Argued Sentencing for Matthew Culley Started Today

State seeks more than 20 years in prison, while defense asks for 5 to 20 years.
Argued Sentencing for Matthew Culley Started Today

GREEN RIVER — During the first day of an argued sentencing hearing in the Matthew Riley Culley case, several witnesses testified about the shootout that occurred between Culley and Green River Police officers and the events leading up to it.

Culley, 35, appeared in the Third District Court of Judge Suzannah Robinson for an argued sentencing hearing today and the hearing will continue tomorrow on four felony counts. Back in February, Culley pleaded no contest to four aggravated assault charges, all stemming from an incident that occurred on the night of July 6, 2021.

The state is seeking a 21 to 30 year prison sentence, while the defense is asking for a more lenient sentence of 5 to 20 years.

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Prior to witness testimony, the Defense attorney Isaiah Gross gave an opening statement, where he brought up Culley’s military service; traumatic brain injury; history of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies; as well as alcoholism. During his time in the Marine Corps, Culley was in Iraq twice and during his service he saw others in his unit die during an attack. On his second trip to Iraq, Culley lost one of his best friends and fellow serviceman when his friend decided to take his own life. In between his trips to Iraq, Culley was in a motorcycle accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury, Gross said. Culley was honorably discharged in 2010.

After being discharged, Culley was in and out of counseling and underwent 60 surgeries, including a full knee replacement at the age of 33. When he was in between jobs, Culley’s depression and drinking would increase, Gross said, and in 2017 and again in 2020 Culley received a driving under the influence charges. At one point, Culley attempted to take his own life and that’s when Veterans Affairs stepped in more to try and help him. While under the VA’s care, Culley was placed on different medications to try and help him, however none of them seemed to work and some made him worse, Gross said. Gross also said that Culley started showing bizarre behavior such as buying a car and other items that he couldn’t afford and maxing out his credit card to purchase garden supplies, when he wasn’t a big gardener.

Gross said in the days leading up to the July 6 events, Culley had called the VA’s suicide hotline phone number, his medication had been doubled and Culley was not remembering things that happened to him during the day, such as attending counseling sessions.

Gross said that while there is no excuse for Culley’s behavior on July 6, 2021, he wanted to share the context as to why it may have happened.

“We’re not asking for him to walk out of here scot-free,” Gross said.

Witness Testimony

Chelsey Toomer

The state called, Chelsey Toomer, Culley’s ex-wife to the stand as its first witness. During her testimony, Toomer said she and Culley had a 7-year relationship and they were married in July of 2019 and later divorced in February of 2020. During her relationship with Culley, Toomer said he had a drinking problem and when she got pregnant it only got worse.

Toomer testified that when she was 7 months pregnant, Culley hit her in the face and the stomach while she was sleeping and when she was able to get off of the bed and see what was going on, Culley was out cold. Not knowing what else to do, Toomer went and slept in the spare bedroom. She said after the baby was born Culley kept drinking and telling her she was not fun anymore because she was taking care of the baby. She said they tried marriage counseling twice, but it didn’t work.

Toomer also testified that at points Culley talked about suicide and she was his caregiver so she called the VA for help. She said Culley has a traumatic brain injury, major depressive disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“There was no help and I was terrified. No one would help me,” she said.

She then sought and obtained a court protection order against Culley from Uinta County. This order was then dismissed when Toomer tried to reconcile with Culley. She also said they were broke all the time because Culley would blow through all of their money. She said he would spend $500 at the bar, but then they wouldn’t have money for groceries.


The next testimony came from two brothers who were juveniles at the time of the accident and will be referred to as C.S., who was 17 at the time and G.S. who was 15. C.S. testified that on July 6, 2021, he and his younger brother were going to the shooting range after 10 a.m. because he wanted to test his new thermal scope, which needed to be done at night. When they arrived at the range, they noticed a truck with its lights on. C.S. approached the truck to ask the driver to turn off his lights or at least turn them on dim and let him know they were going to be shooting, but the driver, later identified as Culley, ignored him.

A little bit later, Culley, who smelled of alcohol, approached the boys and C.S. told him about his thermal scope and how he wanted to test it. C.S. testified that Culley told him “I don’t care about your thermal s***. I’ll blow your brains out.” Culley then proceeded to take his gun and place it against C.S.’s head. C.S. then saw a live round hit the ground and thought he was going to die or be kidnapped.

C.S. testified that Culley then pointed the gun at his younger brother G.S. and Culley asked him if he should shoot his brother. C.S. said he told Culley he loved his brother and didn’t want Culley to shoot him. He said during this time Culley pointed the gun at him and his brother twice. Culley then apologized to them saying he had been in a couple of bad car wrecks and he shouldn’t have done that. Culley then tried to sell the brothers a gun and ammo before leaving.

After Culley left, C.S. drove them home as fast as he could and then called friend and Green River Police Sgt. Jesse Nielson. G.S.’s testimony was similar to his brother’s testimony.

GRPD Sgt. Jesse Nielson

Green River Police Department Sgt. Jesse Nielson testified that on July 6, 2021, he received a phone call from C.S. on this cell phone. Sgt. Nielson, was with GRPD officers Zach Owens and Kevin Lennon Jr. at the animal control at the time of the call and they all proceeded toward the shooting range. While on the way to the range, Nielson noticed a truck fitting the description C.S. gave him driving near the horse corrals. He quickly made a U-turn to follow the truck and so did officers Owens and Lennon.

While following the vehicle, Nielson noticed that the driver was having trouble maintaining a single lane of travel and the truck almost hit a trailer as well on his way to Barnhart Street. Nielson didn’t want the vehicle being driven by Culley to get to Uinta Drive. Nielson started pulling Culley over, but he didn’t stop right away and when he did pull over, it was on the sidewalk.

Once the vehicle was stopped, Nielson followed the high risk stop procedures by parking farther away from the truck, not parking directly behind Culley, and staying by the vehicle instead of approaching the vehicle. Sgt. Nielson testified that Culley was not following his commands and appeared to be trying to locate where the officers were at. He called for the SWAT team to assist and shortly after that, gunfire hit Sgt. Nielson car and he saw shrapnel coming off of his car. The officers didn’t shoot back because they were in a residential and business area, but they made their way to better location and hid behind some cinder blocks to get a better view of the truck. They then returned fire, breaking the tinted windows out of the truck, which allowed them to see Culley better.

They stopped shooting to assess the situation again. Meanwhile officer Owens had a moved into position and had his weapon aimed at Culley with orders not to shoot unless Culley did something first. While Culley wasn’t as active in the vehicle, he was still moving around and the brake light on the truck kept going on and off. Then the truck started to move. Sgt. Nielson said that’s when officer Owens took the shot they believed struck Culley. Several minutes passed and then a woman drove up to Culley’s truck. The woman ignored officers commands not to approach the vehicle and she went to Culley’s side. She started screaming that he’s dying and they need to get him medical attention.

Sgt. Nielson was asked if he believed this was a suicide by cop attempt and he said that based on his training he didn’t believe so. Later testimony from Officer Lennon Jr. revealed that Culley was using armor piercing bullets the night of the shooting. Those bullets went through the radiator and grill of the police car.

The state showed the dashcam footage from the GRPD and some bodycam footage from the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office of that night. Numerous pieces of evidence, including the guns and bullets were also shown in court.

The Defense Witness

Paid expert witness Dr. George Glass testified that some people have adverse reactions to anti-depressant medications and he believes this was the case with Culley, who had been dealing with various medications since 2012. “In my opinion he had a reaction to the medication.”

In January of 2021, Culley was terminated from his job at the mine after another knee surgery and was depressed. Culley told the VA that he was depressed and the VA changed his medication in May and he was placed on Cymbalta, which has a black box warning stating it can increase suicidality, increase risk of suicidal behavior. The VA report shows he was having cognitive problems, altered speech, and anxiety. The doctor doubled the medication dosage.

Then Latuda, which is an antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medication, was added in June and this medication also has a black box warning on it, He started to become suicidal, Dr. Glass said. Culley called the VA and nothing happened, and then in the beginning of July he was manic with uncharacteristic behavior such as spending a lot of money by buying a corvette, a boat, and then a whole bunch of gardening supplies. He also started arguing with family members, which wasn’t normal behavior, so the father called the VA and so did his girlfriend twice, and no one from the VA responded.

He doesn’t remember what happened three or four days before the shooting, which was probably from an organic brain syndrome. He doesn’t remember big chunks of time. Some of this can be caused by the amount of drugs or alcohol in someone’s system, or if they have a brain trauma, a chemical imbalance or were psychotic. In Culley’s case, Dr. Glass believes he had a psychotic reaction to the medication. After he was taken off the medication, he couldn’t believe what he did.

Dr. Glass said Culley needs a structured rehab program and psychotic treatment in a residential treatment facility.

Testimony will continue at 9 a.m. tomorrow.