Investigation finds Casper officer acted in self-defense when he shot man
Prosecutors have determined a police officer acted in self-defense when he shot a domestic violence suspect inside an east Casper apartment in May, police said Tuesday.
An investigation conducted by a state agency and reviewed by the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office found the man had a loaded gun in his hand while hiding underneath blankets inside a closet. Police say the officer fired once when the man, earlier identified as Gage Cordova, raised the weapon.
The officer, police say, believed he was about to be shot. The suspect, who suffered a grazing wound to his right arm, told investigators he raised the gun intending to kill himself.
In a Facebook post, police identified the officer as Matthew Lougee, a three-year veteran of the force.
The video states prosecutors made their determination that the shooting was justified in August. It attributes the delay to “ensuring the integrity of all investigations.” The Star-Tribune asked a police spokesman to clarify what investigations that statement was referring to but did not receive a response by deadline.
Police released a video discussing the incident on Tuesday. It features body camera footage and police statements about the shooting, the events leading up to it, and a negotiation afterward that was resolved peacefully. In Wyoming, the release of body camera footage is left to the discretion of police.
The footage shows the moment when Lougee fired his weapon as Cordova began to emerge armed from blankets strewn on a closet floor.
Cordova, who was 24 at the time, was accused of using a gun to threaten his wife, who was in the process of divorcing him, after allegedly showing up at her house. He was further accused of leaving her threatening voicemails and using a Ring doorbell surveillance system at the woman’s home to listen in on her and police, court documents filed in connection to his subsequent arrest state.
The same court document state Cordova made threatening statements to police as well.
The video footage released Tuesday begins with officers at the door of an east Casper apartment on May 30. They had searched the apartment earlier without finding Cordova, but believed he might have returned there.
Police say that officers knocked on the apartment door for several minutes before they reached the tenant by phone. That person agreed to answer the door.
The body cam footage shows uniformed and plainclothes officers outside the apartment. One is holding an assault rifle. Others have their pistols out.
The door opens and the officers are let inside by a woman who speaks with them. She allows them to enter. One officer walks down a hallway and into a bedroom. He begins to search a walk-in closet when he notices a pile of blankets and laundry.
He aims his flashlight at the pile and appears to try and flip over the blankets. He says “hey” as a man suddenly emerge from the blankets. The officer twice tells the man to get up before a gunshot is heard.
The body cam footage is blocked as this happens, which police attribute in the video to the officer’s position as he leans over to move the blankets.
“As the suspect emerges, he had a loaded handgun in his right hand, which he begins to raise upward,” the video states. “The officer, seeing the handgun raising up, and considering the earlier threats made to the officers’ lives, believed his life to be in jeopardy.
“While retreating backwards, the officer fires his weapon once,” police state in the video.
In the body camera footage, Cordova could be heard threatening to take his own life. During the encounter, he pointed the gun at his head while asking the officers to kill him.
“Let’s not do that,” one officer says on the video. “You don’t want to do that.”
The video states officers began to negotiate with him once the gun was no longer pointed in their direction. They can be seen talking calmly to him as he points the gun at his head.
“Just put the gun down,” one officer says. “We’ll get you medical attention.”
The negotiations continued for an hour, police said. The officers eventually convince Cordova to put down the gun. He stands up, leaves the closet and surrenders.
“Nice and easy, we’re not going to bum rush you,” one officer can be heard saying.
Cordova, who was taken to a hospital for medical care, appears to stand up under his own power and walk out of the closet as officers stand ready nearby.
Police said the investigation found Cordova had marijuana and methamphetamine in his system at the time.