Casper Man Gets 5-7 Years for Firing Gun During Police Chase
A man who led law enforcement officers on a chase west of Casper and fired a handgun during the pursuit earlier this year was sentenced to concurrent prison terms Tuesday morning in Natrona County District Court.
District Judge Catherine Wilking sentenced 46-year-old Zachery J. Whiteman to a term of five to seven years for attempting to cause bodily injury to a peace officer as well as a three- to five-year term for possession of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent.
Whiteman previously entered guilty pleas to both charges as part of an agreement with prosecutors. In exchange, the state dismissed two counts of aggravated assault.
"Had you just pulled your truck over, none of this would've happened," Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Adam Brunning said during a victim impact statement Tuesday.
Brunning was the lead trooper pursuing Whiteman on the night of April 22. A Mills police officer had seen Whiteman commit minor traffic violations and attempted to stop him, but Whiteman took off on U.S. 20/26 and had to be pursued by state troopers.
According to charging papers, Whiteman drove erratically and entered the oncoming lane of traffic, nearly hitting several other vehicles. Brunning decided to attempt a pit maneuver in order to stop Whiteman before someone else got hurt.
As Brunning attempted to use his patrol vehicle to stop Whiteman's pickup truck, Whiteman reached out of his window with a handgun and fired two rounds. The bullets missed Brunning and were later found to have hit the driver's side of Whiteman's vehicle.
A second pit maneuver by Brunning proved successful, rolling Whiteman's Chevrolet Avalanche and throwing him from the vehicle. Whiteman was flown by helicopter to Wyoming Medical Center, his back broken in three places.
Whiteman later told Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents that his girlfriend had broken up with him before the chase, and he had been on his way to Riverton to confront her. That woman told agents that Whiteman had told her he was suicidal, had a gun and was headed to see her on the night of April 22.
"This was over an individual running a red light and lane use," Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen told Wilking during Tuesday's hearing. "The defendant chose not to stop."
Itzen asked for concurrent prison sentences of seven to 10 years for and four to five years, respectively, saying that Whiteman had endangered innocent drivers in addition to Brunning. Itzen also said that Whiteman had faced previous criminal charges for battery in 1999 and 2000, as well as an interference charge.
Defense attorney Jakob Norman told Wilking that Whiteman had a much different perception of the incident than the pursuing officers. Norman said that Whiteman's post-traumatic stress disorder was triggered that night, sending Whiteman into a disassociative state.
"He wasn't running because of a red light. When the disassociation kicked in, he was back in those old situations," Norman said. "He went into protection mode."
Norman told Wilking that Whiteman served 20 years in the U.S. Army and was deployed to combat three times, including a deployment to Iraq in 2003. There, Norman said, Whiteman put himself in danger in order to protect high-value individuals as they traveled in the Baghdad area.
When Whiteman returned, post-traumatic stress disorder was not being sufficiently addressed. Whiteman struggled to cope with the effects on his own.
Norman also said that the two shots Whiteman fired during the April pursuit were warning shots -- a measure Whiteman had been trained to use during his time in the military.
Norman contended that Whiteman's PTSD gave him something in common with Brunning, who said Tuesday that he continues to deal with the psychological impact of April 22.
"That isn't something that he's proud of. It's not something I'm advocating," Norman told Wilking. "There's no wiping this away."
Norman said that a prison term would not include resources to help Whiteman deal with post-traumatic stress, and would serve to further indoctrinate Whiteman into a world of criminal thinking and behavior.
"All I can say is, I was not myself that night," Whiteman said during his statement to the court. He apologized to the citizens and officers who he endangered that night, as well as the prosecuting attorneys who had to devote time to his case.
"I was trained to protect the people of this country, not put them in danger," Whiteman continued. "My actions were reckless and caused so much pain which I can never take back."
He added that he has not had a drink since the night of April 22 and has sought treatment to work through his issues.
"I am the sole person responsible for this incident and I will accept any punishment you see fit," Whiteman told Wilking.
Before sentencing Whiteman, Wilking emphasized the difficulty in making such decisions and said that those who haven't experienced combat cannot comprehend what military servicemembers deal with as they try to return to civilian life.
"I will not pretend to understand that, but I will acknowledge it is part of Mr. Whiteman," Wilking said. "Those years of service cannot be overlooked by the court."
But Wilking noted that aggravating factors in the case -- including Whiteman's prior criminal history, substance abuse and the effects on Brunning -- could not be minimized, either. Wilking added that only Whiteman knew whether the shots he fired were meant as a warning.
Wilking also ordered Whiteman to pay $4,202.70 in restitution to the Wyoming Department of Transportation and included a recommendation for his participation in the intensive treatment unit to address substance abuse issues.