Judge orders Culwell to prison

Mariah Culwell mugshot courtesy of Sublette County Sheriff's Office

Accepts CWCC director’s hasty termination

SUBLETTE COUNTY – A young woman from Pinedale – just 10 days from graduating successfully from a 90-day residential treatment program – was sentenced to two prison terms after the facility director’s uninformed call to terminate her.

With his Sept. 23 call, Mariah Culwell, 29, was returned to Sublette County immediately from Central Wyoming Counseling Center in Casper.

On Oct. 13, 9th District Judge Marv Tyler ruled Culwell did not successfully complete the program as required and imposed five- to seven-year prison sentences for each of two felony cases.

Public defender Rachel Weksler and Culwell had to prove that Culwell did not deserve termination and that Culwell was wrongly blamed for a Friday, Sept. 23, incident that further investigation showed she did not cause.

But the wheels were set in motion and by Monday, Sept. 25, staff investigated and found Culwell did not violate rules of conduct.

But CWCC director of residential services Dan Farrer already called the Sublette County Attorney’s Office Friday just before 5 p.m., saying Culwell had to leave, and deputy attorney Clayton Melinkovich immediately initiated the arrest warrant. Culwell was returned to the Pinedale jail Friday night.

“I’m not anxious to engage in a mini-trial about what happened at CWCC,” Judge Tyler said Oct. 13. At issue was if Culwell broke any rules that terminated her residential treatment, he said.

Weksler questioned Farrer via videoconference about the incident, with one person giving another client a prohibited razor. He said he talked to Culwell for about five minutes and other clients blamed her, so he decided to remove her for safety reasons.

Because it was late, Farrer did not expect Culwell to actually be removed until Monday, he said, and that day two therapists found out what actually happened.

Culwell also did not report her roommate’s self-harming behavior for several hours, he said.

“That day (Friday) my primary job was to make sure everyone was safe,” Farrer said. The follow-up investigation the next Monday revealed, “additional information came to light we did not have before that contradicted information that I had not had on Friday.”

Weksler asked Farrer if he should not have terminated Culwell immediately and investigated further.

“Well –,” he said.

“Just yes or no.”

Farrer did not reply.

“Do you support Miss Culwell’s return to CWCC,” Weksler asked.

“I do,” he said. “Conflicting evidence was found after she was discharged” so it is “a comfortable decision for us to make and Mariah gets to finish (the program) properly.”

Weksler asked if Farrer should have requested more evidence before discharging her.

“No,” he said. “It was the decision that needed to be made on that day.”

Weksler said she subpoenaed CWCC for documents and a policy book and received nothing to show what rules are encoded.

Sublette County Attorney Mike Crosson asked Farrer: “Miss Culwell did not strictly comply with your regulations?”

Farrer said Culwell “did not comply completely.” She denied giving the other person a forbidden razor and she did admit to not reporting the person’s self harm immediately.

Weksler asked where that rule was written; Farrer said he needed to look at the rulebook.

Two CWCC therapists also testified, saying Culwell was doing “fantastic” with no write-ups or violations. They couldn’t divulge many details because of patient confidentiality but told Farrer Monday the others who blamed Culwell were likely responsible.

“I was very surprised Mariah was discharged,” said her therapist Fantasia Brasmer, on vacation that day. “It seemed to be really out of character.

Brasmer added, “I wholeheartedly support her return to the program.”

Therapist Mary Kardos was on duty Sept. 23 and said she and Brasmer followed up on the allegations.

“Absolutely” she would support Culwell’s return to the program. “She deserves the right to finish it.”

Culwell took the stand and told Judge Tyler she was 80 days through the 90-day program with an Oct. 4 graduation date. She said Farrer did not ask for her side before she was terminated.

Weksler said Culwell’s removal was a “faulty” and “premature termination” for a rule that no staff could point to and asked that Culwell return to the program for successful completion.

“Because of the incomplete evidence I am asking the court to err on the side of Miss Culwell. … Therapists said no rule was violated; nobody produced a rule.”

Judgment

Judge Tyler said that Culwell was ordered to follow all rules, commands, orders, terms, words or other policies and successfully complete the program, which she did not do

Farrer testified “he believed she violated rules or policy about harm being done. He did not back away from his decision. He stands by it at the time he made it.”

“Right, wrong or otherwise,” Farrer “pulled the trigger and stands by his decision of Friday the 23rd of September,” the judge said.

Weksler said, “This is a terrible situation.”

Judge Tyler reviewed terms of Culwell’s first felony conviction for delivery of marijuana, her probation violations and her second case with felony charges resulting from Culwell’s December 2021 collision with Deputy Krystal Mansur’s patrol vehicle and her injuries.

Culwell received credit for 78 days in custody for the first sentence, Judge Tyler agreed, but would not credit her for time at CWCC “because she did not successfully complete it.

He recommended her for “boot camp,”the Department of Corrections’ Youthful Offender Program that lasts six to eight months.

For the second case’s felony sentence of five to seven years, Judge Tyler credited her for 93 days in custody. For possession of a controlled substance during probation he sentenced her to 12 months in jail, minus 93 days, to run at the same time. The judge would also recommend her again to the Youthful Offender Program.

Judge Tyler ordered restitution in the second case of $12,000 to the sheriff’s office for patrol vehicle repairs and about $25,000 for Mansur’s lost wages.

Mansur testified that she just underwent surgery and has a long recovery ahead. Judge Tyler also sentenced Culwell for her DUI to six months in jail minus time served.

On June 22, Judge Tyler connected Culwell’s two cases with her probation violations. On Oct. 13 he separated the sentences, saying he would not order them to run at the same time.

“I have no appropriate reason to make the sentences concurrent because of a lack of connection between the two,” he said. Wyoming Department of Corrections will make that decision.

If appealed, each sentence must be addressed with separate notices, he said. As for restitution, although “Miss Culwell is about to enter prison,” she will learn job skills so she can support her children and make payments.


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