This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call or text the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
Dennis Green died last month after taking his own life in a courthouse holding cell, Campbell County Coroner’s records obtained by WyoFile show.
Yet the circumstances surrounding Green’s suicide in the custody of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office are still under investigation by the Gillette Police Department.
After appearing in the Campbell County District Court for a bond violation and change of plea on Sept. 21, Green was taken into custody.
After leaving the courtroom, Green’s wife called the Campbell County Detention Center to ask that her husband be put on suicide watch, she said. “OK, we will take care of it,” Tara Green said she was told.
The sheriff’s office is responsible for the county detention center and the courthouse holding cell. Before deputies could bring Green to the detention center, he attempted suicide in a holding cell at the courthouse. He was declared dead the next day, Sept. 22, according to the coroner’s report.
The details of Tara Green’s phone call are something Campbell County Sheriff Scott Matheny said is part of the ongoing investigation.
“The primary role of law enforcement in any investigation is to determine if a crime has occurred,” Deputy Chief Brent Wasson, with the Gillette PD, wrote in an email. “To that end, we identify, investigate and record facts and information relating to the death.”
That includes investigating how closely deputies were monitoring Green in the holding cell, as well as whether precautions were taken to mitigate his ability to attempt suicide, Wasson confirmed.
The timeline for the investigation is unknown.
In Wyoming, sheriffs are given considerable discretion when it comes to how they run the county jails. They decide whether to have in-custody deaths investigated and by whom. The Campbell County Sheriff’s Office does not have an official policy determining when external investigations are necessary, Matheny said.
By statute, the Division of Criminal Investigation — part of the Attorney General’s Office — may investigate at the request of a county law enforcement official. But as is the case in Campbell County, the sheriffs can also ask the local police or the investigator of their choosing.
Between 2012 and 2022, 34 people have died in Wyoming county jails — the majority of them suicides. DCI confirmed it investigated, or is currently investigating, 18 of those deaths. It’s unclear whether the remaining 16 deaths were investigated by a local agency or went uninvestigated.
In addition to requests from law enforcement, the governor can direct DCI to investigate jail deaths.
When it comes to Green’s death, Gov. Mark Gordon is not requesting DCI’s involvement in the investigation. “There’s nothing unusual about the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department’s request for Gillette PD to handle the investigation,” the governor’s spokesperson Michael Pearlman told WyoFile in an email. “It is standard protocol for one law-enforcement agency to request an investigation from another law-enforcement agency on matters such as this. This includes agencies that operate in the same county.”
The Campbell County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t always turn to the Gillette PD for in-custody death investigations. It asked DCI to investigate Kenneth Durrah’s Dec. 1, 2022 death in the Campbell County Detention Center. Coroner Paul Wallem determined Durrah died from “sudden cardiac death, consistent with ‘Excited Delirium’ due to methamphetamine overdose,” records obtained by WyoFile show.
Excited delirium has been rejected as a legitimate medical condition by most major medical societies, according to a KFF Health News investigation.
The circumstances of Durrah’s death are still under investigation, DCI Commander Ryan Cox told WyoFile.
When Green died, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office first tried DCI but didn’t get an immediate response, Matheny said. Because the Gillette PD was available, he said he asked them to do the investigation.
“There is nothing unusual about this,” Cox with DCI said. “These decisions are often made on a case-by-case basis considering all factors present at the time.”
But Anne Collins, Green’s former neighbor, told WyoFile she has questions about agencies that work closely investigating each other.
Defending his decision to have the Gillette PD investigate, and addressing any perceived conflict of interest that may arise from having a close collaborator conduct the investigation, Matheny said his deputies work closely with DCI too. And DCI has faced its own questions about conflicts of interest given that many agents were often employed by local law enforcement agencies earlier in their careers.
The coroner’s report, released to WyoFile on Oct. 13, said Green’s death was suicide due to hanging. Today, the county notified WyoFile that Green’s toxicology came back positive for methamphetamine.
“Although our investigation is not yet completed, we have not identified anything to dispute [in] the coroner’s findings,” Deputy Chief Wasson told WyoFile.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove several mentions of the suicide method used, per guidelines for journalists from the World Health Organization. One mention of means remains in the story because understanding what happened is important to future prevention efforts. —Ed.
Correction: This story has been updated to remove information about Wyoming Statute 18-3-603. It was incorrectly stated that it’s the only statute determining the duties sheriffs have to inmates. —Ed.