On anniversary of Antelope’s death, community expresses mixed opinions of groups using him as figurehead
RIVERTON — Two of the late Anderson Antelope’s immediate family members have opposed using him as a social justice figurehead.
Antelope, 58, was shot dead by a Riverton Police Department officer two years ago, after he’d stabbed the officer in the chest with a knife in front of Walmart in Riverton. The officer, who was wearing a rifle plate at the time, was not injured in the attack.
The incident sparked social reform rallies almost immediately, including criticism of the police.
Also reacting to Antelope’s death is Riverton Peace Mission, an organization which staged a theatrical mock coroner’s inquest Aug. 13, to enact what sympathizers believe was a wrongfully denied inquest into the cause and manner of Antelope’s death.
And on Tuesday, the non-profit and its supporters also staged a march from the same Walmart to Riverton City Park, to commemorate the fatality’s two-year anniversary.
Speakers at the park urged “justice for Andy” and heard remarks by tribal leaders, family members, a message from Antelope’s son, who is incarcerated and could not attend, and from State Sen. Cale Case.
Another of Antelope’s children, Matthew Antelope, spoke frankly in Riverton Circuit Court on Aug. 10 about the cause that has iconized his father.
The younger Antelope was facing probation revocation, due to his drinking alcohol, on an aggravated assault charge which was later dismissed.
When called upon to ask for a second chance, he said he needed to be freed to deal with the effects of the mock theater inquest.
“Your Honor, there’s another reason I really, really ought to be out,” began Matthew Antelope. “They’ve got this thing going on, with this people’s theater inquest on my father, Anderson Antelope. As of right now, none of his children are out. They’re all incarcerated.
“I’d really like to be there. There are some things I’d like to address.”
The son continued, saying he had spoken to the officer who shot his father, and had said to the man, “I don’t got hard feelings toward you; you had a job to do; you did your job.”
“Something really, really bad happened. My father’s not here anymore, but all this stuff they’re doing… All I want is for my father to have rest. Now you’ve got a lot of people trying to jump on the bandwagon for the wrong reasons.”
The son said activists were “trying to push this and that for their own agenda,” and that he had been “seeing people take advantage of this situation with my father.”
“I just want him to be left alone, at the end of the day.”
Matthew Antelope is currently incarcerated at the Fremont County Detention Center.
Conversely, Matthew Antelope’s brother, Anderson Antelope Jr, has been a vocal speaker in favor of the continued efforts to perform a public inquest.
From prison, Antelope Jr mailed his remarks to be read at the memorial march.
“Two years ago (my father) encountered a police officer in whose eyes my dad was not a person,” he wrote. “But perhaps even greater… is the evil of the Riverton justice-dispensing system that legalized the murder of my father.”
Riverton Peace Mission director Chesie Lee, who organized Tuesday’s march and the mock theater inquest along with other events in Antelope’s honor, said she’s met with differing opinions in the community and within Antelope’s family.
“Well, I understand there are different opinions within the family, different opinions within the community,” said Lee, adding that some people may think it’s time to seek quiet closure.
But she said Riverton Peace Mission has no intention of dropping the cause.
“(This was) definitely not the last hurrah,” she told The Ranger in an interview Wednesday. “The plea for justice never ends… We just cannot tolerate this kind of incident continuing to happen again.”
Lee also said a formal inquest is just one of the demands of the cause, with the widespread use of body cameras in the Riverton Police Department being another priority.
Responding to efforts by the Riverton Police Department to sit down with Antelope activists and family, to discuss the details of the case, Lee said she and others have resisted those invitations because they would not have a public element.
“(Our) effort would be to have a public inquest, not a private meeting… They’re not going to cooperate with an inquest… (but) let’s do things out in the public, not behind closed doors.”
In past interviews with Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun, the prosecutor said one of his reasons for resisting an Antelope inquest has been the protection of American Indian witnesses to the shooting who asked to remain anonymous due to racial tensions.
LeBrun also has pointed to the portion of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation report on the fatality in which former Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen wrote “The cause of death is a gunshot wound to the head during a police action… The manner of death is homicide.”
With cause and manner of death already established in the investigation, LeBrun has said, an inquest –– normally a last resort for finding cause and manner of death –– is not justifiable under its legal definition in Wyoming law.
Within days of Antelope’s death in September 2019, his brother, Steven C. Amos, wrote from the Fremont County Detention Center to The Ranger about the incident and its resultant social movement.
He was incarcerated at the time because he’d failed to check in with law enforcement as per sex offender registry requirements. Amos was convicted of a sex offense in 1990.
“To the people that want to push racism and hate, where were you when my brother was homeless and hungry(?)” asked Amos.
He then pleaded “Don’t! Please don’t use my brother’s death for a stepping stone to push racist activism. My brother is not that man.”
Amos has not reached out to The Ranger on the recent mock inquest or Tuesday's march.
He wrote that he feared confronting the tense response that had grown since his brother’s tragedy could cause some of his family and friends to “disown” him.
“But oh-well (sic) I’m going to sleep with a clear conscience.”
He also expressed sympathy for the RPD officer involved in the incident.
“I pray for that officer and his family,” he wrote. “I hold no ill will toward anyone. Just know that God forgives.”
A small crowd participated in Tuesday’s march and subsequent speeches at Riverton City Park.
Angelo Sage read the letter from Anderson Antelope Jr. Sen. Case cited disagreements about the way Antelope’s body was treated at the shooting scene, as well as the fact that the store stayed open even as the man’s body (covered) lay near a store entrance. Shoppers were directed to a different entry point until the body was removed some hours later, after police and coroner’s preliminary site investigations were completed.