After complaints, Cody police officer placed under investigation

Officer accused of being overly aggressive with teen, embellishing allegations

Posted 6/1/23

A Cody police officer has been placed on administrative leave while the department investigates the way he treated a 17-year-old during a January traffic stop.

The teen’s mother and others …

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After complaints, Cody police officer placed under investigation

Officer accused of being overly aggressive with teen, embellishing allegations


A Cody police officer has been placed on administrative leave while the department investigates the way he treated a 17-year-old during a January traffic stop.

The teen’s mother and others have called on the city to fire Officer Blake Stinson over the incident — and those calls have intensified after footage of the teen’s arrest went viral on YouTube.

Body camera footage posted online shows Stinson becoming increasingly angry as the boy fails to comply with the officer’s repeated commands to provide paperwork and exit his vehicle.

When the teen continues to balk and asks to wait for his mother to arrive, Stinson grabs him and, with the help of another officer, pulls him out of the car. The teen was arrested on misdemeanor charges of interference with a peace officer, possession of a controlled substance (a small amount of marijuana was found in the car), driving without a valid license and failing to yield to a pedestrian. The Park County Circuit Court case was dropped last month, but authorities indicated they are handling the matter in another forum.

Meanwhile, Cody police said they’re conducting a complete internal review of the incident.

“We are committed to taking appropriate corrective actions should the findings of the investigation determine that the employee’s conduct was inappropriate, excessive or inconsistent with the responsibilities of the role,” Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker said in a statement last week.

“We appreciate the community’s patience and understanding as we work diligently to review this matter,” Baker said, adding that some videos and social media content “do not necessarily tell the whole story.”

The teen’s mother, Teresa Piper, filed a formal complaint over the incident and said Stinson had previously followed her son for “no reason.”

“I think we have some fantastic officers here in Cody, Wyoming, but I do believe that this one officer needs to be investigated and something needs to change,” Piper said at the Cody City Council’s May 16 meeting. “There’s a right and a wrong way to go about things.”

She called Stinson’s tactics “very aggressive,” adding that, “it’s not OK to treat anybody like that, much less our juveniles.”The teen’s 14-year-old sister, who was a passenger in the car at the time, said the experience was humiliating and made her feel unsafe around cops. The family members were joined by four other local residents in voicing complaints about Stinson.

Members of the group indicated they visited with Chief Baker, Mayor Matt Hall and council members ahead of the meeting.

“… I think I can speak for all the council and staff that what we hear in this public comment period will be taken very seriously,” Hall said before the group spoke, adding afterward that, “we greatly appreciate you coming forward and giving us your input.”

The city wound up getting much more input days later, after the incident was highlighted by a popular YouTube channel that seeks to expose “corruption and misconduct” by police.


Going viral

Titled “Dash Cam Proves Cop Wrong - Case Dismissed,” LackLuster’s May 21 video features footage of the teen’s traffic stop and arrest, edited and overlaid with narration by channel owner Dale Hiller.

In the video, Hiller makes the case that Stinson embellished his reasons for stopping the teen and escalated the incident.

The stop took place shortly before 8 a.m. on Jan. 24, after the teen made a left-hand turn from Beck Avenue onto 10th Street, near Cody High School; he turned at roughly the same time that a pedestrian was crossing Beck. The copy of Stinson’s dashcam footage included in LackLuster’s video is grainy and recorded from some distance away. In his narration, Hiller says the pedestrian entered the crosswalk “after the vehicle enters the intersection” or “at the very least, the vehicle and the person both begin traveling through and across the intersection simultaneously.”

Stinson later asserted that the pedestrian was “almost hit,” but Hiller said that was an embellishment, pointing out that the grainy footage appears to show some distance between the pedestrian and vehicle. Hiller suggests the officer exaggerated to justify the stop and search of the vehicle.

In an affidavit submitted in support of the teen’s arrest, Stinson said he “immediately smelled the overwhelming odor of marijuana” when he approached the vehicle and suspected the teen “was under the influence of marijuana while he was driving.” Police later found a grinder containing 2.85 grams of apparent marijuana and a glass pipe in the driver’s side door. Stinson said the teen prevented sobriety tests “by interfering with my lawful requests.”

During the stop, the teen did not provide a driver’s license — Stinson wrote in his affidavit that he knew the teen didn’t have one — or the registration and insurance for the vehicle.

“I’m not inclined to talk to you without a parent. I’m not 18 years old,” the teen says at one point, asking Stinson to talk to his mother over the phone.

Stinson refuses to take the phone and explains that, as a driver, the teen is required to provide his license, registration and insurance.

“If you don’t provide those three things, you’ll be placed in custody. I’m not joking,” Stinson says.

The teen then says his mom is coming to help locate the documents, prompting Stinson to order him to open the door.

“I can smell marijuana in the vehicle — get out!” the officer yells.

“There’s no mari …,” the teen starts, before Stinson cuts him off.

“I’m not going to tell you again!” the officers yells.

The teen protests that his mom’s on the way, that he’s “trying to figure out what’s going on” and asserts he’s allowed to have a parent or lawyer present.

“You’re going to get out of the vehicle right now or I’m going to drag you out. You decide,” Stinson says, shortly before reaching into the vehicle and briefly grabbing the boy’s neck.

As the boy shouts for help to his mom on the phone, Stinson and Detective Scott Burlingame pull the teen’s arms out the window of the vehicle.

“Unlock the door,” Stinson says.

“I can’t. Sir, you have my arms!” the teen says.

“Open the door, man,” says Burlingame. “Seriously, is this worth it?”

“My mom is on the way. I’m not 18,” the teen protests, as the officers continue to yell at him to open the door. Police eventually get him out of the vehicle and cuff him.

“When you don’t do what you’re told, this is what happens,” Stinson says.


A dismissed case

In the LackLuster video, Hiller notes police can order a driver out of their vehicle, but says the teen probably didn’t know the case law, “being that this is likely the driver’s first experience with being pulled over.”

Court records show that between 2020 and 2022, the teen received citations from six different officers for misdemeanor allegations of driving without a license, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and drug and alcohol violations. All but two driving infractions were dismissed, court records show.

Unlike cases involving adults, the dismissal of a case doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been fully dropped, as prosecutors have other options for cases involving minors. That includes proceeding in juveniles courts that are closed to the public. At a Jan. 25 Circuit Court hearing following the teen’s arrest, Deputy Park County Attorney Larry Eichele indicated the 17-year-old had prior convictions in juvenile court.

The teen was released later that day on a $1,000 cash bond and $4,000 signature bond. As with the prior citations, the case was dropped at the request of the county attorney’s office in mid-May.

However, Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric indicated his office wasn’t abandoning the case.

“Those charges that were dismissed will be addressed at the appropriate time and the appropriate court,” Skoric said in an interview.

“I don’t want to give the impression that those citations were dismissed based on Officer Stinson’s actions,” he added. “That would absolutely not be the case.”

Meanwhile, there’s been substantial public debate about Stinson’s actions, along with widespread media coverage. In the LackLuster video — which had garnered more than 570,000 views as of Wednesday — Hiller questioned if Stinson had a valid reason for the stop and if could “have handled the encounter more professionally.”

LackLuster included a link to the Cody Police Department Facebook page, where critical comments like, “Officer Stinson likes to bully kids,” poured in by the hundreds.

After reviewing the footage, Gillette defense attorney Steven Titus told Cowboy State Daily that Stinson was unnecessarily aggressive and embellished the allegation about the teen’s failure to yield.

“What people should be asking is why are we allowing officers that lie to patrol our streets?” Titus told the publication. “When he embellished what happened, that stinks. We hold [police] in such high esteem ... and it really hurts law enforcement to lie to other law enforcement about what happened.”

In a May 24 statement announcing its investigation, Cody police noted “many in the public” had shared concerns that Stinson’s actions “were inconsistent with the standards of conduct expected from our law enforcement personnel.”

A Friday update clarified that Stinson had been placed on paid administrative leave pending the review; Baker called it a “necessary step” and emphasized the city’s “commitment to a thorough and impartial examination.”