Your source for news in Hot Springs County

Mascorro cleared in fatal shooting, but is found to have illegally broke into home

In his analysis and conclusion documents issued on Sept. 21, Special Prosecutor Daniel E. Erramouspe, Sweetwater County Attorney, found that Thermopolis Police Sgt. Mike Mascorro illegally broke into a suspect’s home in April, causing a fatal shootout. However, a provision for law officers in Wyoming’s self-defense law will prevent any criminal charges from being filed. The sergeant could still face civil consequences.

Earlier this year, Erramouspe was appointed as Special Prosecutor to review the case. Erramouspe relied upon the investigation conducted by lead investigator, Special Agent Kiel Holder of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. He reviewed all documentation, reports, forensics, interviews, audio files and video files submitted in the matter of the shooting death of Buck Laramore by Mascorro on April 28, 2023.

The analysis found Mascorro was justified in the shooting death of Laramore, but found he entered the man’s home illegally, forcing the fatal confrontation.

On April 28, Sgt. Mascorro forced his way into the home of Laramore, 33, a McDonald’s employee Mascorro had questioned earlier that day on suspicion of drug use. Laramore shot Mascorro with a .45 pistol. Mascorro fell to the floor, returned fire and killed Laramore.

“This was a completely avoidable incident,” wrote Erramouspe. “(Mascorro) felt that breaking into a person’s domicile was the best course of action for the misdemeanor of interference with a peace officer.”

Erramouspe’s job was to determine if Mascorro was justified to return fire under Wyoming’s self-defense laws. It was not his job to determine potential civil liability.

“Despite his poor judgment that day, when it came down to the shot that killed Laramore, Mascorro acted as a reasonable person would in defending his own life,” wrote Erramouspe.

Factual Summary

Erramouspe’s decision gives a detailed account of events in the case.

He begins by stating the facts in the case as gathered from all sources of evidence. The document states:

Officers with the Thermopolis Police Department contacted Hot Springs County Health Inspector and advised that methamphetamine was being consumed inside the McDonalds Restaurant. The health inspector met with Sgt. Mascorro at McDonalds on April 28. Also present was Hot Springs County Deputy Sheriff Shayna Cox with her K9.

During the inspection, Deputy Cox deployed her K9 in the men’s restroom where the K9 indicated possible controlled substance within the baby changing station. A subsequent search of the changing station revealed plastic containers with suspected methamphetamine. Mascorro observed the last person to exit the men’s restroom was a male, later identified as Buck Laramore, born in 1989.

Mascorro spoke with Laramore after the suspected drugs were found. In speaking to Mascorro, Laramore spelled his last name as “Larimore” and his year of birth as “1988”. Mascorro asked Laramore, multiple times, to submit to a drug test. Each time, Laramore refused. Mascorro also asked for Laramore’s home address. Laramore refused to provide this information as well. After approximately two minutes, the interaction does end and Laramore returned to his work shift at McDonalds.

Sometime during the shift, Laramore left without managerial approval and was seen driving from the parking lot. Sometime after Laramore left, Mascorro determined that Laramore spelled his name incorrectly and provided the wrong birth year. Over an hour and a half after Mascorro interviewed Laramore, Mascorro is heard on his body cam recording, explaining that he will be arresting Laramore after he checks with the County Attorney to make sure that he, Mascorro, was “within his legal authority” to ask Laramore for his information. Hot Springs Deputy County Attorney Kelly Owens did confirm that he was within his legal authority in questioning Laramore. Mascorro advised Owens that he was going to arrest Laramore in which Owens stated that if she were Laramore, she would avoid the arrest by not even answering the door and suggested that Mascorro should just issue a citation.

At approximately 12:34 pm, three and a half hours after initially speaking with Laramore, Mascorro arrived at Laramore’s residence. The front storm door was shut and the inner door was shut as well. Mascorro knocked on the door and Laramore’s wife answered the door. Mascorro asked to speak to “Buck” and eventually Buck Laramore comes to the door, keeping the storm door shut and the inner door partially opened.

Mascorro told Laramore to step outside and Laramore responded “no sir.” Mascorro then tells Laramore that he is going to jail. Laramore asked why he was going to jail. Mascorro responded by saying that he was going to jail and he would “break the door down” if he had to. Laramore asked once again, why he was going to jail, in which Mascorro responded by stating that he “interfered” with him and to step outside.

While still inside, Laramore asked how he interfered. Mascorro responded that this situation can go “one of two ways”; either Laramore comes out willingly or Mascorro is going to “break the door down.” Laramore once again asked how he interfered, and Mascorro responded by saying that Laramore, gave him the wrong name and date of birth. Laramore then stated “Buck Laramore 12 17 of 89” while shutting the door as Mascorro continued to tell him to come out.

Immediately as Laramore closed the front door of his home, Mascorro grabbed the storm door through an open glass pane and pulled it open. Mascorro then tried to open the inner door but it appeared to be locked.

Mascorro tried to push it open with his left shoulder, but was unsuccessful. Mascorro then rammed the door with his right shoulder and on the second attempt, he broke through, allowing him to enter the residence.

As the door flew open, Laramore’s wife can be seen moving backwards yelling, “Stop breaking my door.”

Mascorro is fully in the residence, and as he turned to the right, Laramore is holding a pistol and fires at Mascorro, hitting him. Mascorro falls backward to the ground.

Laramore approaches from his position, clearing the threshold of the bedroom he was in when he fired on Mascorro. A possible second gunshot is fired, however it is hard to determine from the body cam as it is covered at this time. Mascorro is yelling for Laramore to stop repeatedly.

Mascorro fired seven times while on the floor after being shot by Laramore.

Mascorro gets up and it is obvious that he is hit. Mascorro retreats to the kitchen of the trailer, a short distance away from where he had fallen. Mascorro is standing near the refrigerator facing the hallway where Laramore was last seen with his gun drawn and pointed in that same direction. Laramore appears to lean out of the corner, maintaining some coverage, but exposing his upper body. Mascorro fires one round from his pistol, hitting Laramore. Mascorro fires a second shot and Laramore drops to the ground. Mascorro fires a third shot and looks down the hall. Laramore can be heard saying “stop, stop” and briefly lifts his hands when Mascorro commands him to “show me your hands.” It does not appear that at this point in the interaction that Laramore was armed.

Mascorro falls to the ground, visibly injured, then stands up, and makes his way to the door at the rear of the trailer, opposite to his entry into the premises. Eventually other first responders arrive and treat him for his injury. Laramore was dead on scene.

Analysis

Erramouse then presents his analysis of the case. He breaks it down to the legal/factual issues as they occur chronologically, and they appear from the official document as follows:

Was there probable cause for a violation of W.S. §6-5-204(a), Interference with a Peace Officer?

A person is guilty of interference with a peace officer if he “knowingly obstructs, impedes, or interferes with or resists arrest by a peace office while engaged in the lawful performance of his duties.” W.S. §6-5-204(a)

Mascorro was in the restaurant as a civil standby while the public health officer inspected the restaurant.

While on standby, the drug K9 hit in the bathroom and a subsequent search revealed suspected methamphetamine hidden in the baby changing station in said bathroom. Recognizing that Laramore was the last to frequent the bathroom immediately prior to the K9 sniff, Mascorro was in the lawful performance of his duties to question him.

During the questioning by Mascorro, Laramore did misspell his last name and provided the wrong birth year.

Although it is questionable as to whether a conviction for interference with a peace officer could be obtained,there was probable cause for the violation of said statute. Laramore did not violate any law in refusing to submit to a breath test or by refusing to provide his address.

Was Mascorro allowed to arrest Laramore pursuant to Wyoming Statute §7-2-102(b)?

Wyoming Statute §7-2-102(b} states that a police officer may make a warrantless arrest on an individual if:

“(i} Any criminal offense is being committed in the officer’s presence by the person to be arrested;

(ii} The officer has probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed and that the person to be arrested has committed it; or

(iii} The officer has probable cause to believe that misdemeanor has been committed, that the person to be arrested had committed it and that the person, unless immediately arrested:

(A) Will not be apprehended;

(B) May cause injury to himself or others or damage to property; or

(C} May destroy or conceal evidence of the commission of the misdemeanor.”

The statute provides the parameters for making an arrest on a misdemeanor charge. Obviously, an officer can make the arrest while the offense is “being committed in the officer’s presence by the person to be arrested.”

This is a present tense arrest. The officer is not able to make an arrest hours after the interaction.

In this case, Mascorro did not realize Laramore had provided a different spelling and birth year until the interaction was over and Laramore had left the premises. Further, Mascorro did not attempt the arrest until approximately three and one-half hours after speaking with Laramore.

In the interview with SA Holder, Mascorro stated that he attempted the arrest due to his concern that Laramore would not be apprehended. (A footnote is included in the document here that states: Best practices in officer-involved-shooting investigations calls for the officer being investigated to not review any bodycam footage of the incident. In his interview, Mascorro stated that he had watched the footage several times before being interviewed. The assumption is that this was done upon returning from his hospital stay in treatment for injuries sustained. Since the video of the incident was not provided to Mascorro by DCI, then it is assumed that he, Mascorro, had his own access to such, or his department provided it.) Mascorro’s reasoning was that Laramore left his work shift without telling anyone, and therefore would flee the town of Thermopolis in order to avoid a misdemeanor interference with a peace officer charge. There is no evidence other than this assumption by Mascorro to indicate that Laramore would essentially quit his job, pack up his belongings, leave the area, possibly defaulting on his home lease, just to avoid a possible misdemeanor interference charge for allegedly lying to law enforcement.

The body cam evidence is clear that Laramore refusing to submit to the drug test or give his address bothered Mascorro. After his interaction with Laramore, Mascorro speaks to multiple people about Laramore, questioning his motives and demeanor. Mascorro even disregards Deputy County Attorney Owen’s suggestion that he just write Laramore a citation, advising hours after his interaction with Laramore, that he was going to arrest him.

In an opinion released 11 days prior to this incident, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that a warrantless arrest in an individual’s home, “not shown by the State to be justified under any of the exceptions to the warrant requirement” is a violation of the individual’s Fourth Amendment right.

Woods v. State of Wyoming, 2023 WY 32, 1]24. In this case the Court deemed that the officer’s entry into Woods home was unlawful, and therefore the subsequent arrest of Woods for interference with a peace officer, pursuant to W. S. §6-5-204, was reversed as the element of the officers acting in the lawful performance of their duty, could not be met.

In this case, there was not a charge of interference with a peace officer after the unlawful entry into the home.

Was Laramore’s shooting of Mascorro justified under W.S. §6-2-602?

Pertinent parts of W.S. §6-2-602 state:

“(b) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury to himself or another when using defensive force, including deadly force if:

(i) The intruder against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully or forcefully entered, another’s home or habitation ...

(ii) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring.

(d) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter another’s home or habitation is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.”

As the portions of the Castle Doctrine read, it would appear that Laramore was within his rights to fire at Mascorro as he was forcibly entering his habitation. However, W.S. §6-2-602(c) states that the presumption does not apply if:

“(iii) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a peace officer or employee of the Wyoming department of corrections who enters or attempts to enter another’s home or habitation in the performance of his official duties.”

The statute specifically states “in the performance of his official duties.” The statute does not indicate that those duties must be “lawful” as stated elsewhere in the statute and in W. S. §6-5-204. Therefore, by leaving the term lawful out of this statute, the legislature has decreed that the officer does not have to be acting lawfully, but only in the performance of his “official duties.”

Mascorro was not acting lawfully by forcing his way into Laramore’s habitation; however, he was indeed in the performance of his official duties. Mascorro appeared in his uniform and driving a patrol vehicle. When the door was answered, he specifically stated that he was there to take Laramore to “jail” for violating the law.

As stated, Mascorro’s actions by entering were unlawful, however, for purposes of the statutory language of W.S. §7-2-102(d), he was there in the performance of his official duties and therefore Laramore, had he survived, would not have the protection of W.S._§7-2-102(b).

Does Mascorro have a self-defense claim pursuant to W.S. §6-2-602(e)?

After being shot by Laramore, Mascorro backs into the kitchen area and, approximately 30 seconds passes before he returns fire. At any point, did he have a duty to retreat or leave the residence before returning fire?

Wyoming Statutes address the duty to retreat in §6-2-602(e), otherwise known as the “Stand Your Ground” law, which states:

“A person who is attacked in any place where the person is lawfully present shall not have a duty to retreat before using defensive force pursuant to subsection (a) of the section provided that he is not the initial aggressor and is not engaged in legal activity.”

At this point, the statute contradicts itself in its application with W.S. §6-2-602(c). As stated earlier, had he survived, Laramore would not have been able to claim protection under the Castle Doctrine, as Mascorro was entering Laramore’s home as part of his “official duty,” despite that his entry in itself was unlawful. In W.S. §6-2-602(e), in order for Mascorro to be afforded the statutory defense of standing his ground, he must be at that location lawfully. This is a dichotomy in W.S. §6-2-602, as it was not necessary for Mascorro to enter the premises in a lawful manner as long as he was doing so in his official duty, but in order for him to be afforded the defense legislated in W.S. §6-2-602(e), he must be there lawfully. 2 This contradiction alleviates a reliance on W.S. §6-2-602 for analysis purposes.

Erramouspe then presents his Common law self-defense analysis. As it appears in the official document:

Common law

self-defense analysis

Prior to codifying “self-defense” law, Wyoming referred to the reasonableness standard asserted in case law.

Wyoming Supreme Court has asserted:

Keeping in mind the rule that one can use deadly force in self-defense only if he has reasonable grounds to believe it is necessary to avoid death or serious bodily harm, the law has recognized that a person has a duty to pursue reasonable alternatives prior to using deadly force. One of those reasonable alternatives may be the duty to retreat. Garcia, 667 P.2d at 1153; Creecy v. State, 2009 WY 89, ,i 23, 210 P.3d 1089, 1095 (Wyo. 2009). In other words, it is not necessary for a person to resort to deadly force if there are other reasonable alternatives available to him, one of which may be to retreat. This does not impose an absolute duty of retreat; it only requires that a person avoid using deadly force against another if there is a reasonable alternative available to him. Drennen v. State, 2013 WY 118, ,i 36.

After being shot, and hit, by Laramore, Mascorro immediately fired his pistol several times in defense.

Although he did not hit Laramore, it did appear to give Mascorro the time and ability to rise from the floor and back into the kitchen area. It was in the kitchen area that Mascorro stood and shot Laramore, as he became visible around cover. Did Mascorro act reasonably with this action, or was retreating a more reasonable alternative?

There are two entrances into Laramore’s trailer. One entrance is the door that Mascorro approached and subsequently broke through, and the other is located in the back hallway behind Mascorro as he took his position in the kitchen. Obviously, Mascorro would not be acting reasonably if he were to try to exit the trailer by the doorway he broke through. This would not provide him cover and it is located towards Laramore’s position. Mascorro was not aware, nor should have been, of the capacity of Laramore to fire more rounds at him. His best recourse after firing his initial shots would be to remove himself from the proximate vicinity of the shooter, which he did by backing into the kitchen. Mascorro could have continued to retreat into the back hallway where the second entry/exit to the trailer was located; however, this is not a reasonable alternative.

Mascorro, wounded, was in a precarious position. He does not know the exact location of the shooter or the capability of the shooter to return fire.Had Mascorro chosen to try to exit the trailer by the rear door, he would have exposed his back to Laramore. Furthermore, it is possible the door could be blocked from the outside, inoperable, or locked, which would have left him in a vulnerable position. The reasonable option would be to hold position and return fire if the opportunity presented itself.

When Laramore does appear from cover, it is difficult to see if he is armed. Stopping the video footage from Mascorro’s body camera shows that he is not armed. However, a reasonable person would presume that Laramore was armed with a deadly weapon considering the circumstances. The fact that Laramore did not arm himself with either of the remaining loaded handguns in the bedroom is of no concern to the self-defense of return-fire exhibited by Mascorro. The fact that Laramore used deadly force upon Mascorro’s entry leads to the reasonable presumption that Laramore was armed when Mascorro fires from his position in the kitchen.

The document issued by Special Prosecutor Daniel E. Erramouspe finishes up with his summary of the case, which is as follows:

Summary

The nature of this evaluation is for the purposes of a criminal analysis under Wyoming’s criminal code. In essence, has Mascorro committed a crime in the shooting and killing of Laramore? This is not an analysis of whether Mascorro violated Laramore’s Constitutional rights or is civilly liable for his death, only of whether he acted in a criminal manner.

This case carried many issues that eventually led to Mascorro firing the shot that killed Laramore. Application of the criminal code, specifically W.S. §§7-2-102 and 6-2-602 were necessary for the chronological analysis.

The final determination of whether Mascorro committed criminal homicides or acted in a criminal manner when firing the shot that killed Laramore ultimately resides in self-defense.

This was a completely avoidable incident. Mascorro could have issued citations, or left the matter to be charged in long form.

However, he felt that breaking into a person’s domicile was the best course of action for the misdemeanor of interference with a peace officer. The fact that Laramore’s wife was not shot in the crossfire, or that both men did not die is a blessing in this calamity.

Despite his poor judgment that day, when it came down to the shot that killed Laramore, Mascorro acted as a reasonable person would in defending his own life.

That is the conclusion of the of the document issued by Erramouspe.

The Thermopolis Police Department declined to comment on the decision.

During last Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, the council went into executive session. After reconvening the meeting, Mayor Adam Estenson said that Sergeant Mike Mascorro would be returning to full duty as soon as his medical status cleared. Mascorro returned to full duty on October 5.

 

Reader Comments(0)

 
 
Rendered 07/24/2024 14:46