A video shows a Laramie, Wyoming, police vehicle striking a protester during a demonstration on Wednesday night in downtown Laramie, marking the latest episode in weeks of protests for police reform in Wyoming's third-largest city.
The incident -- captured in a video shared Thursday by local police reform group the Laramie Human Rights Network -- occurred during a demonstration outside of a meeting by Albany County Democrats to begin the process of vetting candidates to replace outgoing Albany County Sheriff David O'Malley.
Video released by the police department Thursday afternoon, from the vantage point of a drone and from the driving officer's body cam, shows the protester, identified by police as Tyler Klatt, being struck by the right front side of the vehicle. From all vantage points, Klatt is shown at first in the street with a camera pointed up and into the police car. He's then directed by another officer to move back toward the curb, which meant crossing in front of the vehicle.
The officer points toward the curb and appears to put his hand on Klatt's back, directing him out of the street and in front of the vehicle. Klatt then begins to move toward the curb.
The officer in the vehicle switches on her lights, and within two seconds, moves forward, hitting both Klatt and the officer directing him toward the curb. She briefly stops and then continues driving.
According to the Laramie Human Rights Network, the officer driving the vehicle had arrested a demonstrator of color -- Illyanna Saucedo -- who allegedly stepped into the street "for a matter of seconds" despite other, white protesters doing so without repercussions. Saucdeo said she was singled out because of her race and that she was misidentified on police paperwork as white.
Saucedo told the Star-Tribune she had been walking in the street with two other white protesters who had also been warned not to move into the street. She said she alone was singled out for arrest; she and others said LPD had singled out protesters of color for arrest previously.
Saucedo, who was in the back seat when the officer arresting her hit Klatt, said the officer didn't say anything. Saucedo said it was "obvious" that she'd hit Klatt.
The arrest, depicted in a video of the incident provided to the Star-Tribune and later posted to Facebook by Laramie police, shows a police officer walking Saucedo to a parked police vehicle amid a crowd of protesters yelling "shame on you." Klatt is seen taking video in the street, in front and just to the left of the vehicle as the officer climbs into it and starts the vehicle.
Klatt was not injured in the incident, say other protesters who were at the scene. The Laramie Human Rights Network described as "a choice of fatal use of force" in a letter to Laramie police chief Dale Stalder Thursday morning.
"The officer's actions were indisputably out-of-line, and her patrolling and reaction to peaceful protesters is escalatory and racially motivated," according to a copy of the letter provided to the Star-Tribune. "We hope your reaction to these incidents is adequate and in support of your community members who are continually threatened by her."
In a separate video and statement to its Facebook page Thursday, the Laramie Police Department defended the arrest, saying officers had repeatedly warned the demonstrator to leave the roadway over an eight-block span.
According to the statement, the protester struck by the vehicle was later identified and ticketed by the Wyoming Highway Patrol for obstructing traffic. Saucedo was also cited for obstructing traffic.
"The Laramie Police Department regrets that a member of our community was hit and would remind all demonstrators that police vehicles, when being operated as an emergency vehicle according to Wyoming State Statutes, must be yielded to both by other vehicles and pedestrians," they wrote in the statement. "In this instance, the police vehicle was displaying red lights and sirens when the officer was attempting to leave the area of the arrest."
While the video does show the officer driving the vehicle turns on her lights, she moves forward almost immediately after doing so, as both Klatt and the officer on the street directing him are in the process of moving. In all videos, protesters can be seen crowding the vehicle, though most are on the sidewalk and all but Klatt are out of the way of the SUV when the officer begins to drive forward.
The highway patrol investigated the incident because Laramie police were involved, the agency said in its Facebook statement. Klatt initially declined to provide his identification to troopers because he didn't know if he was being arrested, other protesters said, and he was waiting for legal counsel to arrive. He was threatened with arrest, those protesters said, as was his legal counsel. He was eventually cited.
Through the members of the human rights group, Klatt declined to comment.
Kaylee Provenza, a member of the sheriff's candidate selection committee and a candidate for the Wyoming Legislature, said she initially advised Klatt not to provide identification to officers until legal counsel arrived on the scene.
In an interview with the Star-Tribune, Provenza said that officers on the scene promised Klatt he "would not get in trouble," by police, only to be cited by the Wyoming Highway Patrol for "illegally crossing the street."
She said she believes if a civilian did something similar, they would likely have been treated differently.
"If someone is crossing the street at an inconvenient time for you, you don't get to hit the gas pedal," she said. "That is called aggravated assault. What is the effort at deescalation there?"
Provenza said that both the incident itself -- and the decision to charge Klatt with a crime -- indicate the need for change within local law enforcement and an end to a culture of cops investigating cops.
"That conflict of interest needs to be removed," she said. "We need civilian oversight boards. We need trained civilians to investigate these types of incidents and come to an unbiased result."