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Former Gillette police officer charged in South Dakota triple homicide

Jay Edward Ostrem, a former officer with the Gillette Police Department, is accused of killing three men after learning that one of them had allegedly sexually assaulted his wife.

The Campbell County Courthouse sits at 500 S. Gillette Avenue in Gillette, Wyo., on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. (Wyoming News Exchange)

By John Hult, South Dakota Searchlight

A former mayor of Centerville, South Dakota, and one-time Wyoming police officer reportedly shot and killed three men May 27 upon learning that one of the men allegedly sexually assaulted his wife. 

Jay Edward Ostrem, 64, was being held in custody at the Minnehaha County (South Dakota) Jail on a $1 million cash-only bond as he awaited an initial appearance in court. 

Attorney General Marty Jackley, through a press release, confirmed that Ostrem is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Each count carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

“There is no further threat to the public,” Jackley wrote in the press release.

Ostrem served as a Turner County sheriff’s deputy through the early 2000s after a two-decade career in law enforcement in Wyoming.

He previously worked for the Gillette Police Department, and in 2001 he and another officer shot and killed a man suspected of domestic violence. The man’s wife later sued Ostrem and others over the shooting, which her lawyers argued amounted to excessive force because the man was in a truck in his own garage at the time. A judge later dismissed the suit.

Ostrem, now 64, also shot and killed someone while on duty in 1994, according to the Gillette News Record. Authorities later determined both shootings were justified.

He was also among the deputies involved in investigating the death of Dep. Chad Mechels, who was shot and killed by Ethan Johns in March of 2009. Johns is serving a life sentence for that crime.

In 2010, while serving as mayor of Centerville, Ostrem was sued for sexual harassment in federal court by former Police Chief Rachel Kopman, who claimed she’d been subjected to unwelcome sexual comments for more than a year before her dismissal as chief. The suit was settled in 2012.

Ostrem’s law enforcement certification expired in 2016, Jackley spokesman Tony Mangan told South Dakota Searchlight.

A complaint filed against Ostrem last month in Turner County, South Dakota, names his three victims. One of the men was the alleged perpetrator of the sexual assault. Another was a relative of that man, who called police to report the shooting before being shot himself. 

According to a probable cause affidavit filed last month in Turner County, Ostrem’s wife told police that the fatal events came after her disclosure to him that one of the victims had sexually assaulted her by rubbing his erect penis against her at the couple’s Centerville home as Ostrem slept. 

The man lived across the street from Ostrem. 

Upon learning of the incident, the affidavit said, Ostrem “got up and went raging out of the house.” His wife stayed inside until police arrived, which happened shortly after Ostrem was found walking near his home with an “AR-style rifle” and a .380 pistol.

A South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks conservation officer was the first to encounter Ostrem after the shooting, the affidavit said, and the officer noted “an odor of consumed alcohol” from Ostrem. The one-time deputy complied with the officer’s commands to stop walking, and he told the officer he had a pistol in his pocket. 

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by South Dakota Searchlight and has been edited by WyoFile to include more information about Ostrem’s time in Wyoming law enforcement.