by authorities as they tried to convince him to come out. Witnesses reported authorities used heavy equipment to tear away parts of the structure.
A statement from the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office on Monday said that “there was an exchange of gunfire between the armed barricaded subject and law enforcement” during the negotiation.
Casper police said in a separate statement Monday that Clutter fired his gun at officers, who then shot back. That exchange happened early Saturday morning. His body was found at 11 a.m.
Clutter’s father, Anthony Hernandez, said Monday that officers told him they are not sure whether Clutter died by their bullets or his.
No officers were injured during the standoff and negotiation. Nor were any members of the public.
Officers from Evansville and Casper police, as well as the sheriff’s special response team, were stationed outside Clutter’s home near Evansville Elementary from around 5:45 p.m. Friday until 11 a.m. Saturday. According to the Casper Police Department, the incident began when officers attempted to serve Clutter with a warrant. The statement did not describe how the situation escalated.
Hernandez said that Clutter’s mother and girlfriend were also at the home, but taken into custody on their own warrants. He also indicated two children, not Clutter’s, were at the house initially but removed from the scene after police arrived.
Residents in the area described officers using a bullhorn to try to communicate with Clutter. Natrona County Sheriff’s spokesperson Kiera Grogan said officers made “multiple attempts” to communicate and negotiate with him, but could not comment on whether he responded.
When Star-Tribune journalists visited the home Monday morning, its windows appeared gutted, with items falling out onto the ground. Residents said in comments posted to Facebook that they’d seen law enforcement using a backhoe to remove windows and doors from the house. Large tracks consistent with a backhoe could be seen in the dirt outside the back of the house.
Hernandez said he believed based on conversations with officers that they had used a ram and backhoe to open up the home’s windows and doors. He also believes they deployed smoke bombs, tear gas and water from a fire engine in an effort to get Clutter out of the house.
According to Hernandez, officers used a drone to look inside the home and eventually locate Clutter’s body.
The house is a rental, Evansville Police Chief Mike Thompson said. He said it was too early in the investigation to know what will happen to the home, or how the damage will be covered, but that the sheriff’s office has been communicating with the homeowner.
Thompson said he had “visited with the school district on an issue kind of related to this,” but not since the aftermath of the incident.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to raise money for Clutter’s funeral expenses. As of early Monday afternoon, nearly $2,000 has been raised.
The four Casper police officers who exchanged gunfire with Clutter have been placed on administrative leave, according to the department. That’s standard protocol for any incident involving officers who shoot during an interaction with residents.
“This action has been taken out of an abundance of caution, pending a full investigation,” the agency wrote. “This protocol is in place to ensure the integrity of the investigation as well as to safeguard the mental health of the officers after a traumatic event.”
No officers from the sheriff’s office or Evansville police used their guns, officials from those departments said Monday.
The incident closed roads in the area and restricted access only to law enforcement.
There were two dogs in the home at the start of the standoff, Thompson said. One escaped the home, Thompson said, and has not been found. Hernandez said the other was killed during the incident.
Natrona County Coroner investigator Taylor Jessee said the office would be performing an autopsy Monday. Jessee said results will take two or more weeks but will not be released to the public.
The local law enforcement agencies, along with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, are investigating the incident.