Shooting Stirs Racial Tension In Fremont County

On July 18, a white city parks employee walked into Riverton’s Center of Hope detoxification center with a .40-caliber handgun and shot two Native American men in the head while they slept.

The confessed shooter, 32-year-old Roy Clyde, told police he was targeting transients who he perceived as a nuisance to the city’s public spaces.

The senseless attack has since spurred conversation and contention in Riverton—and on the Wind River Reservation that encircles it—about issues like addiction, homelessness, civic virtue and—above all—race. The shooting—and the social media vitriol and reckless reporting that followed—threatens to further divide a community where racial tensions run high.

Both of the men Clyde allegedly shot were members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe–one of two Indian nations that share Wyoming’s only Native American reservation.

One of the victims, James “Sonny” Goggles Jr., 50, once fought for this country in Operation Desert Storm. He’s now fighting for his life inside a Casper hospital. A spokesman for his family says Goggles is eating and speaking in full sentences, but has a long road ahead.

The other, Stallone Trosper, was killed in the shooting. Trosper was 29, and family members say he was working to overcome an addiction to alcohol.

“Stallone was kind,” said Trosper’s uncle, George Abeyta. “He was loving. He was witty. He was happy. And he had the respect for his family to take himself to the Center of Hope to detox, get his head on straight and go back to school. That was the plan and that right, that freedom, that privilege—was taken from him.”

The detox center is run by the Volunteers of America. Administrators say there were 8 patients and 2 staff members in the building at the time of the attack.

“I equate it to a school shooting with kids,” said Heath Steel, VOA Northern Rockies executive vice president. “I equate it to a shooting in a senior citizens home. This individual came through and shot individuals who were here seeking healthcare services—and were in the process of recovery—recovering their lives.”

Steel said the center does not serve a primarily homeless population, but the vast majority of clients are, on the other hand, Native American. Administrators estimate more than 80 percent of those visiting the Riverton center are Native.

After firing on the men, police say the shooter set his weapon on the counter, removed his shirt and walked outside with his hands in the air. Clyde surrendered and confessed to the shooting. According to an arrest affidavit, he told police that he intended his victims to be homeless people—regardless of race.

“We can only use his own words,” said Riverton Police Chief Mike Broadhead. “But in his words, he was not specifically looking for Native American people. He was looking for people that he described as homeless, transient people. The racial component of this comes up because a significant portion of our overt homeless problem does appear to be Native American. So I think that’s where people are making that connection.”

The victims’ families say neither man was homeless.

They also, along with tribal officials, say the violence was clearly racially motivated—and are pushing for the suspect to be charged with a federal hate crime.

Clyde told police he’d long had a goal of killing people he called “park rangers”—a pejorative term most say is reserved for homeless Native Americans who loiter in Riverton’s public parks—many of them also suffering from alcoholism. As a parks maintenance man for more than a decade, Clyde knows these men and women. And when he chose to target them, Chief Broadhead says, before Clyde drove to the detox center, he made his first stop at City Park.

“The suspect was a parks maintenance worker who cut the grass and would have to call the police to remove people who were intoxicated in the park and in his way or whatever,” Broadhead said. “And that built over time for him and, from his statement, he went to City Park looking for someone to shoot.”

On that Saturday, City Park was empty. Weeks later, there are about a dozen people dispersed across the lawn—drinking and laughing. Gregory Chavez says the surviving shooting victim, James Goggles, was his longtime friend.

“Yes, he was my drinking brother,” said Chavez. “And no, he’s never hurt a fucking fly. He was so kind and generous. He’d give you the shirt of your [his] back.”

Chavez is a self-proclaimed park ranger—and a Native American. So is everyone at the park on this day, until a white woman named Dana Flint walks up from across the street. She’s a local homeless advocate, and also knows James “Sonny” Goggles.

“Sonny was always a breath of fresh air for us here,” said Flint. “Even though he may have been plagued with addiction, he had a place to go to. But these are his friends that would come to the park. And most of the time he’s coming to check on them, encourage, and be a friend—was mostly what he did.”

Flint leads a ‘talking circle’ for City Park’s homeless population every Tuesday morning. She’s part of Chief Broadhead’s “solutions committee” to build bridges between the housing haves and have-nots. She also runs shelter called Eagle’s Hope—named for a man who froze to death in City Park two years ago.
Flint says those called “park rangers”—either by themselves or derisively by others—are entirely Native American.

Clyde’s arrest affidavit notes, “he specifically indicated that if he had encountered white people meeting his criteria he would have killed them as well.”

But his criteria was “park ranger.”  Flint says that doesn’t really add up in her mind.

“When he said ‘park rangers’ and said it wasn’t race specific, that’s crap,” said Flint. “It’s only the native people that use the term park rangers.”

“We had one white guy, right?” she asks of four intoxicated men sprawled out on the grass. “But he passed away. And he did not call himself a ‘park ranger.’”

In her years at the park, Flint has rubbed shoulders with Roy Clyde. She says she can’t believe he could have so much malice for this vulnerable population.

“Never in a million years,” said Flint. “He would help us. He’d pull over tables for us when we had our talking circle. It’s confusing. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The sale of alcohol is technically illegal on the Wind River Reservation, which is why so many Native Americans who are dependent on the drug find themselves in Riverton at places like City Park.

In another corner of the park, a Native American man and woman who don’t want to give me their names tell me they frequent the park—and the detox center—and they’re shaken by what happened.

“Why did he do that to us?” the man said. “Us guys, we ain’t got nothing.”

Source: http://wyomingpublicmedia.org/post/shooting-stirs-racial-tension-fremont-county