Man shot by officer pleads not guilty to aggravated assault

EVANSTON — A man who was hospitalized after he was shot by an Evanston police officer on Feb. 24, pleaded not guilty last week to two charges of aggravated assault and battery (threatening with a drawn deadly weapon).

Clifford G. Phelps III, of Evanston, was arrested on April 18, and charged with the two felonies, which could carry up to a 10-year prison sentence for each count if Phelps is convicted. He was arraigned in Third District Court on Monday, May 29.

Phelps, 31, is accused of aiming a compound bow with a notched broad-head arrow at two officers who responded to a disturbance around 4:30 a.m. on Incline Drive, on Feb. 24. Phelps was also allegedly armed with a knife at the time. 

Phelps had allegedly been drinking, and had knocked on a neighbor’s door in the early morning hours. Steve Zaragoza, who told the Herald he’s friends with Phelps, said Phelps had gone to confront a man over something the man had accused Phelps of last summer. 

Officers responded to a report of “a disruptive individual,” and police said shortly after the incident that they believe alcohol was involved.

Phelps allegedly returned to his home, where three children were sleeping and his wife was awake. Zaragoza said he was also there because Phelps’ wife asked Zaragoza to help with the situation. 

According to investigators, Phelps at one point drew the bow, aimed it at officers and was approaching them. After several verbal warnings, one officer deployed his stun-gun, though unsuccessfully. The other officer shot Phelps until he “ceased his forward approach” and both officers administered first-aid — care that Zaragoza said saved his friend’s life.

Evanston Police Lt. Ken Pearson said Phelps might have normally been flown to a Utah hospital, but the weather was bad that morning, so Phelps was transported to Evanston Regional Hospital then driven by ambulance to University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he recovered from the gunshot wounds.

No officers were injured during the incident, though both were placed on administrative leave. Both officers involved in the incident underwent mandated counseling and returned to work about three weeks after the incident.

The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation investigated the incident. Uinta County Attorney Loretta R. Howieson reviewed the details of the investigation and determined neither officer involved in the shooting used excessive force.

Phelps’ trial is scheduled for Sept. 5.

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