CHEYENNE — A Wyoming sheriff’s deputy who detained a combat veteran in handcuffs for openly carrying a pistol offered to let him go if he agreed to let another deputy draw his weapon and shoot if the veteran made any sudden moves while driving away, court records show.
Capt. Robert Pierson, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot who has served two combat tours in Afghanistan, has filed a civil rights lawsuit over the August 2011 incident.
Pierson, 31, of Pensacola, Fla., was carrying the pistol, which is legal in Wyoming, when he was pulled over by Deputy Corry Bassett of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
In a sworn statement this month, Bassett acknowledged he offered to release Pierson if he allowed Deputy Rob Andazola to draw his weapon and cover Pierson.
Pierson declined the offer and was released without a citation when a supervisor arrived.
Pierson said he was on a cross-country trip on his Harley-Davidson when Bassett pulled him over outside Alpine in western Wyoming. A person had reported that someone matching Pierson’s description had passed a number of slow-moving motorhomes, authorities said.
“I didn’t know whether kicking my leg over the bike, or walking away, or what they could possibly constitute as a hostile act,” Pierson said in a telephone interview Monday. “I didn’t like the terms. And I was a little unnerved by the fact that they were threatening lethal force with a deadly weapon against a man who was compliant, in handcuffs, who had been screened.”
Pierson said the deputies ran his name and found he had a clean record.
“An escalation of force of that nature was quite more than I was expecting,” he said.
Bassett said in the sworn statement that he had been trained to put his personal safety above the rights of a citizen openly carrying a handgun.
“We’re told every day, our safety is first,” he said. “We’re here to come home every night.”
Patricia L. Bach of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office represents Bassett and Andazola. She declined comment.
Bassett told Pierson’s attorney, Gary Ferguson, that he detained Pierson because Pierson wouldn’t tell him whether he had a gun.
Pierson, who recorded much of his interaction with Bassett and Andazola, told Bassett only that he didn’t consent to any searches.
Pierson said he is seeking damages, an apology and a statement by the jurisdictions involved that the open carry of handguns is lawful — and that the purpose of government is not officer safety but the protection of peoples’ lives, liberty and property.
“I want that stated as the paramount reason they exist,” he said.
Pierson also said he wants to see Bassett and Andazola off the force.
Pierson said he finds the irony of the situation heartbreaking. “Both sets of officers, the sheriff’s department and myself, we’ve both sworn to uphold the Constitution,” he said.