For Capt. Eric Seeman, each street, home and person he drives by in Gillette has a story.
Where anyone else would see a house, he sees a memory. A domestic violence incident. A call for a rowdy house party. A past drug case.
Some memories he looks back on fondly and others are more grim.
In his 35 years with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, Seeman has seen the dirty dishes and unmade beds of all walks of Gillette residents. He’s worked everything from small crime details to investigating some of the most notorious murder cases in the county’s history.
Recently, he was named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by The American Legion for Wyoming, an honor that reflects the longstanding presence Seeman has had in the community as an investigator for the Sheriff’s Office.
More than three decades into the job, his résumé is extensive.
Seeman went from working in the jail to being a patrol officer before entering investigations, where he has spent most of his career solving crimes.
Other counties throughout the state have reached out to him for his expertise over the years. He once ran the Campbell County Posse Search and Rescue Team and also commanded the SWAT Team for a time.
He even has more than 20 years of experience as a polygraph examiner, a skill he’s used to help with cases throughout Wyoming.
“Capt. Seeman’s experience and proficiency makes him one of the most influential officers in the state of Wyoming,” said Sheriff Scott Matheny in a letter nominating him for the award.
What started as a backup plan after he got laid off from a construction job when he was 21 turned into a career and now, statewide recognition.
“I think it’s just something you’re born with, wanting to make sure the right things are done. And that sounds so cornball when I say it out loud, but it really is just wanting to get to the end of something and do it legitimately,” Seeman said.
Arriving in a boom town
After moving back and forth from the Midwest to the East Coast as a kid, Seeman moved from South Dakota to Gillette with his family in 1978 and hasn’t left.
“It was at the height of the boom,” Seeman said. “And that’s when Playboy and ‘60 Minutes’ were writing stories about this rough-and-tumble boom town. I don’t know that I ever really saw it.”
Gillette has changed throughout the years as the energy industry has waxed and waned. Some of the same drugs are on the street alongside some new ones. A few noteworthy murders have caught the attention of the town.
But for the most part, Seeman said the community he oversees now is similar to the one he first policed as a young deputy.
Crime hasn’t changed much either.
Despite tales of never-ending night shifts where deputies would lose count of the roughneck fights broken up, he said those stories, to his knowledge, were overblown.
“I’ve heard stories from the deputies before I started about the bar fights they would go to,” Seeman said. “And, as you progress in this career, you will identify that the stories get embellished and they get closer and closer together.”
Either way, when he joined the Sheriff’s Office in the mid-1980s, the crimes he saw then and the ones he sees now have not fundamentally changed.
“Well, then I must have had an impact on this community, because since 1985, we have not been call-to-call on bar fights.” he said.
An adversarial bond
His ability to see the layers of history off every Campbell County roadway also includes the less savory incidents of the area’s past.
Even a relatively small town like Gillette had its dark moments, and many of its grisliest murders have passed over Seeman’s desk in his time working investigations.
Some of those still stick with him.
“It sounds weird, but there’s a whole murder tour I could do going through Campbell County of different locations of, ‘This is the crime that happened here, this is where we found this body, this is where we did that,’” Seeman said. “And when you do that, it’s never really going to leave you.”
One case involving two murders has stayed with him for a number of reasons.
Although it wasn’t his first whodunit at the time, Seeman said that a murder investigation involving local teenagers in the early 2000s was among the most senseless crimes he has seen.
“That case went on and it took me a month to solve it, and during that month I was in regular contact with the three young suspects,” Seeman said.
For weeks, he engaged with multiple suspects he was almost certain were the killers. But it wasn’t the constant contact that was memorable, it was the cordial nature of the interactions.
“While we were adversarial, we still ended up forming a kind of a weird bond with each other where we absolutely were friendly, even at the trials where they would shake my hand, they would talk to me, they would call me by name,” he said.
Seeman is a nice guy. Tall and rosy-cheeked, he is almost always smiling. While doing his job or talking to suspects, he said he doesn’t change who he is.
“I can’t be the dominating, yelling one because I’d just look like an idiot if I were to try that,” Seeman said. “I can’t do that.”
Instead of fighting his nature to throw on a tough, stern exterior that may be more in line with the detective stereotypes from novels and film, Seeman leans into his sincere side.
For him, it works. He credits several confessions he received and cases he closed to the rapport he builds with suspects by connecting with them on a human level.
“I’m not saying that it’s anything magical, it’s not for me to judge,” he said. “I’m there to try to get the facts of the case. I’m not passing judgment, I’m not giving out a sentence. All it is, is coming down to help me understand what happened.”
Working off the streets
Now that he has aged out of full-time, on-the-street investigations and into a leadership role with the Sheriff’s Office, Seeman uses his experience from past cases as examples for younger deputies learning the ropes who haven’t yet had to deal with some of the more gruesome aspects of the job.
“There’s definitely been sleepless nights,” he said. “But you can’t dwell on it, and I know it sounds weird to accentuate the positive, but there’s also something very cathartic in getting a case solved and getting it to a legitimate resolution so the survivors have legitimate information as to what happened.”
Having lived for decades in Campbell County, Seeman cannot avoid his personal life and professional life overlapping from time to time. Whether it’s bumping into families at Walmart he has helped or apprehended or not being able to drive down certain streets without those memories materializing, his work and personal lives have merged into an entwined perspective of Campbell County.
Through it all, it may be the same force that drove him to lose sleep over cases throughout his career that keeps him working well past his retirement eligibility.
“At some point there’s just something in your personality that just ain’t going to let you stop until you get a resolution,” he said.
Commissioner Del Shelstad is out of quarantine today after testing positive for COVID-19 at the start of last week. Monday morning, he said he was ready to get out of the house.
“I’ve been chomping at the bit for five days now,” he said.
He had a slight fever and lost his sense of smell and taste.
“It’s kind of odd, I’ve never had that sensation before,” he said, adding that his taste and smell are not completely back yet, and he expects it to be a while before they’re back to normal.
“We’ve been very proactive in saying we’re going to comply with everything Public Health asks us to do. Stay put, don’t leave, and we’ve done that,” he said.
Shelstad said this experience with COVID-19 has not changed how he feels on the pandemic as a whole, and that for him it wasn’t as bad as the flu or the common cold. He added that it affects everyone in different ways, and that people shouldn’t just brush it off.
“People that are out there saying it’s a hoax and it’s not real, I can assure you, it’s real. I did not fake it,” Shelstad said.
As of Monday morning, Campbell County’s COVID-19 case count is up to 769, with 311 active cases, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
This is an increase of 67 total cases from Friday afternoon, when there were 702 cases, 288 of which were active. There also are 64 probable cases, 26 of which are active.
Additionally, there are currently eight people hospitalized for COVID-19 at Campbell County Memorial Hospital.
Campbell County has passed Teton County for fifth most cases in the state.
With reported cases of COVID-19 recently escalating along with hospitalizations and confirmed coronavirus-related deaths, a Wyoming Department of Health official says it is critical time for residents to follow the department’s recommendations meant to slow and limit new cases of the virus.
“Our coronavirus cases are growing far too quickly and we are facing a deeply concerning situation across the state,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, in a press release. “It is up to all of us to help prevent Wyoming’s problem from getting far worse.”
According to the Department of Health, there have been 9,396 laboratory-confirmed cases in Wyoming, 1,645 probable cases and 68 COVID-19 related deaths.
Commission candidate Wes Johnson also tested positive Oct. 19. In a Facebook post, he said he had a fever, muscle aches, headache, dizziness and tightness in his chest. The next day, he got a “burning sensation” in his nose and later lost his sense of smell and taste. Wednesday, his symptoms remained the same.
Sunday, he posted that he believed he was “on the other side of this virus now.” His fever was gone, although he still couldn’t smell or taste and it was difficult to get full breaths of air.
With the continued rise in cases, he recommends people vote early “just in case something happens and you find yourself in quarantine” on Election Day.
Central Baptist Church canceled its Sunday services, with pastor Scott Clem citing “a great number of people” in the congregation who have gotten sick, including four who tested positive for COVID-19.
“I suspect a great number of those who are currently ill may have this virus, and we want to do our part to limit exposure — particularly for our elderly saints,” he posted on the church’s Facebook page.
Harrist said everyone needs to stay home and away from other people when sick unless they’re seeking medical help.
“This is important even you are just a little sick. If you have symptoms, don’t automatically assume it’s nothing,” she said. “Plenty of people have done that and spread the virus among their families and friends and at their workplaces.”
“Keeping at least 6 feet of physical distance between ourselves and others who aren’t members of your household whenever possible continues to be important,” Harrist added.
WDH recommends wearing cloth face coverings when people are in public settings or around other people who aren’t members of their households and when physical distancing is not reasonable or practical.
“We know masks can work and help slow the spread of this virus. We are seeing that happen within classrooms, for example,” Harrist said.
The department also encourages frequent and thorough hand washing to help with COVID-19 prevention as well as many other illnesses.
Harris said it is important for people who have possible COVID-19 symptoms to get tested.
“Don’t avoid testing because you don’t want to get bad news. You need to know so you can avoid exposing others to the virus,” she said.
“We also need people to follow our public health orders and to follow the directives and advice from public health representatives,” Harrist said. “If they reach out, answer the phone or return the calls. Answer their questions honestly. If you are asked to get tested, get tested. If you are told to isolate or quarantine, do it.”
Harrist said it’s not too late to improve the situation.
“However, we won’t be successful if people don’t take simple steps to avoid spreading COVID-19 to someone who can’t recover easily or recover at all,” she said. “It could be a family member, a friend or someone you don’t know. But doing what you can do to help is the right thing to do.”