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Uinta County Attorney: Officers didn't use excessive force in Evanston shooting

Posted: Tuesday, Mar 14th, 2017

EVANSTON — Neither of the two Evanston police officers involved in a Feb. 24 shooting that sent a man to a Utah hospital used excessive force, according to a press release issued today by Uinta County Attorney Loretta R. Howieson.

The officers, both with Evanston Police Department, responded to Incline Drive after a report that Clifford G. Phelps II had attempted to enter a neighbor’s home to confront an occupant about a past disagreement, according to the release.

“Shortly after arrival at that location,” the press release states, “officers were informed that Mr. Phelps was intoxicated and potentially armed and volatile. This information was provided to them through dispatch and communication with two individuals on scene.”

According to the release, Phelps confronted the officers, who remained outside the residence on the front entryway. “… Armed with a compound bow with a notched broad-head arrow and a visible knife,” Phelps ignored several verbal commands, and then continued to approach officers, raising and drawing the bow.

After one officer deployed his Tazer, which did not deter Phelps, according to the release, the other officer shot Phelps with his department-issued gun “until Mr. Phelps ceased his forward approach toward the officers and the other two individuals present.”

The officers administered first aid, saving Phelps’s life, according to a neighbor who said he was there during the incident. Phelps was treated at Evanston Regional Hospital before he was taken by ambulance to University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. Evanston Police Lt. Ken Pearson said officials had hoped to use LifeFlight for the transfer but the early morning weather didn’t allow it.

According to today’s release, Phelps is expected to make a full recovery.

The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation is still investigating the incident, though Howieson said that investigation is progressing. Part of that progression was her formal opinion on whether either of the officers committed a criminal act.

“Evidence in this matter demonstrates that … [the officer was] acting in an objectively reasonable manner under the immediate belief that serious bodily harm would occur to himself or his fellow officer when actions were taken,” Howieson wrote.

She said that after reviewing a report that was approximately 80 pages, she believes that the officers did their jobs when responding to the incident and that neither officer used excessive force.

“There is no evidence, indication or belief that either officer acted outside of his scope … [of] duty as a law enforcement officer for the Evanston Police Department related to the encounter with Clifford G. Phelps, II, on February 24, 2017,” Howieson wrote, “or, that, in review of the facts present at the time that these vital actions were taken, either officer was acting in a manner or intention to utilize force beyond that necessary to protect himself or others in the line of duty.”

Pearson said the officers, who were placed on administrative leave following the shooting, have undergone mandated counseling and are scheduled to return to work this week.

This is a developing story. Look for an updated version in Friday’s Uinta County Herald.

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