The 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.
Our 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.
Comments Off on Setting a Good Example
In 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…)
“An 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…)
According 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.