OpenCDA

November 9, 2015

Disturbing News Story from Southern Idaho

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 8:21 am

19117510-mmmainJack Yantis, a rancher who lived near Council, Idaho, was shot and killed on the evening of November 1, 2015, during an incident involving two Adams County Sheriff’s Office deputies.  The initial report was in a November 2 Idaho State Police press release.

Though this story has received comparatively little coverage from our northern Idaho skews media, there have been several stories in the Idaho Statesman.  It includes this one on November 7 headlined Idaho rancher’s wife:  ‘I saw them murder my husband’.

Since the November 2 press release, the Idaho State Police has issued two more, one on November 3 and another on November 5.

OpenCdA appreciates the news coverage by the Idaho Statesman.    If the news media do not report what they know, when they know it, an important news story understandably fades from the public view.   But while the reporters for the Idaho Statesman are reporting information not included in the Idaho State Police press releases, we think the public’s expectations for accurate, complete information should still be guided by this from the November 5 ISP press release:

ISP reassures those involved in this incident, their families and the public at large, that they are committed to complete a thorough investigation into this incident to determine exactly what transpired.

[…]

The testing of forensic evidence and an investigation of this nature takes time and ISP and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office request patience as the investigation process continues.

At some point, most likely in weeks or even months rather than in days, the ISP investigators will produce a compiled report package of their investigation. It is certain the ISP will deliver that report to the Adams County Prosecuting Attorney (or possibly to another county’s prosecuting attorney as provided by Idaho Code 31-2603). Regardless, it is likely that a prosecuting attorney will make a decision whether to file or decline to file criminal charges. It is also likely that the decision will be announced at a press conference and that a press release will be issued.

OpenCdA expects that the Idaho Statesman will report the press conference and press release content, however we strongly suggest that news reporters’ research into this incident should not end with that, especially if the prosecuting attorney declines to file criminal charges. We suggest that the news media obtain a copy of the ISP’s report package (narrative report plus supplements) on which the prosecuting attorney made his charging decision.  Particularly if a prosecutor declines to file criminal charges in Mr. Yantis’ death and once the ISP investigation has concluded, the report package should be reachable through the Idaho Public Records Act.

The ISP’s report will require study, not reading.  It would not be surprising if this report is several hundred pages.  This type of investigative report is really a compilation of many reports prepared and supplemental information acquired during the investigation.  It will not flow smoothly like an Ann Rule or Vince Bugliosi  true-crime book written and edited for entertaining reading.

OpenCdA hopes the news media will study it carefully to try and answer three questions: (1) “Was the ISP’s investigation thorough and complete?”; (2) “Was Mr. Yantis’s death avoidable?”; and (3) “Was the prosecutor’s charging decision consistent with the facts in the ISP’s report and Idaho law?”

It is premature to speculate on what the ISP’s report will contain or what a prosecuting attorney may recommend. However, it is not premature to speculate that the report might reveal ways the Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Council and Academy and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office can improve law enforcement training and supervision in Idaho.

OpenCdA hopes that news media research into this story will not stop with reporting what happened and whether criminal charges or civil lawsuits will be filed.  In investigations such as this one, media reporting, especially newspaper reporting,  informs readers to help us better evaluate the performance of judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement administrators in Idaho’s criminal justice system.

8 Comments

  1. Bill – your investigative mind is a blessing – thanks for your work and caring.- A lot of the government system gets swept away. You are needed.

    Comment by Sharon Culbreth — November 9, 2015 @ 11:35 am

  2. Agreed Sharon – I have learned alot from Bill’s insight and reporting that has carried over to my “day job”. All I can hope is that the most effective audience to whom he writes, actually reads, considers, and includes his tact(s) to ferret-out what is needed to know.

    Comment by Old Dog — November 9, 2015 @ 1:50 pm

  3. Aw, shucks! Thanks to both of you.

    The Idaho Statesman is reporting today that, “The Adams County prosecutor has asked the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to step in as special prosecutor on an officer-involved shooting that left a Council rancher dead a week ago, Todd Dvorak, spokesman for the AG’s office, told the Statesman Monday.” The article did not indicate if the AG would, however it seems likely.

    Comment by Bill — November 9, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

  4. As a very young policeman in Oregon, I began to witness a change in the mannerisms of new recruits who were coming onto our department and neighboring law enforcement agencies. Fresh from the Viet Nam war, these new policemen were trained to understandably act first and consider other alternatives later. I suspect this pattern is repeating itself in light of military trained Iraqi vets moving into community policing all over the nation. These policemen may not have been in the war theater. However, the entire department begins a militaristic bent with even a single soldier among the ranks who is trained to aggressively “clear the battlefield” regardless of even the simple incident of a bull on a highway. This terrible tragedy is precisely the reason for caution when bringing former soldiers into police departments.

    Comment by Steve Badraun — November 9, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

  5. Steve Badraun,

    It’s a very valid concern that today’s chief executive law enforcement officers must deal with. On one hand, applicants are recruited with the expectation that they will not use excessive force. On the other hand, we expect them to be able to kill people with the weapon we issue them. Then to complicate matters even more, we issue them “non-lethal weapons,” each with its own set of boundaries which must not be breached in application, and each with its own policies and procedures when it shall, may, shall not and may not be used. And we impose a time limit on a sworn officer: He has a limited amount of time in which to decide whether to use lethal force or one of several implements of non-lethal force on his Batman utility belt or no force at all. The officer’s time limit may be defined not by some regulation but rather by the other guy who had already decided to kill the officer before engagement even occurred.

    This was driven home to me when I carefully studied the ISP report of the Madonna-Kralicek shooting incident in 2004. The still-handcuffed Madonna ran into his home from his garage, picked up a handgun, and turned to engage the deputy and officer coming through the door. Kralicek followed Deputy Bangs through the door, but Kralicek drew his TASER, not his handgun. Bangs tripped going over the threshold and fell, leaving Kralicek to take a TASER to a gunfight. Too many policy-driven decisions, too little time to make them.

    Comment by Bill — November 9, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

  6. Very good points, Bill. I concluded, during my years in that arena, that policemen, even in the smallest town, who are under decision stress nearly always, must be educated, perceptive and aware of life changing choices they are about to make. With exceptions, you don’t get that person with the paltry wages we give them. Policemen need to be highly paid, highly experienced and educated, period.

    Policemen, I know full well, have merely a split-second to decide. They often have too many choices of tools, too many guidelines when to use those tools and absolutely no time to decide. Walking into a dark hallway facing a dangerous felon and death is ultimate terror.

    A militarist civilian police force is not the answer, only another problem.

    Comment by Steve Badraun — November 10, 2015 @ 4:48 am

  7. Steve,

    Thank you.

    This morning’s Idaho Statesman article headlined Adams County leaders call for calm and patience, but community wants answers about Idaho rancher’s shooting goes to your point. Sheriff Zollman is trying to do the right thing by having a community meeting in which he will try to respond to the community’s concerns while still preserving the integrity of the ISP’s investigation.

    One of the problems he will face is a public whose perceptions of law enforcement and its officers have been substantially influenced by movie and television dramatizations condensed in time and content for entertainment value rather than education. He must also deal with the effect of news coverage which demands information right now for its reports but whose content collectors and decision-makers are professionally unprepared or economically or politically unwilling to commit time and space for accurate and complete coverage over the span of time needed to inform the public.

    Comment by Bill — November 10, 2015 @ 7:13 am

  8. Agreed. The television camera is a powerful thing….. privileged knowledge gives some a path to their 15 minutes of fame.

    Comment by Steve Badraun — November 10, 2015 @ 9:25 am

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