A Bleak Year-End Wrap Up: Bidding adieu to 2017 and the strange, jaw-dropping and anger-inducing stories borne of it

By on January 4, 2018

Let’s face it. The last year has been a tough one. During the 365 days that comprised 2017, things in our nation went seriously downhill. Racial divisions became deeper, the rich became richer, and former reality TV star and serial grifter Donald Trump was sworn is as president. The year was pretty bleak indeed.

We have now bid adieu to 2017 in hope of greener pastures, which means it’s the perfect time to look back on the strange, jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring stories that made Planet headlines over the last year. Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it, or something like that.

Vaya con dios, 2017. May we never have a year — or stories — like this again … in Wyoming or otherwise.

Melting Pot of the West

Wyoming’s hushed history of diversity reveals much about attitudes today on race and discrimination

(Sarah Ross, Jan. 4)

The Planet features kicked off in 2017 with a bang with “Melting Pot of the West,” a story written by Sarah Ross about Wyoming’s hidden attitudes on race and discrimination. If only we’d known what was to come.

Ross’ feature explored the stories of the people of color in the Cowboy State who helped construct Wyoming’s history, but whose stories aren’t welcome in it.

“When Tawsha Mitchell was 6 years old, she remembers waiting in line for the water fountain at Torrington Elementary School while a classmate demanded she give up her spot in line.

“N*gger girls go to the back of the line,” he told her. The year was 1999.

Shocked and confused, she walked to the back of the line. Mitchell never actually got a drink, and she says the boy didn’t face any consequences besides being forced to apologize after she started crying.

In the 2014 documentary Blacks in the West, Mitchell says she was just mad because she lost her spot. Now, however, she thinks about the fact that families in her small town were using the racial slur enough that the little boy felt empowered to use it, to tell her where to go.

Mitchell is biracial—her mom is white, her dad is black—and she was the only black student in school for most of her life. She told PJH about walking a fine line between belonging and not belonging in Wyoming. Her mom’s family has been in Torrington for five generations, so she’s “just Tawsha” there. But in other parts of the state, her experience is much different. “People always turn to look when I walk in a room, there’s a chatter, an assumption I don’t belong,” she said.

Mitchell sometimes feels as if she’s on display. She receives questions like, “What do you mean you don’t play basketball?” and “Where are you really from?” She’s meant to perceive the following remarks she hears as compliments: “You don’t dress or speak like a black person,” and “You’re not really black.”

Still, she says she finds herself convincing white Wyomingites, including her relatives, that racism exists. For Mitchell, this can feel like fighting “for my basic humanity, even to family.” In these moments, Mitchell faces erasure in the face of a dominant culture that leaves little room for her experiences.

In the space between hyper-visibility and invisibility, people of color in the Cowboy State find solidarity. Mitchell is studying History and African American Diaspora at the University of Wyoming, where she’s gravitated toward those “who don’t feel like they belong in Wyoming, but don’t feel like they belong anywhere else,” like Latino and LGBTQ Wyomingites. Members of these groups report they have received the message that they don’t quite belong in Wyoming, that tolerance is not a guarantee. Perhaps this is partially due to the fact that people of color and their contributions throughout the state’s history seem invisible, despite rich and complicated stories of race and racism in the state.

Exploring some of this history reveals the ways people of color here have resisted and assimilated, found success and faced discrimination, since the founding of one of the whitest states in the Union. They are people in the shadow of Wyoming’s history, constructing the state without being welcome in it.”

What’s Your Status

Examining deportation fears in Jackson Hole and the agencies enforcing immigration law

(Jessica Sell Chambers, Jan. 18)

The last year has pushed issues surrounding immigration and DACA into the spotlight on a national and local scale. One of the earlier stories published in the Planet explored the fear of deportation looming among the immigrant population in Jackson. Writer Jessica Sell Chambers told the story of Jose, an undocumented immigrant whose family was one of the many in Teton County and across the state being threatened by deportation for simply living and working in the U.S. without documentation.

“When Jose* kissed his boys goodbye one morning in 2014, they had no idea it would be more than a year before they saw him again. In the weeks leading up to his deportation deadline, he and his wife had discussed how that dreaded morning would go. They decided not to alarm the kids—better if Jose were seemingly off to work instead of off to Mexico for an undetermined amount of time. “I pretended nothing was happening, everything was normal,” he said. “In the morning I told them I was going to work and I left.”

Since a Salt Lake City immigration judge issued his removal order from Jackson Hole a month earlier, Jose had had a deep pit in his stomach. He knew that for his wife, single parenting two boys in the valley would be exceptionally hard, but there was no alternative. Though he hadn’t returned to the Mexican town where he was born in more than 11 years, he knew it didn’t offer anything for him or his family, especially not the medical care his youngest child needs.

From 1,000 miles south of the Mexican border, Jose would be able to do next to nothing to help his wife. Sending money to America would be pointless–a pittance. He felt helpless.

Many undocumented immigrants face the reality that at any moment their families can be torn apart. Conventional wisdom says to obey the law and all will be OK, but for some, all it takes is being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or a minor slip-up. Sometimes, where local law enforcement overlaps with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an unfortunate few fall through the cracks, are separated from their families and forced to leave the place they consider home. And once this happens, there is nothing anyone, not even local law enforcement, can do to reverse the process.”

Guardians of Place

How people across Wyoming have mobilized to create a stalwart network of public land protectors

(Meg Daly, Jan. 25)

Not surprisingly, one of the major topics making headlines in Wyoming was the fight to protect public lands. Writer Meg Daly tackled the story of Wyoming’s public land protectors in the Jan. 25 feature, “Guardians of Place.”

Daly’s article took a look at access and protection of public lands in Wyoming and the network of underground environmental army that is working to protect them.

“Trying to qualify the value of public lands can leave a person speechless. What are the words for that feeling as dawn breaks, flooding the valley with light, as backcountry skiers make their ascents up Jackson’s peaks? How to explain a sighting of a bull moose’s regal stance as he noshes willow branches with a crystal clear stream at his feet? How to impart the exact tenor of those indelible childhood memories of camping in a national forest and listening to wild, adventurous yarns told by adults?

What makes experiences like these possible is a simple yet radical notion in America that some portion of the land be reserved for public access, in effect that the lands exist for the public good. It’s one of this country’s most democratic notions: You don’t have to be rich to access nature. You own it collectively with the rest of your fellow Americans. Now, this message has managed to unify a swelling number of public land advocates and activists, an army of people who come from vastly different backgrounds all in the name of protecting public lands, and today they sit on the front lines vigilantly awaiting what comes next.”

Pillar of Support

How Matt Stech and PMO Teon County are dissolving stigmas and training people to be networks of prevention

(Melissa Thomasma, Feb. 15)

The stretch of land from Arizona to Montana is beautiful, desolate and — for some — mentally devastating. Known as the “Suicide Belt,” the swath of land that includes Wyoming and Jackson has extremely high suicide rates when compared to the rest of the nation.

Writer Melissa Thomasma reported on the phenomenon and the grass roots groups that are working to change save lives in an area where life can and does teeter on the edge in her Feb. 15 feature, “Pillar of Support.”

“Beyond celebrated mountain culture and recreation, Western states are exceptional in some much darker capacities. Map out the average suicide rates across the nation, and you can’t miss it: stretching from Arizona to Montana, the “Suicide Belt” highlights a serious issue for Wyoming and its neighbors. Substance abuse rates reflect a similar pattern, especially among young people. There’s no question that Jackson Hole—like other communities across the state—faces formidable challenges when it comes to addressing these complex public health concerns.

The Prevention Management Organization (PMO) of Wyoming—which the Wyoming Legislature is debating substantial budget cuts to right now—leads critical prevention work. Efforts by the Teton County branch, launched in early 2015, have kept its two staff members busy with outreach activities. From influencing local policies to distributing gun locks, connecting with local students to hosting free suicide intervention trainings, prevention specialists Matt Stech and Jacob Richins are on the front lines in Jackson Hole. In a state with the highest suicide rate in the nation, the importance of their work cannot be overstated.”

Preparing for Darkness

Unmasking the Great American Eclipse in Jackson Hole and beyond

(Jessica Sell Chambers, Feb. 22)

One of the coolest things to come out of 2017 was the Great American Eclipse, which enticed nature-lovers to flock to Wyoming in droves. The eclipse chasers, and what makes the spacey phenomenon so enticing to them, were profiled in Jessica Chambers’ Feb. 21 feature, “Preparing for Darkness.”

“Perched on a verdant mountaintop with sweeping views of where the Makassar Strait meets the Palu River, Dr. Kate Russo, Aussie eclipse expert and self-proclaimed “eclipse chaser,” stood among pitched camping tents and people staring into the sky. It was March 9, 2015, and Russo was on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi where she had ascended to a Wayu Village in the southern hills of Palu City.

She stood with villagers and visitors in the full sun as the temperature rose to 90 degrees. “The skies were clear, the sun was high up, and the atmosphere electric,” she remembered. “At first contact, [when the moon met the path of the sun] a traditional music song was played … like a single didgeridoo, which echoed down the valley.”

Just a little before 9 a.m., the lighting became odd and the birds got confused. “It was thrilling,” Russo said.

“The shadow was not as pronounced as other eclipses, but the moment of second contact was incredible. The diamond ring hung there beautifully and seemed to last a lifetime.  And then, totality.”

The crowd hooted and hollered, growing silent as the sun was totally eclipsed by the moon at 9 a.m., leaving only a crown of light on its perimeter.  “Two planets were clearly visible, although the sky did not darken too much … The light on the horizon was beautiful.” Russo was grateful the clouds had stayed away. The third contact occurred marking the end of Russo’s tenth total solar eclipse.”

Native Sense 

Can Wyoming’s first Native American woman lawmaker provide a sane Republican alternative to Trumpism?

(Baynard Woods, March 1)

Let’s be real here. The last year hasn’t led to much positive political coverage, but one story — the one written by Baynard Woods on March 1 — was a glimmer of hope during a really bleak time.

In “Native Sense,” Woods told the story of Wyoming Senator Affie Ellis, the first Native American woman in the Wyoming Legislature.

“Newly-elected Wyoming state Senator Affie Ellis seemed out of place at the ultra-right Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) conference in Washington D.C. last week. In fact, the 38-year-old Navajo woman raised in Jackson who now represents District 8 (Cheyenne and part of Laramie County), hardly seemed to have time for the hubbub and schmoozing of the annual right-wing love-fest.

“I’m coming in for a quick visit to Washington D.C. from having been debating serious issues that are before the Wyoming legislature,” she said. “I am coming to this conference with the lens of the seriousness and the gravity of the issues that we’re facing in Wyoming.”

That was not a common sentiment. Ellis, a former casino lobbyist, ousted Democrat Floyd Esquibel from the seat he’d held for 20 years. It was a small but important race in a year of great political disruption. But the first Native American woman in the Wyoming Legislature seemed about as far from the Trump train as one can be while still being invited to the conference.

When asked to give advice to “these conservatives out there that you think is important for them if they want to become the next rising star,” she said: “Clear calm heads will always prevail and so to keep your head about you.”

It was almost hard not to laugh. The point of this whole conference and its air of aggrieved victory is that clear and calm heads did not prevail.”

Sacred Knowledge

The Standing Rock story corporate media didn’t tell you

(Max Mogren, March 8)

The attack on Native Americans is not a new phenomenon. Historically we have oppressed, stolen from and devastated the Native people who inhabited this country long before we set foot on it. But those attacks were ramped up early in 2017 when the fight for Standing Rock became militarized.

Max Mogren covered the violent fight against the peaceful protestors in North Dakota in his March 8 feature, “Sacred Knowledge.”

“Militarized police destroyed the encampments in North Dakota two weeks ago, but the movement that began at Standing Rock is just getting started. The peaceful opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is still playing out in court, and encampments against proposed pipelines have popped up in Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. On March 10 the Native Nations Rise March in Washington, D.C. will show the world that this is about more than stopping one pipeline.

Support for the Water Protectors still pours forth from Jackson Hole. Several dozen locals made pilgrimages there, including Miller Resor who hosted solidarity events in Jackson and Los Angeles. He carted a donated 5th wheel camper full of equipment across the country to support the cause.

“For me, Standing Rock is about drawing a line in the sand and refusing to allow corporate interests to outweigh human rights or environmental conscience,” Resor said. “Standing Rock is about coming together for people and planet. It’s hard to explain the beauty and power of the prayer element present at Standing Rock. The power of peaceful protest was reflected in how hard the opposition tried to undermine and destroy it.”

Dawn After the Storm

When visitors and transplants feel more at home than natives of the land

(Sarah Ross, April 12)

Just outside of Jackson sits Wind River Indian Reservation, a massive swath of land that two tribes — Easern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho — call home.

In the April 11 feature, “Dawn After the Storm,” Sarah Ross told the story of Misty Dawn, a member of the Eastern Shoshone, whose move to Jackson led to a search for healing.

“Misty Dawn grew up on the Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR) in Crowheart, Wyoming. On one side, her ancestors are healers, on the other, chiefs.

The reservation is the only in the country shared by two tribes, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. Misty is a member of the former. “I feel very proud and lucky because my people fought so hard to be here,” she said. “They took baths in the river in the middle of winter—I come from a very strong background.”

Misty moved from WRIR to Jackson Hole in summer 2016 with two friends from the reservation, both have since died. First, Jeffrey overdosed. Then, Misty said, “Lyle committed suicide from a broken heart.” She thinks about them all the time, and the life they wanted to build together.

Now Misty is trying to heal in Jackson. But she’s emerging from a pain not just her own—the wounds are personal and ancestral. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between the two. Misty is always thinking about how to help those on the reservation, how to re-incorporate indigenous culture, tradition, and resilience into the places where they’ve been forgotten.”

Becoming Indivisible

How Wyoming’s young Latinos are navigating a web of prejudice and an uncertain fate

(Meg Daly, May 17)

Wyoming’s Latino population, like Latino populations across the rest of the nation, have over the last year come to face increasing scrutiny and prejudices. Writer Meg Daly examined how Wyo’s young Latinos are learning to navigate the tense political and social landscape in her May 17 feature, “Becoming Indivisible.”

“Serrano doesn’t remember the journey across the river. He doesn’t remember much from before Wyoming. He didn’t know he was part of the largest immigration wave from Mexico, spurred by poverty, violence, and a feeling of hopelessness for the future. His family left two years before a massive economic crisis devastated the country. Since then, nearly everyone in his family has immigrated to the US.

In Mexico, Serrano lived “in extreme poverty … in a house that was made up of stacked rocks and concrete … I remember scorpions on the walls and taking cold showers with a bucket in the middle of the room where there was a drain.”  If he’d stayed, Serrano said, “there’s little doubt I would’ve ended up selling drugs, then most likely getting killed.” Since the family’s departure, violence has increased exponentially in the area. According to the San Miguel Times, Guanajuato has one of the highest rates of violence in the country, including more than 100 homicides a month.

Moving to Wyoming ensured Serrano a future he wouldn’t have had in Mexico. Now, his memories are like those of many who grow up in the West. He recalls a happy, rural childhood surrounded by friends and family, most who worked in the agriculture industry. “I grew up working in the fields. We’d go out there with our grandpas, uncles, and friends, and we’d pick weeds from the wheat field.”

However, as for many Mexican immigrants in the state, an idyllic childhood always carried an undercurrent of fear. Serrano barely remembers a home other than Wyoming, but he was recently reminded that he cannot afford to feel too safe. He is currently caught in one of the confounding binds of immigration policy. “There is no path to citizenship,” he said. “It’s an obstacle course.” When his father died when he was 16, his family struggled amid the grief. He dropped out of school, and his family moved around. In the chaos, Serrano failed to register for the draft when he turned 18. Several years later, he accidentally let his green card lapse. When he went to renew it, he discovered that because he hadn’t registered for the draft, he wouldn’t be able to apply for citizenship until he turns 31. He is 30 now.”

At Your Service

When it comes to housing, should the valley rethink its definition of essential workers?

(Shannon Sollitt, May 10)

Housing. It’s a topic that just won’t — and perhaps can’t — die down in the Valley. Writer Shannon Sollitt tackled housing, essential workers and the increasing cost of life in Teton County in her May 9 feature, “At Your Service.”

“A lack of affordable housing in the valley is neither a new problem nor an undocumented one. Brutal conditions for commuters this winter, combined with an impending historically busy summer, have refueled a series of discussions among electeds and the public about how exactly to house all facets of the population. Many of the solutions focus on “affordable” housing for the valley’s “essential” workers: first responders, teachers, town and county employees. Such solutions, however, tend to exclude who many consider the backbone of Jackson’s economy: service workers.

By numbers alone, service industry employees are “essential” to Teton County’s economy. As a gateway community to two of the nation’s most renowned national parks, tourism generates millions of dollars in revenue every year. In 2015, visitors to Grand Teton National Park alone contributed more than $700 million to “neighboring communities,” Jackson the largest among them, according to a Chamber of Commerce report. It’s hardly surprising, then, that almost half of Teton County’s wage earners work in the service industry. Of the county’s top 10 largest employers, five of them are service-oriented: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Four Seasons, Xanterra Parks and Resort, Grand Targhee, and Snow King. Seasonal workers add up to 52,000 temporary residents during peak summer seasons to keep up with booming visitation.

But the nature of the work also makes service workers some of the hardest to house. Because it is seasonally dependent, it also encourages a certain transience. Home ownership isn’t an option, and despite efforts to keep up with cost of living, rents are still higher than service wages can afford.”

Cowboys in Crisis

The good, the bad and the ugly of mental health care in a small Western town

(Meg Daly, June 7)

Life in Wyoming is in many ways made for folks with thick skin. The rural landscape and harsh winters can be tough to navigate, even for a seasoned pro, and even medical emergencies take a certain amount of preparation to handle.

So what happens to the people who are facing mental health emergencies? Where do they go to get help when there just isn’t much infrastructure in place to support them? Writer Meg Daly explored these questions in her June 7 feature, “Cowboys in Crisis.”

“When things are critical, we don’t have options in Jackson,” Stephanie said. “When you are in imminent danger to yourself, you are put into involuntary lockdown.”

Having grown up in the valley, Stephanie is not new to seeking mental health care from local providers. An intelligent, proactive woman, she is skilled at gleaning the best of what’s available in Jackson Hole. She is also all too familiar with the ramifications of a community in which physical health is exalted and mental health too often neglected until people reach a crisis.

When Stephanie was a teenager in the 1980s, the first time she sought mental health care was from her family doctor. No licensed psychiatrists were practicing in the valley at the time, so general practitioners were often patients’ first option for mental health care. That situation hasn’t changed much, and it’s not exclusive to Jackson. According to the Institute for Behavioral Health Integration, as many as 70 percent of all visits to primary care are the result of psychosocial issues.

Stephanie said she was lucky to have a doctor who understood the seriousness of her symptoms. “Had I not had that I would not be alive today,” she said.

While primary care providers play a crucial role in helping patients with mental health issues—whether in the ER or the doctor’s office—they only have so much expertise. A recent St. John’s Hospital Foundation study found that Jackson is in dire need of psychiatrists, with only two practicing in the valley. The search is on for ways to serve this need.

In the meantime, a dedicated community of mental health care professionals— counselors, addiction specialists, psychiatric nurses, and others—work with scarce resources. But in a state with nearly twice the rate of suicides as the national average and in a county where an average of three people per year die by suicide, mental health crises, and how they are addressed, is a life and death matter.

From a 10,000-foot view, Jackson Hole is lucky compared to other communities in the rural West. But when all that’s between you and oblivion is the life raft you cling to, you’re not thinking about the sky above. You’re just focused on immediate conditions that might rescue you, or threaten your grasp.”

Black Bars & White Ceilings

Andrew Johnson, despite his innocence and exoneration, struggles to find justice as a free man

(Natosha Hoduski, Aug. 30)

One of the most important stories to come out of Wyoming in 2017 was the one about Andrew Johnson, the first man in the state to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

Johnson had spent 24 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and has since his release struggled to put the pieces of his life together. Wyoming is one of the few states that does not provide monetary compensation for the wrongly convicted.

Writer Natosha Hoduski wrote on how Andrew Johnson’s conviction and subsequent exoneration have left an innocent man’s life in fragments in her Aug. 30 feature, “Black Bars & White Ceilings.”

“When we arrived at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute on an early September afternoon in 2016, the sturdy, modern brick structure seemed palliative in itself. For nine months I’d been in a severe depression; no amount of antidepressants, antipsychotics, talk therapy, dietary changes, exercise, or meditation had made a dent. Now my husband had driven me four and a half hours from our home in Jackson Hole to my first ever treatment facility in Salt Lake City.

Living in the rural West means being at a distance from state-of-the-art psychiatric care. In Jackson Hole, patients can receive top-level orthopedic treatment because surgeons are eager to live in a world-renowned ski town where a fresh crop of torn ACLs is guaranteed each season. However, psychiatrists, who are not nearly as well-paid and who are in short supply nationwide, find little draw to Jackson, where they would still have to piece together a client list without the support of a larger treatment facility.

For patients like me, whose mental health issues are not as in vogue as sports-related ailments, living in a small Western town often means seeking adequate care further afield—at your own inconvenience and expense. Like other people I know with severe depression or bipolar disorder, I had exhausted my options for treatment in Jackson and had no choice but to travel hundreds of miles to get well.

The University Neuropsychiatric Institute, or UNI (pronounced “You-Nee”) resides in an unfussy professional building on the university campus. With carefully manicured lawns and flowerbeds, it has an air of self-confidence. Large panels of windows line the front entry, and the lobby is lit in part by a skylight. There is a friendly receptionist at a sprawling desk, and a gift shop (neuropsych memorabilia for the whole family!). Graduate students bustle around with notebooks under their arms. This was clearly a place where sanity and balance would be restored, efficiently and sensibly.

Our destination was not, however, this main bastion of academic pulse and mental civility. I had an appointment at the Treatment Resistant Mood Disorder Clinic. As its name implies, the clinic is where doctors send patients when they can’t fix them with standard meds.

My husband Mark and I were directed to follow a labyrinthine route to the back of the building. We knew we had arrived when we passed through a metal hospital door and the comforting speckled carpets and photos of Arches National Park gave way to an off-white linoleum and bare walls. Let’s call the look “warm sterile.” Gone were the cozy offices and bright-eyed grad students. This was where the serious shit happened. Electro-convulsive shock therapy. Transcranial magnetic stimulation. Ketamine infusions.

I was there for the latter. I remember first hearing about ketamine in 2012. Researchers had released a report about ketamine’s ability to relieve major depression in a matter of hours. Scientists from Yale University and the National Institute of Mental Health had determined that ketamine caused new connections to form between nerve cells in parts of the brain associated with mood and emotion. I had been jonesing to try it ever since. But it’s expensive, and until recently was only performed at facilities on the East Coast. The use of “jonesing” makes it sound like I’m some kind of street-drug-knowledgeable person. I am not. The only recreational drug I’ve ever used is marijuana when I was 17. It didn’t go well—I ended up a ball of paranoia in the corner of a room. However, learning about ketamine’s magic for depressives made me think, “Bring on the K hole!”

Veterinarians know ketamine as a horse tranquilizer. Ravers know it as Special K, or simply “K,” a powerful dissociative that can cause near death experiences. First introduced for clinical use in 1970, ketamine is a standard medication used for anesthesia and pain management. Its antidepressant effects are a new discovery. Facilities like UNI have begun offering intravenous ketamine treatments to depression patients who can pay. Two sessions a week at $700 a pop, not covered by insurance.

Maintaining sanity when you’re mentally ill is indeed not cheap. Insurance may cover some medications and maybe 10 therapy sessions a year. For me, being financially stable has not protected me from becoming depressed, but it has certainly helped me pay for treatment. I fear for people living in poverty, who, according to a 2012 Gallup poll, are twice as likely to suffer from depression (31 percent, as opposed to 15.8 percent of people not living in poverty). A breakthrough therapy like ketamine is entirely out of reach for a demographic of people who may need it most.”

Crime and Toking in Wyoming

How Wyo’s arcane cannabis laws could spell the end for a notorious 81-year-old mobster

(Angelica Leicht, Nov. 1)

It’s not every day that Wyoming lands a story as intriguing as the one about Henry Sentner. In the Nov. 1 feature, “Crime and Toking in Wyoming,” editor Angelica Leicht explores how an 81-year-old ex-mobster was busted with 35 pounds of weed on I-80 earlier this year, and is now facing more time for cannabis than he did for the shooting death of Manny Gambino.

“The traffic stop that took place around noon on September 24 should have been routine. The car with Georgia license plates was only traveling about 10 miles over — 85 in a 75, and then down to 65 in a 45 mph zone — on I-80, just outside of Cheyenne in Laramie County.

The driver, 81-year-old Henry Robert Sentner, probably seemed harmless enough when he exited the vehicle. How much trouble could the old man be, anyway?

Turns out, quite a bit. A quick background check revealed that Sentner wasn’t your typical octogenarian. The elderly man standing on the side of I-80 in southern Wyoming was a well-known mobster with a lengthy criminal record — one that included the shooting death of Emanuel “Manny” Gambino, the nephew of New York City Godfather Carlo Gambino.

Sentner’s mob ties weren’t the only thing that piqued Wyoming Highway Patrol officer Joshua Gebauer’s interest that day, though. The black duffel bag on the backseat, the only item in the car other than a bottle of motor oil, a roll of paper towels and a fly swatter, also seemed suspect.

When questioned, Senter told the officer he was on his way back home to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina after a cross-country trip from California, where he’d been visiting family.

That story didn’t seem quite right, though. Officer Gebauer thought it odd that the 81-year-old man would be making such a long trip alone — it seemed “implausible,” according to Gebauer’s affidavit.

The drive across the nation didn’t seem like a time or cost effective way to visit family, either.

Something seemed off with Sentner’s answers, too. Gebauer said. He noticed Sentner had deceptive behavioral responses to simple questions, prompting Gebauer to ask if there was any marijuana in the car.

Sentner told the officer that he had “a small amount” in the black duffel bag, and more in the trunk, but how much more, he wasn’t quite sure. He didn’t load the car, he said, but he does this run for a third party quite often in exchange for his personal stash — the cut that was stowed away in the backseat.

Upon further investigation, patrol officers found an additional 35 pounds of weed in the trunk of the car, according to the charging instrument filed by the State of Wyoming.

Sentner was charged with three counts stemming from the September 24 traffic stop: Count I: Possession with intent to deliver marijuana; Count II is felony possession of over 3 ounces of marijuana; and Count III is for the speeding ticket.

Those charges carry a hefty penalty in the state of Wyoming. Sentner faces up to 10 years in prison and a total of $10,000 in fines for the delivery charge alone. The felony possession charge carries up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, and the speeding ticket has a maximum penalty of 20 days in jail and a $200 fine.

Should he receive the maximum penalties for the three charges, Sentner is looking at more time than he spent in prison for offing Manny Gambino, just for transporting some weed.”

You’re Fired

Enough is enough; it’s time to reclaim our democracy and impeach Trump

(Nov. 8)

One of the most divisive stories printed in the Planet in 2017 was “You’re Fired,” a feature published across a number of alt-weeklies across the nation calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump.

The feature was published on one year anniversary of Trump’s election — Nov. 8 — and took a stand against the man whose angry, racist rhetoric has gotten us to this point in the first place. It’s a fitting close to our year-end wrap-up, and a story we are willing to print again and again until we make this mess right.

“These days, opponents of Trump’s divisive behavior and rhetoric are in droves coming out of the woodwork to speak out against the man whose political mission, it seems, is to destroy America.

Impeach Trump, they say. Impeach Trump.

We agree.

Planet Jackson Hole is joining dozens of other alt-weeklies across the nation, from Eugene, Oregon — the paper that brought us much of this feature — to Charlottesville, Virginia, Salt Lake City and beyond, in taking a stand.

It’s time to impeach Donald Trump.”

PJH

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