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Small Town Torn Apart by Bizarre Police Prank

April 16, 1994

TORRINGTON, Wyo. (AP) _ The masked man entered the 7-Eleven and fired several rounds from an M-16 automatic rifle at the clerk.

The clerk hit the floor and searched his body for holes. When he found none, he looked up - and saw the smiling face of an off-duty police officer whose rifle was loaded with blanks.

It was a faked armed robbery. A practical joke.

At least, that’s how it started out. What it has turned into is a nightmare for officials and a topic of heated debate from barrooms to churches in this eastern Wyoming town of 5,600.

Residents joke that the Torrington Police Department has changed its phone number from 9-1-1 to 7-11.

″Is this our Whitewater?″ asked the Rev. Thomas Hall of First United Church of Christ. ″Is this going to continue to be Torrington’s nemesis?″

Two of four department employees involved in the Feb. 18 incident, Officer Mike Reeve and Sgt. Tony Fisher, were fired and may face criminal charges.

City officials said the officers told them they were retaliating for a prank by Douglas Haines, the 7-Eleven clerk.

Haines filed a federal lawsuit April 8 seeking unspecified damages from the town of Torrington and the officers. The lawsuit claims the officers wanted to scare Haines because he spurned their homosexual advances.

The lawsuit doesn’t specify which officers made the alleged advances and Haines’ attorney wouldn’t elaborate.

″What happened is so weird, so bizarre, so inexcusable that you have to ask why, because a non-sick person wouldn’t have done that,″ said Harry Buck, Haines’ attorney.

″I think Harry is an attorney who’s looking to make money on a lawsuit and is going to try to draw his own conclusions to whatever,″ said Police Chief Bill Janes, who oversees 12 officers. ″He’s grasping at straws.″

Attempts to contact the two fired officers were unsuccessful Saturday. Reeve has disconnected his telephone and Fisher has an unlisted number. Reeve’s attorney wouldn’t comment.

Records and court documents say the incident began at 3 a.m. Police dispatcher Kraig Murphy called Haines to warn of a man wearing a trench coat and ski mask prowling the area.

Moments later, a man matching the dispatcher’s description entered the store and fired at Haines. The man then removed his mask to reveal himself as Reeve, a friend and former roommate of Haines who had just gone off-duty and was still wearing his police uniform.

Two on-duty officers, a rookie and shift supervisor Fisher, helped Reeve block access to the store, according to Haines’ lawsuit.

Murphy and the rookie, whom police didn’t identify, were suspended without pay. Reeve and Fisher were fired. The two officers are appealing their dismissal, while a special prosecutor is looking into criminal charges.

The prank continues to hold the attention of residents of this farming community.

″For police officers to pull what they did is very inexcusable,″ said Lois Tobin, manager of the Torrington Trail Bar and Lounge. ″Most people think they should have been fired on the spot.″

Update hourly