Apr 30, 2015

Cody nurse contests sexual assault allegations, but case moves forward

An attorney for a Cody man accused of sexually assaulting a female patient during a January surgical procedure attacked the case against him at a court hearing last week.

“A large portion of the case is based on speculation on the part of the state,” argued William Struemke, a Cody attorney who’s defending registered nurse Robert W. Guty.

The Park County Circuit Courtroom in Cody
Struemke questioned the motives of the fellow nurse who reported catching Guty with his fingers inside a sedated patient’s genitals. As for other nurses’ statements that they’d suspected Guty of inappropriate touches for some time, “we’re not here for those rumors,” he said.

Struemke made the remarks during a preliminary hearing held Friday in Park County Circuit Court in Cody, where he asked that the case be dismissed. However, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters found there was enough evidence for Guty’s first-degree sexual assault charge to proceed to District Court — though he wondered if all the allegations contained in charging documents would be admissible at a trial.

Guty is currently free on a $60,000 cash bond. He has relinquished his ability to work as a nurse as part of an administrative proceeding before the Wyoming Board of Nursing, Struemke said. The board’s website lists Guty as being currently licensed with no record of any discipline.

“Money’s a big motivator, you would agree? ... If somebody felt they were losing money due to somebody else, that could be a motivator to seek revenge, could it not?” Struemke asked.

The procedure in question took place at the Northern Wyoming Surgical Center, where Guty had been working. He denied the allegations when confronted by the surgical center’s administrator, but was fired after an internal investigation, charging documents say.

In the incident in question, a female patient was sedated and undergoing a procedure on her foot when a nurse reportedly saw Guty’s put his hand under the patient’s blanket, near her hip, Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford wrote in a charging affidavit.

Having held suspicions about Guty’s handling of women for some time, the nurse said she pulled back the blanket and saw Guty quickly remove his hand from the woman’s genitals, Stafford wrote.

Besides Guty and the nurse who reported seeing the alleged sexual assault, there were three other medical providers in the room. Stafford recounted Friday that none of the others reported seeing anything unusual and that the patient has no memory of the procedure.

“Only one person allegedly saw something, correct?” Struemke asked the detective during cross-examination, adding later, “Does that strike you as odd?”

Stafford said it did not.

“People were in different positions in the room. Some said they had their back to them (the patient), others said they were paying attention to their vitals,” the detective said.

Only one of the four other medical providers in the room reported seeing Guty inappropriately touch the patient; the other said they had been focused on other tasks and saw nothing, Stafford recounted.

The nurse who reported the allegations told Stafford she had a good working relationship with Guty, but Struemke argued that Guty had to repeatedly remind her to punch out of work, “thereby costing her money.”

“Money’s a big motivator, you would agree? ... If somebody felt they were losing money due to somebody else, that could be a motivator to seek revenge, could it not?” Struemke asked Stafford.

Three other nurses at the surgical center told Stafford that, based on their observations, they’d also come to believe Guty was inappropriately touching female patients; one nurse was concerned enough that she wore extra layers of clothing when she had a procedure at the surgical center, Stafford recounted.

Struemke noted that Guty hasn’t been charged with any crimes in connection with the other nurses’ allegations. He asked why Stafford would care about about the “rumors.”

“I care about them because I was looking at the totality of the circumstances, and then you have this act that occurs,” Stafford said, though he added that the other nurses’ suspicions and observations were not the basis for the felony charge.

Struemke said there were a lot of unanswered questions and some holes in the case.

For example, he suggested it was physically impossible for the witnessing nurse to have lifted up the blanket, given she was holding the patient’s leg.

Judge Waters, however, said the state met the relatively low legal burden of probable cause and bound Guty’s case over to District Court.

“If you look through the affidavit of probable cause, it is filled, certainly, with allegations of prior inappropriate conduct by this defendant. That is very concerning to the state,” said prosecutor Bryan Skoric.

As per Wyoming law, Guty’s name was kept confidential by court officials until it advanced to District Court, but Cody News Company independently learned his identity after the charge was filed.

Struemke made an unsuccessful request on Friday to have Guty’s bond lowered to $20,000 cash. It had been lowered from $75,000 to $60,000 at an earlier hearing, an amount Guty posted six days after his initial March 3 arrest.

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric objected to a further reduction in bond.

“If you look through the affidavit of probable cause, it is filled, certainly, with allegations of prior inappropriate conduct by this defendant. That is very concerning to the state,” Skoric said.

“In no way, shape, or form should these other random things placed in the affidavit ... hinder my client,” countered Struemke.

Judge Waters said the District Court will need to decide whether the statements in the affidavit are admissible or relevant for a trial, but that aside, he believed bond was appropriate at $60,000.

Guty will next enter a plea in District Court. The date was no immediately set.

Confirmed: Chemical used to poison animals near Meeteetse

A reward for information is offered as federal, state and local agencies continue to investigate the fatal poisoning of animals in the Timber Creek area west of Meeteetse.

The Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory confirmed the chemical used to poison wild and domestic animals was aldicarb, an insecticide known to be highly toxic to mammals, according to a news release from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The poisonings, which took place during the week of March 29 to April 4, are being investigated by the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Park County Sheriff's Office.

Julie Thomas’ dog, Wiley, was among the victims of April's poisonings in the Timber Creek area west of Meeteetse. Courtesy photo
The BLM is offering a reward of up to $2,000, and local pet owners impacted by the poisoning upped the ante to a total of $6,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or people involved in poisoning the animals, said Powell resident Julie Thomas.

“We are just trying to get people to help us solve this crime,” said Thomas, who lost her dog Wiley to the poison.

Three locally owned dogs, a coyote, a skunk, a raccoon and possibly several other animals died due to what appears to be an act of intentional poisoning, the release said. Aldicarb is sold under the trade name Temik. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified aldicarb in the highest toxicity category and has defined strict controls for its delivery and use.

“We are just trying to get people to help us solve this crime,” said Thomas, who lost a dog to the poison.

Those recreating in the Timber Creek area should use caution and keep pets under close control. If animal carcasses are located, do not touch them. Report their location immediately to the sheriff’s office or call the STOP POACHING hotline. The substance used may be transferred by touch and is extremely harmful, the release said.

Anyone with information about this crime is urged to call the STOP POACHING hotline at 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877-943-3847) or BLM Ranger Ian Canaan at 899-6561.

“If anyone knows anything, people call the hotline because this was a horrible thing, and they need to be caught,” said veterinary assistant Shawna Hicks of Meeteetse.

Pet owners should keep their pets inside their vehicles while saddling their horses or preparing for a hike until they are ready to keep a close watch and make sure nothing questionable is eaten, said Gould Veterinary Clinic’s veterinary assistant Shawna Hicks in Meeteetse.

“I don’t think a human would have seen these little chunks of meat; it is very lethal, and these little chunks could be no bigger than a sausage patty,” Hicks said. “It won’t be visible to a human.”

But a dog’s nose will easily detect the meat, and the dog will do what comes naturally: Eat it before it can be taken away. If a dog is suspected to have ingested Temik, Hicks urges pet owners to make the dog throw up immediately. She said one of her clients was able to do this with soda since the foaming action will induce vomiting.

She also cautioned pet owners to wash their hands immediately since Temik can be harmful to humans, even with just skin contact. The vomit needs to be bagged for examination too.

If a dog appears to have been poisoned, bring it to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible.

“I’m hoping we saw the end of it, since we haven’t had any more incidents of it — but people should be cautious until the person is caught,” Hicks said. “If anyone knows anything, people call the hotline because this was a horrible thing, and they need to be caught.”

~By Matt Naber

New fair board looks to future

“It’s going to be a lot of work here, but we’re ready.”

Those were the words of Steve Martin, who was elected the new president of the Park County Fair Board at a special Tuesday night meeting.

New fair board president Steve Martin discusses some livestock pens during Tuesday's meeting while (from left) fair board member Teecee Barrett, county events coordinator Echo Renner and board member Sara Skalsky look on.
The meeting laid out a new path for the fair — one intended to include better communication. Going forward, the board plans to have quarterly meetings with commissioners and to have a representative from the county’s buildings and grounds department — which maintains the fairgrounds — at every board meeting.

Conflict between commissioners and the board, and between fair board-directed staff and buildings and grounds staffers, culminated this year with commissioners replacing the fair director, who answered to the board, with a county events coordinator, who answers to the commission. That, in turn, led to three fair board members resigning in frustration earlier this month. They also let go of Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz, who commissioners had hoped would help with the transition through June.

Tuesday was the first meeting for the three replacement board members picked by commissioners last week: Troy Wiant of Cody (who declined a nomination for president and was named vice president), Sara Skalsky of Powell (who became treasurer) and Teecee Barrett of Powell. Powell resident Kim Barhaug remains the board’s secretary.

President Martin, also of Powell, called for everyone to work as a team.

“My goal is that, everybody in here, we’re all working together. We’re all in this together. We’re going to make this thing work,” he said.

Commissioner Tim French told the board that commissioners want regular meetings so everyone is on the same page and that a line of communication is kept open. French asked the board to contact the commission “if there’s something bugging you or (there’s) something the commissioners are doing, or vice versa.”

“My goal is that, everybody in here, we’re all working together. We’re all in this together,” new president Martin said.

Park County Events Coordinator Echo Renner pledged to do anything she can to help the board.

“Even though things have changed a little bit and there’s not a fair manager anymore ... and I’m not employed by the fair board — of all the events I do, the fair obviously is the biggest one,” Renner said. “I’m at your disposal.”

Similarly, Park County Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Mike Garza said there's a consensus among his crew that they’ll do what they can to help create a successful fair season.

“I know you guys are in a tough spot right now — especially being a stone’s throw away from the fair,” Garza told the board.

Steve Martin and Park County Commissioner Tim French walk past the new multi-use facility that's now under construction.
The board members said they hope to be kept in the loop about projects undertaken on the grounds (with Wiant serving as a liaison) and they want to compile a fairgrounds “wish list.”

In one change, Renner said her expanded position of handling events around the county won’t give her time to do the fair’s bookkeeping like the fair director had done. Rather than hire an accountant, the board opted to have office manager PJ Chouinard take over the work.

“I just want to thank all you guys for stepping up. It’s appreciatedm” commissioner French later told those at the meeting.

Part of the special meeting consisted of business that couldn’t be handled at the regular April 14 meeting, when former board members Mike Demoney, Linda Nielsen and Robby Newkirk walked out and left the body without a quorum.

The new board supported Powell High School student Tyson Wages’ idea to build a couple dozen benches for the fair as an Eagle Scout project. They also unanimously declined a request from Big Horn County to borrow up to 175 livestock pens for their fair.

“I’d love to help them out, but it’s going to cost us a lot of money, and the (swine) barn would never be the same again,” Martin said.

The most pressing need for this year’s Park County Fair in July is to find around 15 more superintendents to oversee events ranging from visual arts to culinary arts to youth horse shows. Superintendents are volunteers who help organize, schedule and run each department.

“If they don't help with it, you don’t have a fair,” Martin said of their importance. “It’s just that simple.”

Anyone interested in serving as a superintendent should contact Chouinard at 754-5421.

Fair board members were presented with some gifts from Renner (a cloth cooler and a picnic blanket) at the start of the meeting as a token of appreciation.

“I just want to thank all you guys for stepping up,” French later said to the board members, Renner, Garza and Chouinard, adding, “It’s appreciated.”

The board will have its next regular meeting on May 12 at 7 p.m.

~By CJ Baker

New University of Wyoming sculpture was locally crafted

Sculptor Mike Thomas just calls her Darlin’.

Artist D. Michael Thomas (left) and bronze chaser Clay Ward put finishing touches on the sculpture titled ‘Breaking Through’ at Ward's shop near Frannie. Photo by Ilene Olson
She has a smile on her face because she’s enjoying a hard ride on a good horse — and he’s a horse her brother couldn’t ride, Thomas said.

Darlin’ is no lightweight. She and her feisty horse comprise a larger-than-life bronze sculpture standing nearly 16 feet tall. Just her hat weighs 200 pounds.

Thomas, of Buffalo, has been a sculptor for 30 years. He sculpted the horse and rider in clay, Caleco Foundry of Cody turned the clay into dozens of pieces of bronze and Clay Ward, of Frannie, welded them together.

From concept to finish, the sculpture, “Breaking Through,” has taken two-and-a-half years to complete, Thomas said. Both he and Ward were putting finishing touches on the sculpture Wednesday in preparation for horse and rider’s long ride from Frannie to Laramie, where Thomas will install the sculpture in front of the University of Wyoming’s new Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center.

Thomas said the sculpture of the cowgirl and her horse will appear to be breaking through a block wall, with blocks from the wall scattered around them. In the process, her hat falls off onto the side of the wall.

The sandstone wall will be more than 20 feet tall and 17 feet wide. The sculpture will be located on the north side of the building in War Memorial Plaza.

“Part of the story that Michael Thomas’ piece is representing is the important role women have played in our state,” Ben Blalock, president of the UW Foundation, said last year in a UW news release. “It represents how Wyoming has been defined through the years though women who have broken through and who have made an important diff
erence in our society, and certainly continue to play a key role in the advancement of the University of Wyoming.”

Thomas’ sculpture is the second to be installed at the new center. Originally, only one was planned.

Thomas and artist Chris Navarro both came up with concepts for a sculpture of an aggressive horse and rider. They came up with remarkably different works of art, knowing that only one would be chosen. But the UW Foundation board members found them both so exciting and dynamic that they decided both should be part of the facility.

“Breaking Through” was supported by a donation of $500,000 from Marian H. Rochelle and her daughter, April Brimmer Kunz.

Apr 28, 2015

After local foundation objects, WWII Japanese internment camp art pulled from auction

A collection of handmade artifacts from camps, including Heart Mountain, where Japanese-Americans were detained during World World II, was pulled from the auction block April 17 after the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation threatened to take legal action.

The Foundation had a moral obligation to stop the auction of 450 items from the Allen H. Eaton collection, now owned by Thomas Ryan, because it would open old, but deep, wounds of Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during World War II, said Brian Liesinger, Foundation executive director.

Estelle Ishigo drew this sketch at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in 1942 to the depict a real blizzard that caught the Japanese incarcerates completely off guard. It's among items in a collection of artifacts that had been up for sale in an auction. This sketch is from Ishigo's 1972 book, "Lone Heart Mountain."

In late March, the foundation initially asked for the donation of the artifacts. Then it requested the private sale of the items to appropriate nonprofit organizations, and finally, for a postponement of the auction, to no avail. So the foundation and its supporters raised money to purchase the art, Liesinger said.

Rago Arts and Auction Center valued the artifacts at around $27,600. The Foundation offered Rago $50,000, but the consignor wasn't interested.

“We were absolutely flabbergasted that this generous offer was rejected,” Liesinger said, adding, “The consignor (Ryan) declined, maintaining that they did not feel qualified to determine where the collection would be most appropriately held and that a public auction, in his view, was a more appropriate course of action.”

The Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation was "absolutely flabbergasted" when their $50,000 offer for the artifacts was rejected, Liesinger said.

But Liesinger said the foundation made its offer with a pledge: If it acquired the collection, the foundation would bring a consortium of Japanese-American-related organizations together “to determine the appropriate, careful treatment and disbursement of the collection.”

Brian Liesinger, Heart Mountain Foundation executive director, examines a display about Estelle Ishigo at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. Photo by Gib Mathers
Threatening a lawsuit was a last resort, said Shirley Ann Higuchi, chairwoman of the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation.

Liesinger said the foundation’s legal team contacted Rago through the Arts and Auction Center, Lambertville, N.J., to notify the center of an order to show cause.

“Rago then withdrew the pieces,” Liesinger said. “With the items no longer at threat of going to auction, there was no action to file the injunction against.”

Ryan pledged to work with Rago to create a purchase proposal. Liesinger said he hopes Ryan will keep the best interests of the collection in mind, along with due respect for the artists who created the artifacts and the people formerly incarcerated in the camps.

“The issue is still in play, but the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation is hoping and praying for the best,” Higuchi said.

Eaton accumulated the collection around the end of World War II from Japanese-American confinement camps with the help of incarcerates. In 1952, he published the book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire,” which featured many of the items planned for the public auction. The items had been passed down to Eaton’s heirs and then to Ryan, a family friend, who decided to sell them, according to a April 15 Foundation news release.

Higuchi said she is not sure what the future holds for the art, but she wants Japanese-Americans to have the option to decide the artifacts’ home.

“The issue is still in play, but the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation is hoping and praying for the best,” she said.

Fair board gets three new members

A trio of new volunteers have joined the Park County Fair Board.

At a special Friday meeting, Park County commissioners appointed Troy Wiant of Cody and Sara Skalsky and Teecee Barrett of Powell to the board. They replace three members who abruptly resigned their posts in the middle of the fair board’s April 14 meeting.

Commissioners chose the replacements among eight applicants — a pool that included Sheriff Scott Steward.

Troy Wiant
• Wiant, the agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Cody High School, will finish out the term vacated by Linda Nielsen of Powell. It runs through Jan. 1, 2018.

“I just felt this was a good time to help out the fair,” Wiant said of applying. “One of my goals is to maybe make the fair experience a little more user-friendly.”

Having been involved with the fair some 20 years, including serving as a superintendent, he feels the fair lost sight of its mission in recent years.

“I didn’t feel like the management was as easy to deal with as it has been in the past or whatever,” Wiant said.

He hopes to help find people to fill some vacant superintendent positions and to ensure the fair is the “funnest time of the year.”

Sara Skalsky
• Skalsky also brings a lot of past experience to the board.

“I have a lot to learn with vendors, concerts, rides,” etc., Skalsky said, but she’s been involved in the animal side of the fair for a long time. That includes serving as the meat goat superintendent.

As a board member, she hopes to help make the fair successful.

“We need it here in the community,” she said, calling it one of the area’s highlights.

A bookkeeper at Stine Buss Wolff Wilson and Associates in Powell, Skalsky will fill out the term vacated by Mike Demoney of Powell, a term that ends on Jan. 1, 2017.

• Barrett is no stranger to the fair and the county, either. She works in the county clerk’s office as the elections deputy/grants coordinator and also serves as the primary minute-taker for commission meetings.

Teecee Barrett
She’ll fill the position vacated by Robby Newkirk of Meeteetse, which runs through the end of the year.

Barrett felt a vested interest in the fair after writing state grants for the new multi-use facility being built at the fairgrounds — plus she said she’s been participating in it since childhood “and have watched it gone downhill.”

“With a new building and a new events coordinator, I thought it was a good time to get on board,” Barrett said.

(Commissioners recently replaced the fair director, who had answered to the board, with an events coordinator who will work with the board but ultimately answers to the commission.)

Barrett wants to drive up participation in fair exhibits, such as in culinary arts, sewing and agronomy.

She also expects there will be a need to raise money to help the fairgrounds function.

“I’m excited about it,” she said of joining the board. “I think it’s going to take some definite time commitment, just because of the short time schedule that we have before the fair and with so many new people on board.”

The board is having a special 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting where Wiant, Skalsky and Barrett will join existing fair board members Steve Martin and Kim Barhaug of Powell.

“We had some marvelous candidates,” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said of the eight applicants, adding, “It was a very difficult decision for us to make.”

“But pleasantly difficult,” clarified Commissioner Bucky Hall. “We had good candidates. Leaving one or two off (the board) was kind of a drag.”

Sheriff Steward had no hard feelings from being passed over.

“I just thought maybe I could lend a hand with kind of helping reorganize,” Steward said, adding later, “It’s something I would have definitely put my full heart into and gave it 100 percent, but I’m sure they picked the people for the right reasons.”

Commission starts choosing new board members in private

Park County commissioners are choosing to be less transparent in the way they pick members for the county’s public boards.

Starting with Friday’s selection of three new members for the Park County Fair Board, commissioners are now conducting their interviews with candidates — and their deliberations on who to choose — behind closed doors.

Expect to see more executive sessions.
The interview process had been public for many years, though it was generally rare for members of the public or media representatives to actually attend.

“From my way of thinking, it makes [things] difficult interacting with an applicant, especially when we have people — no offense — from the press there,” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said in an interview. “I have had applicants in the past, when outside people have been there, [that] have been a little nervous and basically watch what they say.”

He made the decision after conferring with Deputy Park County Attorney Jim Davis and County Attorney Bryan Skoric, who said commissioners could chose to hold the interviews in executive session. State law says a governing body can exclude the public and meet in executive session “to consider the appointment ... of a public officer.”

Tilden said during Friday’s commission meeting that he’s received comments from past applicants that “they can’t be candid ... in the public eye.”

When asked if that’s a concern, considering the candidates are applying to public boards, Tilden said he thinks “it’s a different deal once you’ve been appointed to a board: you accept that responsibility that you’re going to have to do your job in front of the public. ... But when you’re interviewing, and trying to basically influence the board, I really think to you need to have an open, honest, candid conversation.”

“Especially if the position you’re interviewing for has been controversial in the past,” added Commissioner Lee Livingston. “That’s where they might not feel that they can be as candid in a public setting.”

The fair board positions qualify as having been controversial, as all three appointments were to replace board members who quit over differences with the commission.

“Especially if the position you’re interviewing for has been controversial in the past — that’s where they might not feel that they can be as candid in a public setting,” Livingston said of applicants.

Commissioner Tim French said making the process private also ensures a candidate can’t sit in on another applicant’s interview and learn the questions they’ll be asked in advance.

The commissioners’ long-time executive assistant, Peggy Ruble, said that during her 30-plus years on the job, board interviews have generally been conducted in public. However, Ruble said there have been periods where commissioners held them in executive session.

Tilden plans to stick with closed-door interviews.

“From now on, that’s going to be my policy,” he said. “For us to be in a position to make the best choice possible, we need to have a candid conversation with our applicants.”

Commissioners appoint people to a dozen different boards, whose duties range from steering the county’s libraries, to making planning and zoning recommendations, to overseeing the Yellowstone Regional Airport.

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