Lawsuit charges Sublette Sheriff’s Office violated rancher’s civil rights
Jury trial requested in Urbigkit case
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
June 8, 2008
The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office and officers are named in a civil suit for alleged civil-rights violations pertaining to the arrest of Sublette County rancher Jim Urbigkit in April, 2007.
The lawsuit names the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Wayne “Bardy” Bardin, SCSO Deputy Brian Sparks, SCSO Undersheriff Jim Whinnery, and unnamed officers or supervisors of the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office as defendants.
The lawsuit stems from an incident last spring which began when Urbigkit shot a black bear on his livestock ranch in southern Sublette County. He called the Wyoming Game & Fish Department to report the incident. However, since it was a weekend, no one answered, so he then called the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office to report it.
According to the complaint, the responding deputy asked Urbigkit questions about the dead bear. Shooting the bear was not a crime. Urbigkit told the deputy he would answer questions provided his lawyer was present. According to the complaint, the deputy, under instructions from his supervising officer, told Urbigkit he had no right to an attorney. He was told that by not answering the officer’s questions, he was guilty of interfering with a police enforcement officer in the performance of his lawful duties. Urbigkit maintained that he would answer questions with his attorney present. He was subsequently arrested, handcuffed, transported to Sublette County Jail, booked, strip searched and placed in a cell. Bond to be released was $1,000. (See the links at the end of this article for stories with more details about the incident.)
A court appearance was set for May 3, 2007. The Sublette County Prosecuting Attorney subsequently elected to not proceed with any prosecution and dismissed the charge against Urbigkit and called his attorney prior to the court date saying he did not have to appear. Insisting on having his day in court, Urbigkit went before Sublette County Circuit Court Judge Curt Haws in a specially-scheduled hearing May 3rd. The Judge said, in effect, that since the matter had been dismissed, he had no authority and any remedy would lie in civil action.
Represented by Pinedale attorney Elizabeth Greenwood, Urbigkit subsequently filed a claim against Sublette County for violation of state and federal constitutional and civil rights and violations of state laws including unlawful detention, false arrest, false imprisonment, battery, abuse of authority and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The claim requested compensation for damages, emotional distress and attorneys fees in the amount of $1.75 million. The Sublette County Commissioners ultimately denied that claim.
Fast-forward one year. Jim Urbigkit’s civil suit was filed in Wyoming District Court in Casper on May 20, 2008. (Case 1:2008cv0131). The presiding Judge is Judge Clarence A. Brimmer. Urbigkit has requested a jury trial in the case. The suit alleges civil rights violations of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States.
The suit alleges the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office is operating under a policy to arrest subjects for interference with a peace officer when they ask for a lawyer during officer questioning. Urbigkit asserts the Sheriff’s Office did not have probable cause of any crime to arrest, detain or jail him. Among the charges, the suit alleges the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office intentionally intimidated Urbigkit and his family and negligently frightened and terrorized him.
The suit asks for a judgment to compensate for emotional distress, injuries sustained and losses incurred. In addition, it asks for an award of punitive damages for intentional wanton and willful and/or reckless conduct, as well as an award for costs and any other relief the Court deems just and proper “under the circumstances.” The amount specified is greater than $250,000.
Urbigkit is represented by attorney Frank R. Chapman of Chapman Valdez, of Casper, Wyoming.
We asked the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office if they wished to comment on this case, however at the time of this article, we had not yet received a response from them.
We asked Jim Urbigkit why he was proceeding with this civil lawsuit? “My family and I have no security or safety under this standard set by the SCSO. We can be arrested and jailed at any time without legal justification.”
Pinedale Online: What are the important issues you believe this lawsuit will address?
Jim Urbigkit: “How important are the constitutional rights of the citizens?”
Pinedale Online: Has this incident in any way changed how you or your family now interacts with local law enforcement in Sublette County?
Jim Urbigkit: “We (1) do not call the SCSO for assistance in such things as illegal trespass, (2) we are hyper sensitive about compliance with all other laws (traffic, etc).”
Urbigkit added, “I am hopeful that through this suit the court, my counsel and I will restore my rights and restore legal application of law enforcement in Sublette County.”
As of the time of this report, no date had been set for the jury trial.
Jim Urbigkit v. Sublette County Sheriff's Office - Case 1:2008cv0131, May 20, 2009, Wyoming District Court, Casper, Wyoming (23 page PDF, 1077K)
Rancher says SCSO violated his, others’ rights - By Janet Montgomery, Sublette Examiner, May 10, 2007
Rancher arrested, but not because he shot the bear - Pinedale Online! May 3, 2007
Urbigkit case: What happened in court - Pinedale Online! May 4, 2007
Urbigkit Case: Reader Comments and Viewpoints - Pinedale Online! May 5, 2007