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GPD officer returns fire, kills suspect

Cody William Amman, 31, has been identified as the man killed in an officer-involved shooting Friday night in Gillette.

Amman allegedly fired at a Gillette police officer early Friday evening and in turn, the officer returned fire.

Amman was taken to Campbell County Memorial Hospital, but died of gun shot wounds at 8:41 p.m. Friday, Campbell County Coroner Paul Wallem said Monday morning.

It is unclear where Amman was wounded or how many times he was shot.

The number of shots fired in the exchange also was not disclosed by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, which is investigating the incident.

An autopsy is scheduled to be performed Monday afternoon, Wallem said.

The exchange of gunfire followed a 911 report to the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office at 4:21 p.m. of gunshots at a mobile home park near the 1500 block of East Second Street. When deputies arrived, Amman, who was said to be armed, had fled the area in a black and purple Nissan, Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said.

A Gillette Police officer later spotted the suspect’s car and began tailing it down Boxelder Road near the Chara Hills subdivision.

While being followed, Amman abruptly stopped, got out his car and began shooting at the officer, who has not been identified. The officer returned fire, hitting Amman. The officer was not hurt, but neither police nor DCI would release more details of what happened.

Boxelder Road near the Energy Capital Sports Complex was closed for several hours during the incident and ensuing investigation Friday night.

The officer is on leave pending the DCI investigation, which is standard protocol, Police Lt. Brent Wasson said.

DCI is continuing to investigate the incident and deferred questions about the case to the Campbell County Attorney’s Office, which declined to comment because it is an active and open investigation.

Louey Williams, DCI’s team leader for the northeastern region, could not provide a definitive timeline for the investigation, but said that he hopes for it to be completed this week.

Reynolds confirmed that Amman was sentenced in Campbell County in 2018 to 2.5 to six years in prison for an aggravated assault.

In that case, he “blindsided” a woman as she walked to her truck at Eagles Nest Circle on May 28, 2018. He then pushed her to the ground, climbed on top of her and hit her multiple times, according to court documents.

Two women who were outside smoking witnessed the attack and told officers that they saw Amman come “out of nowhere,” push the woman, climb on top of her and start punching. They also said the woman “went limp” after Amman’s first blow and appeared unconscious.

The woman had criticized him earlier that evening because she had confronted him about neglecting his responsibilities to his girlfriend. He had become angry and upset.

Amman was a mixed martial artist who had fights that were scheduled to happen in the weeks following the attack.

“As a trained fighter, Amman should have been able to recognize when (the woman) became unconscious,” concluded Police Officer Devon Oswald in court documents.

14th annual Festival of Lights starts Friday

The lights are coming back.

In a year filled with uncertainty, one thing that was never really up in the air was Festival of Lights put on by the Campbell County Parks and Recreation Department.

“It never even crossed our minds that we’d have to postpone this,” said Parks Superintendent Kevin Geer.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Framework for the Festival of Lights is ready for showtime for Friday’s opening night at Cam-plex Park.

The 14th annual Festival of Lights will open Friday and run through early January.

Geer said the weather has cooperated, for the most part, which has led to the preparation being about a week ahead of schedule. Parks staff started working on the Festival of Lights in early October. A snowstorm in late October worried Geer a bit, but temperatures warmed up again.

“Because the weather held out and we had nice warm days, it made it so much easier to get everything done,” Geer said.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Campbell County park maintenance worker Mike Cote irons out the technical aspects to make the Festival of Lights a success at Cam-plex Park Tuesday afternoon.

Last week, Geer and and parks maintenance technician Mike Cote were out at Cam-plex Park testing some of the displays. Cote, responsible for the majority of the programming this year, was testing the lights on The Christmas Drive-In, the wall of LED lights that replaced the Happy Holidays display and made its debut in the 2019 Festival of Lights.

The Festival of Lights was created by former parks supervisor Wes Johnson, who did a lot of the work for the event, including programming the lights and securing sponsorships. Last year’s event was the first without Johnson.

Now, it has more than 1 million lights and nearly 70 displays, some of which have virtually infinite color combinations. It’s even visible from the air on flights arriving in and departing from Gillette.

The Festival of Lights opens at 5 p.m. Friday and continues through Jan. 3 and will be open from 5-11 p.m. daily.

There are just a few changes from last year. The Infinity Tunnel now has the same type of bulbs as the Christmas Drive-In. Each bulb is programmable and can virtually be any shade of any color, which leads to infinite color combinations.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Campbell County park maintenance worker Mike Cote works on getting the Festival of Lights up and running at Cam-plex Park Tuesday afternoon.

Geer said the Infinity Tunnel will be programmed to be in sync with The Christmas Drive-In.

With this change, the number of lights isn’t necessarily increasing, but the colors are.

The Campbell County Sheriff’s Office employee committee raised money and is sponsoring a new display, which is Santa in a sheriff’s office pickup. It’s the only new display this year.

The event’s most polarizing display will be back for 2020 after a one-year absence, but in a different form.

Last year, parks staff decided not to include the gummy bears display, which was made of a few colorful gummy bears that danced to “The Gummy Bear Song,” an infectious earworm that stuck in the heads of children and parents.

This decision to give the gummy bears some time off was met with mixed reviews from the community, Geer said.

“People either loved that we took it out or they were really unhappy that we took it out,” he said. “We ended up putting it back in (this year) for the kids.”

While the standalone gummy bears display won’t be back, gummy bears make an appearance in the Christmas Drive-In, where they’ll dance to “The Gummy Bear Song.”

Geer said there are plans to have themed nights, like one night may have country music, while another night will be rock-themed. There also will be nights for children’s songs.

The schedules of the themes have not yet been finalized, so for updated information, visit the Campbell County Festival of Lights’ Facebook page.

Geer said the gummy bears will only be on during the kids’ nights, so those who want to avoid hearing it will have to check the Facebook page to figure out when they want to go.

The Festival of Lights is free to the public each year thanks to sponsorships from local businesses. Geer said that at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he didn’t know what was going to happen this year with sponsors.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Campbell County park maintenance worker Mike Cote gets a series of lights to illuminate while ironing out the technical aspects to make the Festival of Lights a success at Cam-plex Park Tuesday afternoon.

Typically, there are one or two companies that will choose not to re-sponsor a display for whatever reason, Geer said. This year, about half of 2019’s sponsors chose not to participate, mostly because of economic constraints created by the pandemic.

“Luckily, I had people interested from the past, waiting on the waiting list, and they were happy to jump in and sponsor,” he said.

Of the nearly 70 displays, only one doesn’t have a sponsor. And the businesses that decided not to sponsor a display this year have asked to be put on the list for 2021, Geer said.

Last year, a teenage boy vandalized three displays and the cost to repair the damage was $555. Geer said he’s not concerned about vandalism happening again this year. Instead, he hopes the Festival of Lights can bring some cheer to people who’ve had a tough year.

“Considering the year we’ve had, this’ll be a nice break, something fun and enjoyable to do,” he said.

News Record File Photo

Illuminated flowers and trees frame the end of the Festival of Lights tour at Cam-plex Park.

Thunder Basin High School senior Sergio Aguilar, center, gets pumped up with his teammates before the Class 4A state football championship against Cheyenne East on Saturday.



Gillette College district application to be decided Friday

Campbell County will find out Friday if its effort to form its own community college district will move on to the Wyoming Legislature.

The Wyoming Community College Commission will meet Friday morning to discuss and decide on whether to approve the Campbell County Commission’s application to create a new district centered around Gillette College.

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know,” said Gillette resident Gregg Blikre, who is one of the seven Wyoming Community College commissioners voting on the application.

“We haven’t discussed it. We’ll discuss it in an open meeting on Friday the 20th,” he said. “Obviously, I believe that our town can support the college and I know that we can and we already have a college there. But I can’t tell you what the rest will do. I just can’t.”

It has been a long path involving many meetings with various organizations to get to this point.

Ultimately, if the commission approves Gillette College’s application, it will then be up to the Legislature to decide what happens next.

“My hopes are that they will agree that Gillette should have its own college district,” Blikre said, while acknowledging that he does not know how it will be received by the Legislature.

“I do believe that it’s imperative that they get the opportunity to take it up,” he said.

How we got here

In a roundabout way, budget cuts sparked the attempt by Campbell County officials and residents to form their own district.

When the Northern Wyoming Community College District decided to cut athletics programs at both Sheridan and Gillette colleges in June, it was met by resistance from many in Campbell County.

Local residents pulled together to form a plan to pay for those programs at Gillette College with private funding for the 2020-2021 academic year while devising a more sustainable long-term plan.

At a July meeting in Sheridan, the NWCCD Board of Trustees rejected the proposal, partially because it only would fund programs for Gillette College and not Sheridan College as well.

The Campbell County Commission then formed a task force to address the issue and formally filed an application for a new district late this summer, at which point a 90-day timer began for the WCCC to either approve or deny the proposal.

Finances and necessity

When considering the Gillette College application, finances, feasibility and necessity are major factors to consider.

At a time when statewide cuts have caused the seven existing community college districts in Wyoming to tighten their budgets, there are questions of how adding another would affect the other colleges.

Last month, Eastern Wyoming Community College formally opposed Campbell County’s proposal. Its board of trustees approved a resolution in opposition of adding a new community college district.

The resolution said the Gillette College application failed to prove what unique value it would add that does not already exist and is available within its current district.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education completed a survey to consult the Wyoming Community College Commission on questions of need, financial ability, educational soundness and other matters related to the Gillette College application.

The survey said a new college district in Campbell County would be a “net positive” for the other districts.

“Based on the intricacies of the state’s allocation model, the significant influx of local revenue through a new property tax would result in lower state support for GCCCD and larger per-credit hour allocations of state support to all other institutions,” the survey’s executive summary said.

However, Gillette College leaving its current district could have a negative financial impact on NWCCD, to the tune of about $2 million, the survey said.

It also found the college to be critical to the community, whether in its current district or as one of its own, and that there is a prevailing sense of “systemic communication and governance issues” which is a “symptom of larger displeasure over a lack of self-determination for the residents of Campbell County.”

That issue of autonomy, or a lack thereof, was echoed by Blikre.

“Gillette then has the ability to make its own decisions about what’s needed and what classes can be offered and what courses can be offered,” Blikre said. Gillette wants the autonomy “to look at what is needed in Campbell County and address that directly and not have to have someone from another county address it if they want to.”

The NWCCD Board of Trustees does not have any representation from Gillette. Robert Palmer, who is also on the Gillette College task force appointed by the Campbell County Commission, is the college’s liaison to the district’s board but does not have a vote.

“My gut feeling has always been that it’s going to get a favorable view from the commission,” NWCCD President Walter Tribley said about Campbell County’s application.

Considering the timing of this application coming amid a pandemic, he said the process has gone smoothly from the parties involved. Ultimately, he said that ensuring long-term, sustainable funding for the new college district is an important issue to be addressed.

“We need to keep an eye on the future and make sure if we set up a new college, we fund a new college and fund all the other colleges at the same time,” he said.

While the survey did not find reason to suggest that a new district in Campbell County would change statewide enrollment patterns, it acknowledged an Eastern Wyoming College claim that it could see an enrollment decline if students from Crook and Weston counties opted for the new district.

“It is clear that Wyoming needs a strong and vibrant college in Campbell County,” the survey said. “Whether that college should be part of NWCCD or independent rests, in part, on an assessment of the value that Wyoming places on local control and self-representation versus potential financial impacts and efficiency losses.”

What’s next

If the WCCC votes down the Gillette College application, then its chances are over. But if it is approved, there may be more hurdles to clear in the state Legislature.

Current Wyoming statute requires a community college district to tax 4 mills to receive state funding. Because of its relatively high assessed value, the cost of those mills in Campbell County is significantly higher than it would be in other Wyoming counties.

At a Select Committee on Community College Funding meeting of the Legislature in Gillette last month, members talked about potentially reshaping the existing statute.

If the Legislature moves forward with the Gillette College application, it would then go to a special vote in Campbell County where the public will ultimately decide if a new community college district is what people want.

“I know there will be people who are anti- any kind of tax whatsoever, so they will be out against it,” Blikre said. “The truth of the matter is the writing’s on the wall. We have to look at the future and the best way to look at the future is to have a strong base in your county. And the best strong base there is for any county is to have a college.”

There may be many more steps to take before Campbell County gains autonomy over its prized community college. Friday’s meeting will portend what the rest of that path, if there is one, looks like moving forward.

“I personally believe Gillette needs to be able to support and can support its own college and I also think it needs to be able to make its own decisions,” Blikre said. “Gillette College is essentially our best avenue to move Campbell County forward to the new path that we’re going to be forced through as we move forward. It’s our best bet for economic development.”