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Casper police sergeant faces sanction over warrantless entry into The Void

Body cam footage of Casper police at The Void on 9/30/22 obtained by Seth Hollier via the Freedom of Information Act (Courtesy)

CASPER, Wyo. — A Casper police sergeant is facing a disciplinary suspension following a Fourth Amendment violation last fall at The Void, an alternative nightlife venue in downtown Casper that has since closed.

Sgt. Anthony Stedillie contested the scope — but not the foundation — of an internally recommended 80-hour unpaid suspension at a Wyoming Civil Service Commission hearing Tuesday morning at Casper City Hall.

City Attorney Eric Nelson opened the meeting with a factual recounting of the Sept. 30 incident and the “legally incorrect” basis for officers’ subsequent entry into the venue. The entirety of the incident was captured on the officers’ body cameras. The footage was played in full and without interruption at the hearing.

After responding to a disturbance outside the venue shortly before midnight, Sgt. Stedillie, along with two subordinates, “inexplicably and without a warrant or probable cause, insisted on entering The Void to do a ‘walkthrough,’” Nelson said.

When confronted by two employees who questioned whether the officers had a warrant, “Sgt. Stedillie doubled down and insisted he had a right to enter,” Nelson said. 

Nelson, Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters, and a CPD captain who reviewed the incident unequivocally characterized the incident as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens and property against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Sgt. Stedillie said Tuesday that he was operating on an interpretation of city ordinances that allows for the inspection of building permits, health department licenses, and fire code compliance during business hours.

“I sincerely believed we had that [authority],” Sgt. Stedillie said at the hearing. “Every supervisor I spoke to at the Casper Police Department about this all also thought we did. This has been a learning opportunity agency-wide.”

Nelson pointed out that this rationale was not offered to the employees of The Void at the time and that Stedillie had had “robust” training in Constitutional matters related to law enforcement.

The disturbance that brought officers to the sidewalk outside The Void was resolved without any arrests or observed criminal behavior, Chief McPheeters said.

Upon resolution, Sgt. Stedillie’s body camera turns to the doors of The Void and he can be heard saying, “I gotta see what we got going on in here.”

In the footage, officers enter the front box office area curtained off from the dance floor proper where patrons were to pay a $5 cover charge before entry. Club music is heard playing. An employee at the box office asks if they have a warrant. Sgt. Stedillie is heard saying: “You have a business open to the public? This business serves food and drink? All right, we’re doing a walkthrough.”

He can also be heard telling a second employee that the first employee is “about to get himself arrested.”

The officers and two employees then speak outside, and Stedillie can be heard insisting that it is essential for businesses to cooperate with law enforcement to thrive, and that the employee who asked for a warrant was mistaken about his rights.

Officers then enter the venue, which was devoid of any clientele, and leave a few minutes later.

Chief McPheeters characterized the employees’ eventual consent as “coerced,” and stated that there was not even a remote indication of criminal conduct to support entry.

“If we would have walked in and Jimmy Hoffa’s body would have been there, the evidence of that crime would have been immediately suppressed because of the coercive nature of this consent to entry,” McPheeters said.

McPheeters said he believed the conduct fell short of a “willful” deprivation of protected rights as defined by federal criminal statutes.

He added that the incident had compounded the cynicism and suspicion that The Void’s co-owner, Seth Hollier, had regarding law enforcement presence near the venue, at 128 E. 2nd St. in downtown Casper, on other occasions.

City Manager Cartier Napier also testified Tuesday to the man-hours he and City Council members had spent trying to repair this relationship after The Void’s owners contacted them regarding the incident.

McPheeters said that Stedillie had a previous eight-hour suspension and had been subject to a “performance improvement plan,” which he successfully completed.

“I believe Sgt. Stedillie has formidable strengths,” McPheeters said. “He has a seemingly infinite knowledge of the criminal element in Casper; he has a wealth of knowledge in history; he is, at times, a very proficient communicator.”

“I maintain to this day … that I believe in and choose to have trust in Sgt. Stedillie; that he has remaining potential to be an effective leader in our department,” McPheeters later said.

He said that Stedillie also sometimes made “emotional decisions.” Before Stedille’s promotion to sergeant, McPheeters said he’d had a frank conversation with Stedillie about his strengths, weaknesses, and the expectations accompanying the promotion.

Given the totality of circumstances stemming from the incident, McPheeters said he agreed with a captain’s recommendation for an 80-hour suspension: a “very painful” sanction that amounted to a $3,500 fine.  

Stedillie said that this was 4% of his salary and an undue hardship beyond the tenets of progressive discipline.

McPheeters said it was particularly troubling to him that the incident had unfolded before two subordinates, including a rookie who can be heard on video expressing admiration of Stedillie’s assertion of authority.

“I very humbly accept the responsibility for falling short of the department’s mission of the highest levels of professionalism,” Stedillie said Thursday. “I behaved discourteously, I did not choose my words appropriately.

“If I could do this over again, I would have walked away. It wasn’t that important.”

Anna Reeves Olson, the hearing officer for the commission meeting, said a final decision on the sanction would be reached soon.