A still from the video shows Elk Mountain Ranch Manager Steve Grende talking with Wyoming Game and Fish officer Jake Miller. (Screengrab/Carbon County Circuit Court)

UPDATE April 15 — Calling prosecutors’ motion to limit the distribution of public court documents a request for a “gag order,” Carbon County Circuit Court Judge Susan Stipe on Friday denied that motion.

During a two-and-a-half-hour motions hearing, which was live-streamed, Stipe also denied motions to dismiss the charges against four Missouri men accused of criminal trespass. She then addressed prosecutors’ request for an order “to limit prejudicial pretrial communications with the media and release of information.”

That request is for “what I’m going to call a gag order,” Stipe said. “I’m concerned about that issue,” she said. “I’m guessing the media is also concerned.”

She listened to Carbon County Prosecutor Ashley Mayfield Davis argue that press coverage would taint the jury pool that’s being assembled for a two-day trial scheduled to begin April 27. But the judge wasn’t convinced.

“Any motion for a gag order is hereby denied,” Stipe said from the bench.

The deputy county attorney prosecuting four hunters for criminal trespass for corner crossing to access public land in Carbon County wants a judge to “limit prejudicial pretrial communication” after WyoFile published a video contained in court files.

Carbon County Circuit Court Judge Susan Stipe should issue an order “to limit prejudicial pretrial communications with the media and release of information,” according to a motion filed by Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nugent on April 13. The court has scheduled a hearing on motions for April 14 but it is uncertain which motions will be addressed during that time.

The motion was filed in a criminal trespass and potential trespassing-to-hunt case against four Missouri men who have pleaded not guilty in the 2021 incident. The men contend they stepped from one piece of public land to another — at the intersection of two public and two private sections — without setting foot on private property belonging to the Elk Mountain Ranch.

The case involves the checkerboard pattern of land ownership in parts of Carbon County where private and public land are interspersed. The case has implications regarding access to millions of public-land acres across the West.

“There has been a large amount of information that has been published in the media on this case,” Nugent’s motion states. The motion did not say how the public documents were distributed, but Nugent wrote none came from his office and much of the information “has not been released by the Court.” 

“A criminal case should not be tried through the media,” Nugent wrote. He said Stipe should issue an order limiting the release of information by those involved in the case or set a hearing on the issue.

Access to public records

The prosecutor focused on a body cam video from a Carbon County sheriff’s deputy — a public record in the court — in his motion. The unredacted video contains the birthday of an eyewitness in the case, the filing states.

“Specifically, the State was contacted by a reporter requesting a copy of Attachment 3 to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss which is a video,” the filing states. “The reporter told staff at the County Attorney’s Office that the Court would not provide a copy of the disc as the Court does not copy discs for disclosure.

“The State declined to make a copy of this disc as it relates to an open criminal case,” the motion states. “However, it is obvious that the media not only obtained a copy of the video but also released it on the internet.”

The motion does not state how the media obtained the video.

The video “contains the name and date of birth of an eyewitness to the case which has not been shared publicly,” Nugent wrote.

“It would be in the interest of justice to prevent further taint of the Jury pool and for the Court to limit the release of information to the media by any party to this incident,” his motion reads.

The motion does not indicate how knowledge of an eyewitness’s birthday might prejudice a jury. Nevertheless, the media spotlight appears to be a worry to prosecutors.

“Throughout this case, it has been clear that the media was aware of filings simultaneously with their filing with the Court and has run corresponding stories to many filings,” the motion states. “The state has very serious concerns that it will be very difficult to seat a jury due to the ongoing media attention given to this case.”

Sourcing

WyoFile published the body cam video in a story on March 1, 2022. It was the first media outlet to do so.

Although Nugent states that the circuit court “would not provide a copy of the disc,” WyoFile obtained the video after paying $5 — the court’s record production fee — to the clerk of the Carbon County Circuit Court via a check dated Feb. 22.

The circuit court cashed the check on Feb. 25, according to bank records.

Deputy Clerk Jennette Hagan sent the video disc to WyoFile in a prepaid FedEx envelope on Feb. 22, according to a FedEx shipping label. A FedEx envelope from a “Jannette Hagen,” “Carbon County Circuit” in Rawlins arrived at a WyoFile office on Feb. 25, according to FedEx tracking information.

It contained the video disc.

A court order limiting the distribution of public information in court files would be “in the interests of justice,” because a tainted jury pool could cause a change of venue, Nugent’s motion states.

“[A] potential change in venue from a tainted jury pool would place an unfair and undue financial burden upon Carbon County,” Nugent wrote. Those costs include hotel expenses, staff, travel and office equipment, the motion states.

“This cost will be astronomical,” the motion states.

“[T]hese costs shall have a serious, if not deleterious impact on the State’s ability and right to present its case,” the motion reads. “The impairment of the State to present its case is a violation of its duty to the citizenry of the State and the county to prosecute criminal cases…”

Carbon County has a $33.9 million budget for FY 2021-22, according to records. The county attorney’s budget is $838,967, county records show.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. I think we can all read the tea leaves here. Public Land is Public Land.
    There should be an easement for the hunters and naturalists and hikers at the corners in the form of a well posted entrance, with rules of conduct while on the public land. If the landowner is worried about litter than they should ask for some solution. If someone has to pick up litter or remains, then there should be a fund to provide for that. If the landowner wants to contract for the job then perhaps it should be a part of the licensing/conservation plan. He said he’s into that, didn’t he? Or make it part of our state/national forestry program. The answer is close. Students would love a summer job. How about that? I find the actions of the landowner and prosecutor to be simply petty and selfish, in my opinion.

  2. Last weeks motion by the prosecutor to have the judge produce a gag order only reeks of last ditch desperation. Wow, Ashley Mayfield, that was such an embarrassing 3rd rate banana republic move and I’ll tell you, that billionaire client of yours deserves (and demands) better. truth be told, you’ve pretty much lost this case right out of the gate. Obviously you have no cares about what your resident constituents think of your blatant maneuvers. You’ll go down in the annals of Wyoming history as a…(pretty easy to fill in the blank)

  3. Seems to me that if the prosecutor has to stoop this low, then there isn’t much of a real case against the defendants.

  4. Might be time for Carbon County to elect a prosecutor who has not been bought and paid for by out of state billionaires. The current one knows who she works for.

    1. And unfortunately, the general public now knows who the elected prosecutor has chosen to work for as well …… she surely doesn’t work for the public that elected her.

  5. Thanks, Angus, for following this story. Your pieces reveal an interesting window of how are justice system operates. Similarly, public access to the process is important.

  6. Some notable people in history who wanted to suppress information and control the free press in their country(s): Hitler – Germany, Stalin – USSR, Mussolini – Italy, Franco – Spain, Mao – China, Ghadafi – Libya, Putin – Russia, Ashley Mayfield – Wyoming, USA

      1. Hahahaha…. That’s a good one!
        Julian Assange is not laughing. Obama did that.
        Obama is Stalin level, in my opinion.
        Still is, since he never left Washington and Biden is just a puppet, in my opinion.
        How many reporters did Trump lock up? Zero.
        How many offices were raided? Zero.
        How many curious deaths? Zero.
        But he is suppressed everywhere over a riot he did not cause, in my view, and persecuted to this day. He is a jerk at times, but I never saw him do the things Obama did. Obama just called for more censorship this week. Trump didn’t.
        Pointing out journalistic malfeasance is NOT controlling the press. It is criticism.
        Calling liars liars is NOT suppression. It is criticism.
        Jim Acosta wrote a book. Not that intelligent people would read it, in my view.
        CNN just opened and closed a streaming service…LOL
        Hoax after hoax after hoax, and all the bad actors are still working.
        Trump let them go on and on and on.
        Michael Hastings and Andrew Breitbart are no longer with us. RIP.
        Has the world already forgotten them?
        They are rolling over in their graves, in my opinion.
        Does anyone have self-awareness anymore?

  7. WyoFile did a good job reporting on this story. I live in a subdivision and do not want people trespassing on my land unless they ask me and I believe that is what most people want. If I want someone to get off my land , I have that right as the owner of the land.

    1. Gina, imagine there was a public sidewalk next to your property line, and that you had grown some beautiful flowers on your property right next to that sidewalk. Would you be offended if a passerby took some pictures of those flowers by bending down and leaning slightly over them, while keeping their feet on the sidewalk? Would you prosecute them for doing so? That is the equivalent of corner crossing. It does not involve stepping on anyone’s private property.

    2. Gina. You also miss the point of this. The hunters were permitted to leagally hunt that land. They had legal right to hunt plus it public land—same right you have 365 days a year to use that land for recreation even it it is walking and watching wild life. They did not touch private land getting into PUBLIC LAND. That Jina is the point. Now what would it be if these hunters were BLACK? Or Native American? Or Gina Jagim out for a walk?

  8. Hmm, going to the court and pleading to have the 1st amendment ignored? Apparently the judge saw it for what it was, a Gag Order request and it was swiftly denied. Just the fact that in 2022 United States of America, an elected govt official would go to the court and request suppression of evidence and a Gag Order blocking the media from access to case documents shows the sheer desperation coming out of the Rawlins court house. THIS act alone tells us all we need to know about Ashley Mayfield and the Carbon Co Attorneys Office. As a Carbon Co resident, I find this to reek of something like North Korea or Putin in Russia. Sickening

  9. I understand this Wyoming Good Ol Boys club has a tight grip of State rulings, by getting seats in government. I don’t have a problem with that part, this IS still a free country. But swinging the big $$$ hammer to turn things to their favor thru lobbying, etc, needs to be curbed since the general public doesn’t have access to these $$$..
    But PUBLIC LAND is PUBLIC LAND.
    The mere pittance these land owners pay for grazing rights does not even cast a shadow on the amount of $money$ they make from outfitters in the off season.
    AT THE VERY LEAST, I’m hoping that these ‘land barons’ are forced to pay lease fees on these PUBLIC LANDS to outfit them, and just like up on the forest where outfitters and PUBLIC mingle, allow access to OUR PUBLIC LANDS.. Be it on foot or horseback.
    My $0.02….

    1. Thank you Mr Boice for pointing out that the good ole boys are often bought and sold in making county, state and federal policy. You are right, the big money hammer is not something that the average citizen/voter has access to, and that includes small businesspeople. This kind of blatant attempt to protect those who can easily pay for it is the foundation of most problems in this country.

  10. Hey there Ashley Mayfield down in ole’ Carbon County, looks like the judge scoffed at your “gag order” request. What place and time and you living in, Ms. Mayfield? 1939 Nazi Germany? Trying to violated the First Amendment and blocking the free press only shows the desperation of your case. Truth be told, due to your actions, a verdict has already been handed down by the court of public opinion which has found the Carbon County Attorney’s Office guilty in the first degree of buffoonery, selling out as well as being an enemy of the people

  11. Wyoming File and Angus have done an excellent reporting job on this piece of the corner crossing case. It is always concerning when government prosecutors want to control what is released to the public. Open access in a democratic society is what “government of the people, by the people and for the people” is all about.

  12. Let’s summarize the Facts in this case.

    Carbon County DA goes on record stating she will prosecute corner crossing. A case arises and she is reluctant to take it on but the Elk Mt. ultra rich ranch landowner makes over a dozen calls screaming at her to stop the hunters who accessed public lands via corner crossing so she takes it on and has the sheriff’s Deputy write the citation.

    She then studies the case law and realizes that she has taken a bigger bitethan can be chewed and delegates it to the assistant prosecuting attorney. Don’t worry, County attorney Mayfield, you cannot hide and will not be forgotten.

    Neither one deal with the brazen harassment and manipulation violations committed by the ranch manager/gopher and blatantly disregard and suppress Wyoming Game and Fish harassment regulation policy.

    She then realizes the case isn’t going too well and decides to try and add a Game and Fish citation to the hunters from the previous year which is against Game and Fish directives to all staff.

    The assistant prosecuting attorney then realizes public opinion, who have witnessed this mockery via the free press, mainly Wyo File, is making them look like fools when the video is released showing a ranch manager (the flat brimmer, North Face hoodie dude in video clip) trying to harass and intimidate state and county officers into issuing citations which they won’t do and bragging profusely about his bosses wealth. The assistant prosecuting attorney is so clueless he tries to tell the Judge to suppress the release of public information which his own Court secretary released via a $5 mailing. Pot call kettle Black. What banana public is he from and what Kangaroo court does he work at? Absolutely bizaroo.

    Any rational Carbon County resident should bury their head in SHAME AND HUMILIATION and what has transpired here. I would think the County Attorney’s chances of getting re-elected or the deputy attorney practicing law in Wyoming should be swiftly broadcast for all to see the buffoonery which has transpired here. Carbon County and Wyoming are living in the 1800s. We dealing with amateurs, pretenders and sellouts. EMBARRASSING, not only for Carbon County, but for the entire state.

  13. I know what they’re worried about. Neither the County Attorney’s Office or a billionaires money can control a free thinking, independent jury. The Carbon county jury will have the final say on this matter and the prosecutor’s office is justifiably very, very worried. Trust in your fellow citizens to make the decision as they see it!!!

  14. Hey Carbon Co Attorney, you voluntarily started this fight and have eaten up $1,000’s in taxpayer funds, so man up (or woman up) and stick with it til’ the end. Obviously things have not worked to the plan you’ve connived with Eshelman, which has now put you on the run straight into a dead end rats nest. So in a final act of desperation, you want to stifle the 1st Amendment and hide under the skirts of the court to be protected from the big bad free press media? This act has been played with success before, notably Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Now Russia. But take heed, It’s not going to fly here, Ashley Mayfield and Mr. Nugent

  15. Hey Carbon County Prosecutor? It looks like your case is plummeting to the earth in a ball of flames like a prematurely exploded missile. But, want to save face? Do your job and prosecute Fred Eshelman’s tough talking ranch hand for – wait for it……hunter harassment. <–THIS is the only actual crime that was committed. Need some help looking up the Statute? No worries, I'm here to help =

    23-3-405. Interference with lawful taking of wildlife prohibited; penalties; damages; injunction.

    (a) No person shall with the intent to prevent or hinder the lawful taking of any wildlife:

    (i) Interfere with the lawful taking of or the process of lawfully taking any wildlife;

    (ii) Engage in any activity intended to threaten or otherwise affect the behavior of any wildlife.

    (b) A violation of subsection (a) of this section constitutes a low misdemeanor as punishable as provided in W.S. 23-6-202(a)(v).

    (c) Any person failing to obey an order of any peace officer to immediately desist from conduct in violation of subsection (a) of this section is guilty of a high misdemeanor punishable as provided in W.S. 23-6-202(a)(ii).

    (d) Any organization or association which counsels or solicits its members or others to violate subsection (a) of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00). Each subsequent violation of this subsection shall be punishable by a fine of not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00).

    (e) In addition to penalties imposed under this section, any person who has suffered injury by reason of the conduct of any person violating this section is entitled to recover damages in a civil action. Actual damages recoverable may include, but are not limited to expenditures for licenses, travel, outfitters and guides and special equipment and supplies to the extent the expenditures are rendered futile by the person's conduct in violation of this section. If the trier of fact finds that the unlawful conduct was malicious, it may award punitive damage to the injured party.

    (f) Upon petition to the district court by any affected party and upon a showing that conduct in violation of this section is threatened or has occurred and under similar circumstances would likely reoccur, the court may enjoin conduct which would be in violation of this section.

    (g) This section shall:

    (i) Not apply to any land lessee, permittee or any employee thereof engaged in the performance of work-related activities;

    (ii) Not apply to any landowner or his agent engaged in any activity on his own private property.

    (h) As used in subsection (a) of this section, "process of lawfully taking" means travel, camping and other acts preparatory to taking wildlife if occurring on lands or water upon which the affected person may legally take the wildlife.

    1. A very valid point. How is it that the stalwart defender of the people of Carbon County has failed to act on this, does it indicate some prejudice in that office? Section (d) is of particular interest. It would seem to indicate that not only are the employees of the ranch subject to charges for the actions, if they were acting on the instruction of their employer that organization could be subject to fines as well. I’m sure we’ll see those charges filed.

  16. Wow. Well, in all my years watching legal maneuvers, a prosecutor is trying to block release of evidence? Normally, almost 99.9% of the time, it’s the defense making those arguments saying their client won’t get a fair trial. Obviously the Carbon Co. Attorney’s Office is attempting to hold a kangaroo court in favor of the Elk Mtn Ranch and multi-millionaire Fred Eshelman. But, hold it there for one minute, it looks like free press (Wyo File) is not going to be bullied or swayed and are 100% within their rights to obtain such documents related to this case. Another thing that’s obvious is that the Carbon Co. Attorney’s staff keep their eyes on this site. So, since we know you’re reading, I have a message for you, Ms. Ashley Mayfield, Carbon Co. Attorney: ” the stench from your office is going to follow your career around, which I guess your next move, if you can get another job, would be a public defender or something, wouldn’t that be poetic justice? It might be best to resign now and let the dust settle before the voters of Carbon Co. roll you out on the next U.P. train come election day. Your office has shown the rest of Wyoming who you’re really representing in this case plus has exposed what a corrupt little County you work for”. Way to go Angus/Wyo File…don’t back down!!!!

  17. Basically the county attorney is willing to trash the 1st Amendment to save $200 or $300 on travel expenses to the next county.

    Sad.

  18. Wow! It sure looks like it’s ok for billionaires to buy up Wyoming land and then prevent Wyomingites or anyone else from gaining access to public lands. I have lived in Wyoming most of my old life and have always been against loop holes like corner crossing that prevent public access.

  19. Sounds like the County is afraid that the public knows they are acting as private security for a billionaire, and are now afraid since public sentiment is so against this case.

  20. Let’s settle this corning crossing and land locked public land right now (and not in the courts). If an adjacent landowner will not willingly allow pubic access to BLM or State lands, then how about NOBODY is allowed on these parcels, including the adjacent landowner? This included their pennies to the cow grazing leases and windfall outfitting. This would also involve the adjacent owner being required to build fence to keep their animals off the public land. If one party can’t access and use the land, then everyone should also be barred, too. Pretty fair and equitable, wouldn’t you say?

    1. Exactly. Make it simple: no right of way for walk-in, public access to public land? Then, no grazing lease on it & no claiming it for ranch value estimates, bank loans, paid hunts. End of problem.

    2. very fair and equitable. If one group can access the land, then the other group a/k/a the $1.35 cow-calf a month renter (welfare rancher) should abide to that as well

    3. As an example, (east of Sheridan) we’ve got a chunk of State land (at least 5 sections)that conveniently corners mere feet from the county road. Part of the Good Ol Boys club… Grrr..

  21. ATTENTION Carbon County, Wyoming residents – you have a MAJOR problem in your County Attorney’s Office. This bought and paid for entity is trying to block public access to records and documents? REALLY, are you KIDDING us? This brown shirt methodology is being used to stifle the process and keep the corner crossing conflict case under the umbrella of an obvious kangaroo court. It’s pretty clear the County Attorney and her henchmen are desperately trying to save face and take back control of the situation. Carbon County, you have an election this coming fall and short of torches and pitchforks, the lever will be your “methodology” of ridding the corruption and stench that is wavering from downtown Rawlins

  22. The deputy county attorney prosecuting the case, and no doubt the land owner, dislike the idea of not controlling the narrative. Those with money and power like to use those tools to enrich themselves. WyoFile might want to look into the county attorneys’ dealings as it relates to this case in more depth.

    Great work by WyoFile. Truly worth $15 to support.

    Hopefully, the public gets access to public land and these county attorneys can go back to going after real criminals like those who prevent access to public land, and in turn claim it as their own private domain.

  23. It’s almost like she is embarrassed about this case and the “cost to the county” to try it. I really don’t understand the supposed expense to the land owner. After all county/state employees are doing his dirty work for him. His manager is on monthly salary so that makes him available 24/7. So what expense or cost is there to the landowner?