Fremont County Attorney Declines BIA Charges in Mysterious Death of Riverton Woman
Father claims racism behind decision, continues to seek justice for his daughter
- Published In: Criminal Justice
- Last Updated: Nov 20, 2023
By Jennifer Kocher
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Greg Day believes his daughter was murdered – no matter what the autopsies say.
Dawn Day, a 28-year-old mother of three sons and member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, was found floating in Morton Lake in Fremont County in 2012. Two separate autopsies ruled Dawn’s death inconclusive, meaning there was more than one possible cause. As such, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, the investigating agency, was unable to determine her cause of death.
Technically, Dawn’s case is still open, according to Fremont County Undersheriff Mike Hutchinson. For this reason, he declined to share details.
Day has spent the past three years writing letters about Dawn’s case to anyone who will listen: Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, among others. He recently shared Dawn’s story on “Shattered Hearts of the Reservation: A Nancy Grace Investigation,” now streaming on Fox Nation, a subscription service through Fox News.
Finally, a special agent in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) newly created Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU) heeded Day’s call. The new unit — launched at Haaland’s behest in April 2021 — is a cross-departmental and interagency force that helps solve murders and missing person and human trafficking cases involving Native Americans and Alaska Natives that typically go unsolved or unaddressed, according to a statement from her office.
In July, an MMU agent reviewed Dawn’s case and recommended charging an unnamed party/parties for criminally negligent homicide—a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to a year and no more than a $2,000 fine or both.
But in a case file the Wyoming Truth obtained from the BIA in which all names except Dawn’s were redacted, Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun declined to prosecute. In the report, the BIA special agent described a meeting with LeBrun and Assistant County Attorney Ember Oakley on June 29, 2023, in which both “adamantly declined the recommended charges.”
LeBrun said he cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, but wanted to clear up misinformation.
“If it is indeed the opinion of the BIA agent that a misdemeanor charge be brought related to the death of Dawn Day, he is incorrect both legally and factually,” LeBrun wrote in an email to the Wyoming Truth. “Please keep in mind that the agent did little investigation on his own beyond review of reports. And the agent apparently stationed primarily outside Wyoming is not trained in the practice of Wyoming law.”
A BIA spokesperson confirmed the Fremont County Attorney’s office declined to press the recommended charges and said the agency closed the case into Dawn’s death.
“While the Day case did not result in charges, the interagency coordination it led to makes it easier for other law enforcement agencies to come forward and work together, speeding case coordination and closure for others experiencing this horrible crisis,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to the Wyoming Truth.
Day blamed racism for the decision and vowed to pursue other avenues to hold the county accountable.
“I wasn’t surprised by their decision,” he said, “but I’ll continue to fight.”
Two days before Dawn died on July 21, 2012, she was involved in a domestic violence incident, according to the Riverton Police Department. Police responded to a report of Dawn being physically assaulted by an unnamed male in a vehicle in her apartment complex parking lot.
Evidence indicated Dawn was struck several times in the face and head, as well as on the arms, when she attempted to block the assault, the police report stated. She also had injuries on her lower legs after she escaped the vehicle, and her perpetrator caught her and pinned her against the door.
The next evening, Dawn attended a cookout between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. with unnamed people at Morton Lake. The heavily redacted report stated that their vehicle got stuck in the sand, prompting one member of the group to catch a ride to the Rezeride bar in Kinnear to ask for assistance between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Two bartenders offered to help when their shift ended at 2:30 a.m.; they arrived to find the group beside the still-stuck vehicle, but couldn’t remove it.
An unnamed female in the group told police that a person, whose name was redacted, pulled out a straight razor and threatened to use it on someone, the report states. Then, the person built a large fire and put Dawn by it.
Another unnamed female interviewed by the agent said she last saw Dawn around 3:30 a.m. that morning, but when she woke 30 minutes later, Dawn was gone. The group searched for her, but they didn’t find her. Around 12:30 p.m., Dawn’s body was discovered by Wyoming Game and Fish Department employees, who contacted the Fremont County Sheriff.
It’s not clear from the report what factors led to the recommendation of criminally negligent homicide or who would potentially be charged for Dawn’s murder.
“Someone needs to be held accountable for her death,” Day said. “She did not die accidentally.”
In 2016, Day also lost his son. Jeff, then 28, was found floating face down in the Wind River, south of Riverton. His death was ruled an accident, the result of asphyxiation by drowning and the consumption of diphenhydramine, an ingredient in cold medicine, according to a report by the Fremont County Sheriff.
But Day suspects Jeff was murdered and does not believe his case was properly investigated, either.
In 2022, Day launched the “Dawn and Jeff: I Won’t be Silent” foundation to help families with missing and murdered loved ones, provide domestic violence prevention workshops and offer other skills training for children on the Wind River Indian Reservation.