OpenCDA

May 5, 2017

Nault Wrongful Death Lawsuit Complaint

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , , — Bill @ 9:45 am

DisingenuousAs reported in OpenCdA’s May 3, 2017, post entitled Be Strong and Take Courage …, family members of Reginald J. ‘Reggie’ Nault have filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit in Mr. Nault’s death.

OpenCdA has obtained a copy of the initial complaint for damages and demand for jury trial filed in Idaho’s First Judicial District Court on May 2, 2017, at 5:05 p.m.

In addition to identifying the plaintiffs and defendants specifically and individually by name and establishing the jurisdiction and venue of the Court, the complaint particularizes each specific allegation the plaintiffs believe they can prove at trial.

OpenCdA’s preceding posts concerning Mr. Nault’s death raised questions about the quality and timeliness of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office investigation and its unwillingness to release the investigative reports to the Nault family.  We also raised concerns about the conflict asserted by Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh when the ‘conflict’ attorney, Boundary County Prosecutor Jack Douglas’s press release stated, “However, based on my review of this event and applicable Idaho law, I have determined that no criminal act can be shown to be a direct cause of Mr. Nault’s death.  Therefore, charges will not be filed against anyone by my office.”  [emphasis OpenCdA’s]

Paragraph 2.20 and in particular its subparagraphs 2.20.a through 2.20.i in the complaint allege circumstances which, if sufficient evidence exists to show probable cause, would warrant the filing of some criminal charges.   Paragraphs 3.2.z  through 3.2.bb specifically cite Idaho statutes which plaintiffs believe were violated.

Even if we and our readers believe Mr. Douglas’s assessment of evidence and applicable law was appropriate when his office declined to file charges against anyone because no criminal act could be shown to be a direct cause of Mr. Nault’s death, the failure to explain why other possibly appropriate criminal charges were not filed certainly raises valid questions.

The public has a legitimate interest in examining the professional conduct of its elected officials.  The Sheriff and the Prosecuting Attorney are not exempt from that examination.

OpenCdA believes the evidence admitted in court in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Reggie Nault’s family should contribute to the public’s assessment of the official performance of duties by Kootenai County Sheriff Benton Wolfinger and Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh.

Additionally, we believe that it will give the public the opportunity to assess the performance of the First Judicial District judge who ultimately hears the case.

To the extent that other elected officials not yet named in any complaint may have received some or all the results of the investigation while those same results were being withheld from the Nault family, we think those officials’ conduct and the conduct of the investigative information provider(s) are deserving of public scrutiny as well.

We hope that the public will pay close attention to the news coverage and reporting of this trial by local and regional newspapers and television stations.    We hope that the news media will carefully and thoroughly question and then timely, completely, and accurately report inconsistencies between the trial evidence and the public officials’ statements and characterizations of that evidence.

Finally, we hope that on his own initiative,  Idaho Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden pays very, very close attention to the filings and evidence in this civil lawsuit.  His office has statutory jurisdiction as well as a duty and responsibility to investigate if the evidence presented in court reveals violations of state criminal law by county officers who hold elective office.   In this particular lawsuit, the county officers most directly involved who hold elective office would include Kootenai County Sheriff Benton Wolfinger, Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh, and Kootenai County Coroner Warren Keene.

May 3, 2017

Be Strong and Take Courage …

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 7:25 pm

DisingenuousSeveral previous OpenCdA posts have commended the family of Reggie Nault for engaging a local attorney and pursuing the facts in Reggie Nault’s drowning death.

Melissa Luck, Assistant News Director at KXLY4 News in Spokane,  posted an online news story revealing that a wrongful death civil lawsuit was filed by the Nault family today, Wednesday, May 3.  According to her story, the lawsuit names as defendants the two other 16-year old boys in the boat as well as two adults who allegedly provided alcoholic beverages to the three boys.

OpenCdA concludes tonight’s admittedly incomplete post with the same words we used to end our first one on October 20, 2015:

As OpenCdA has often said, the Kootenai County justice rug has become lumpier and lumpier as incidents have been swept under it.  By engaging an attorney to monitor the investigation of Reggie Nault’s death and evaluate the results of that investigation, the young man’s family is honoring his life by using his death to keep a trained and watchful eye on those who might be tempted to lift the rug’s edge and sweep again.  The facts are the facts, and they will not change.

There can be no genuinely good outcome when a young person dies prematurely.  The closest thing to a comforting outcome is that the person’s family hopes others will learn from the facts of his death and use what they learn to help themselves and others avoid similar outcomes.

We think the Nault family’s action toward that end is honorable and commendable.

We will try to get a copy of the lawsuit’s complaint and post it here.

April 22, 2017

‘ALL’ ? Really?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , , — Bill @ 7:39 am

DisingenuousSeveral earlier OpenCdA posts beginning with the one entitled ‘In Search of Facts’ on October 20, 2015, commended Reggie Nault’s family for engaging attorney Lee James to try and shovel the details of the investigation into Mr. Nault’s death from under the increasingly lumpy Kootenai County rug.

The headline of the article in today’s Coeur d’Alene Press says it all:   ‘Judge:  Release Nault Records‘.

As reported, First District Court Judge Rich Christensen has ordered Kootenai County Sheriff Benton Wolfinger to turn over ALL of the Nault records to Mr. Nault’s family.   Sadly, the Nault family had to get a court order to force Wolfinger to release the records.  Unsurprisingly, Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh sought to help Wolfinger keep information in the records from ever seeing the light of day.

There were some questions we would expect to have been fully and completely answered in the investigative reports prepared by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office investigators.  They include:

What adults were present on the boat and at the dock?  Whose boat was it?  Who was operating the boat?  What was the boat operator’s degree of impairment?  Or was the operator’s impairment even determined by Sheriff’s deputies?  What was the unexpurgated timeline of events surrounding the incident?  From the moment Mr. Nault went into the water, who did what and when did they do it?  Was evidence of alcohol consumption by minors concealed by the minors or any adults present?  If other crimes were committed which contributed to Mr. Nault’s death or which hindered the investigation into it, why were those crimes not charged by the Kootenai County Prosecutor or a ‘conflict’ attorney from another county?

Now we hope either or both our local and regional skews papers do their  job as (alleged) newspapers and file public records requests to examine ALL of the records Judge Christensen ordered to be released.   We would also hope that the papers publish complete and accurate stories that enable readers to fully evaluate the competence and performance of the County Sheriff and the County Prosecuting Attorney.

We’re not holding our breath on that.

In the past, both the Coeur d’Alene Press and The Spokesman-Review have appeared inclined to under-report stories revealing the job performance of public officials they favor in Kootenai County.

We think that in particular, both papers ought to look closely at the number and nature of ‘conflicts’ that Prosecutor Barry McHugh declares when he farms cases out to prosecuting attorneys in other counties.   That information is one of the valid job performance assessment tools available to voters.

We also think that the papers ought to look at the quality of the investigation done by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.  A poor or incomplete initial investigation into an unattended death reflects as badly on a department’s leadership, supervision, and training as it does on the investigators who completed it.  At the same time, it is not unheard of in some law enforcement agencies to occasionally have investigators’  reports adjusted by supervisors in the interest of political expedience or out of consideration for the social standing of some involved.

As we did in our initial OpenCdA post on October 20, 2015, we once again sympathetically commend the Nault family for their decision and efforts to pursue the facts surrounding Reggie Nault’s death.   Unfortunately, it took an order of the Court to get it done, but we offer a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to the Nault family and their attorney Lee James for fighting to get it.

January 13, 2017

What About The Public Interest?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , , — Bill @ 7:04 am

Questions copy copyThe Coeur d’Alene Press published an article on Thursday, January 12th, headlined Nault’s Family Wants Answers.   The article’s lead read, “A year and half after a popular Coeur d’Alene High baseball player drowned in Lake Coeur d’Alene, his mother and sister still don’t know exactly what happened.”

Unfortunately, it was a typical Press “emotion” piece, an article more focused on telling the public how the Nault family feels rather than giving the Nault family or us substantive information.  It’s information the public needs to evaluate how well or how poorly the Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger and the Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh are performing their official duties.

The Nault family is absolutely entitled to know the answers to the questions Mr. James posed in the article.

So is the public.  There is a valid  public interest in determining if Reggie Nault’s death was thoroughly and competently investigated and if all those who contributed materially to his death were prosecuted.  There is certainly a valid public interest in knowing if official favoritism was shown toward some who should have been prosecuted for incidental crimes (e.g., Destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence) but were not.

The county sheriff and the county prosecutor are elected officials.  The questions posed by the Nault family in Thursday’s article and the questions OpenCdA raised in our earlier posts in 2015 and 2016 are still valid.  It appears they’re also still unanswered.   The results of the Nault death investigation and any investigations into the related conduct of involved adults  and juveniles will allow the public to better evaluate the official performance of elected officials including the sheriff, the prosecutor, and judges.

Certainly the Nault family’s feelings are important. OpenCdA gives attorney Leland James respectful credit for pushing the feckless Coeur d’Alene Press to perform as a newspaper rather than the image protector of elected officials.

July 29, 2016

Setting a Good Example

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 3:41 pm

Questions copy copyOur July 23, 2016, post entitled Unanswered Questions or Unquestioned Answers? properly suggested that one of Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh’s go-to conflict attorneys, Boundary County Prosecutor Jack Douglas, had apparently decided that the public didn’t need to know any more about the drowning death of Coeur d’Alene High School student Reginald J. Nault.

Now, contrast the Douglas-McHugh information drought with the good example of openness by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in his release and online publication of  the decision letter sent Friday to the Adams County Prosecutor and attorneys for the Yantis family. The public can view the letter and investigative file on the Attorney General’s website (ADDENDUM on 07-30-2016:  For those who prefer not to read, see two of the video summaries in today’s Idaho Statesman.  AG Wasden   Sheriff Zollman)

Most people that followed the investigation into death of Council, Idaho, rancher Jack Yantis at the hands of Adams County Deputy Sheriffs also know that the Yantis family has filed a civil damage claim against the County.  AG Wasden is clearly aware of that.

AG Wasden was also aware of the keen and continuing interest in the investigation by the Yantis family and neighbors in Council.  Wasden could have stonewalled them for information by making them submit an Idaho Public Records Law request.  He could also have used the “make ’em pay dearly” legislatively-approved practice of charging applicants for the time and above-the-page-limit copies to see public information.     He did neither.

AG Wasden’s decision letter made it very clear that his office’s charge “… was to review this matter for the sole purpose of determining whether criminal charges should be filed against the two Adams County Sheriff’s Office employees involved in the shooting of Jack Yantis.”

AG Wasden’s letter then went on to say, “The OAG’s duty in conducting that review did not include determining whether any person or entity should be held liable in a civil action…”  In other words once the criminal charging decision had been made by AG Wasden, his office had no obligation to keep the investigative results quiet just to protect Adams County or any individuals from civil liability.  AG Wasden was free to post the investigative information (with certain lawful and required redactions) for all to see.  To his credit, that’s exactly what he did.

OpenCdA thinks Boundary County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Douglas ought to do exactly the same thing with the investigative material developed during the Reginald Nault death investigation.   We also think our local and regional skews papers ought to join with OpenCdA in this suggestion.  But we won’t hold our breath for any of this to happen.  The already-lumpy Kootenai County rug is likely to get lumpier.

July 23, 2016

Unanswered Questions Or Unquestioned Answers?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 4:46 pm

Questions copy copyIn a brief and inaccurate press release dated July 22, 2016, Boundary County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Douglas dismissively informed Kootenai County residents he had “… determined that no criminal act can be shown to be a direct cause [of Reginald J. Nault’s death]” and that “Therefore, charges will not be filed against anyone by my office.”

As Douglas explained in his carelessly written press release, Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh had once again declared his own office had a potential conflict of interest and had to find a prosecutor who had no connection with any of the parties or their families.  That has fueled online speculation that “parties or their families” are politically “connected” in Kootenai County. (more…)

October 24, 2015

In Search of Facts, Part 2

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 11:59 am

JustTheFactsAn initial investigation by the KCSO after the incident revealed that alcohol did not appear to be a factor in the death. However, reports in the community began to swirl that alcohol was indeed involved. The coroner’s findings confirms those reports.

That paragraph from today’s Coeur d’Alene Press skews paper article headlined Report:  Alcohol related to teen’s death completely and convincingly validates the Reggie Nault family’s reasoning for engaging professional, objective, qualified legal counsel to evaluate the results of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) investigation into the young man’s unattended death.

That paragraph from reporter Brian Walker’s article sent chills up our spine.   Please read it again.  Carefully. (more…)

October 20, 2015

In Search of Facts

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 7:37 pm

JustTheFactsAccording to Tuesday’s Coeur d’Alene Press skews paper article headlined Nault’s family still seeks answers, some family members of deceased Coeur d’Alene High School student Reggie Nault have engaged an attorney to monitor the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department investigation into his death.

OpenCdA sympathetically but loudly commends the young man’s family for engaging an attorney to represent them in their efforts to learn the facts leading or contributing to his death.

When someone dies as this young man did and the facts of his death are slow in coming, family and friends are deeply emotionally involved.  That very understandable emotional involvement can sometimes lead to clouded judgements.  In this instance, the young man’s family seems to have recognized that they would be comforted by having a professional and competent advocate evaluate the information unemotionally and objectively as it comes in.   The family properly and wisely engaged an attorney to represent them in seeking and evaluating the results of the investigation.

To some, the family’s engaging an attorney looks like the prelude to a wrongful death action.

To others, engaging an attorney looks like the family is dissatisfied with the progress of the investigation.

Both perspectives have some merit, and both validate the family’s taking exactly the action it did.

As OpenCdA has often said, the Kootenai County justice rug has become lumpier and lumpier as incidents have been swept under it.  By engaging an attorney to monitor the investigation of Reggie Nault’s death and evaluate the results of that investigation, the young man’s family is honoring his life by using his death to keep a trained and watchful eye on those who might be tempted to lift the rug’s edge and sweep again.  The facts are the facts, and they will not change.

There can be no genuinely good outcome when a young person dies prematurely.  The closest thing to a comforting outcome is that the person’s family hopes others will learn from the facts of his death and use what they learn to help themselves and others avoid similar outcomes.

We think the Nault family’s action toward that end is honorable and commendable.

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