RIVERTON — The Riverton Police Department officer who fatally shot Anderson Antelope, 58, of Riverton, Sept. 21 at Walmart is on paid leave while the investigation into the incident is ongoing, Riverton Mayor Richard Gard said Saturday.
“He’s doing really well, and he’s anxious to get back to work,” Gard said. “He’s a nice guy, and he really didn’t want to be involved with anything like that.”
The officer has not yet been identified.
The officer, who was not injured in the altercation, had been called to Walmart in response to a report of intoxication at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21.
Witnesses at the scene said the officer approached Antelope, who was sitting near the south entrance to the store, and asked Antelope to leave the area. Antelope refused, witnesses said, and the officer eventually bent over and either grasped or moved to grasp Antelope on the arm or shoulder.
At that point, witnesses said Antelope attacked the officer with a six-inch knife, but the blade did not penetrate the officer’s body armor. The officer drew his firearm, witnesses said, and ordered Antelope to drop the knife. Antelope then “continued the assault, with knife in hand, and was shot,” Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun said in a statement Monday.
“It’s a tragedy,” Gard said, expressing support for Antelope’s family as well as for the officer involved. “I want to praise law enforcement for their willingness to go do the hard jobs and ask for people to give (Antelope’s) family space to mourn their loss.”
Community members gathered Thursday evening at Riverton City Hall to mourn Antelope’s death and request more information about the incident. Gard said he did not attend the event but did see the group, which was “fairly peaceable.”
He did note, however, that some people at the vigil had drawn “unkind things” on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, writing statements like “Police lives don’t matter” and “Am I going to be next?” and drawing chalk outlines of bodies on the ground.
“That’s not grieving,” Gard said, adding, “There’s always a segment of society that wants to take a tragedy and get mileage out of it for what they feel have been wrongs in the past. You’re never going to stop that.”
City workers power-washed the markings away early Friday, Gard said.
Members of the Riverton City Council on Friday said they would rather hear the results of the investigation into the incident before offering any comment about the RPD’s involvement (see related story), but Gard said he didn’t need to wait.
“I am in support of our police,” he said. “I really appreciate what they do.”
He pointed to the public nature of the shooting, which occurred at the busy big-box store on a Saturday afternoon, with consumers coming and going throughout the incident and its aftermath. Gard said the location was “unfortunate” but pointed out that the presence of shoppers meant there were multiple witnesses to the shooting who will be able to tell investigators what happened.
“I think we’re fortunate for that,” Gard said.
He referred to Antelope’s alleged actions last Saturday as “a bad choice.”
“You just can’t stab a police officer,” Gard said. “What we really need to get back to in our society is people taking responsibility for their own actions. We don’t do that well anymore.”
He also encouraged local citizens to “step back and see how senseless it is to allow drunken behavior” in public.
“We’ve allowed it to go on for so long and looked the other way, that there’s some that are emboldened to think they can do anything they want,” Gard said.
“When we let things go and go and build to the point where we don’t expect anything out of anybody that’s what we get. … That finally comes down to a point of confronting each other in a deadly manner.
“All those things have consequences. You want to blame those on the police, but it’s not the police’s fault. They’re just there to hold order together.”
No official determination has been reached yet on whether Antelope was intoxicated.