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.

March 30, 2017

SSCI Hearings: Russian Influence on the 2016 US Presidential Election

On Thursday, March 30, 2017, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) held an entire day of public hearings in Washington, DC.  The SSCI was looking into the allegations that the Russians had influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election which elected Donald F. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States.  The nature of its duty, Congressional oversight of US intelligence activities, results in very few open public hearings.

OpenCdA watched these hearings lasting just over five hours.   Congressional hearings are nearly always predominantly boring speechifying by self-serving elected Congressional representatives.  These two hearings today were not boring, and there was nearly no partisan speechifying.

The Senators on the SSCI were exceptionally well-prepared and asked on-point, insightful questions.  The content of their questions and the perspectives and expertise offered by the witnesses suggested that Congress has finally recognized the ongoing threat that information warfare or information operations presents to the United States.  Senators took these hearings and the information from them very seriously.  We should, too.

OpenCdA urges citizens who are serious about understanding how effectively the Russians use information warfare strategies and tactics to offset a superior kinetic warfare force will find these five hours of hearings remarkably understandable and educational.  The same readers will also better understand just how effectively Russia has manipulated our free press (AKA:  the skews media) to influence public opinion.  Unfortunately, the hearings also revealed in living color just how derelict our elected officials have been since about 1990 in recognizing the existence, let alone the gravity of info war and info ops.

Here are links to video of Thursday’s hearings.

Morning Hearing:  Disinformation:  A Primer in Russian Active Measures and Influence Campaigns

Afternoon Hearing:  Disinformation:  A Primer in Russian Active Measures and Influence Campaigns

OpenCdA hopes that especially younger readers will take time to watch these hearings.   You need to understand just how your choice of news delivery platform, often social media like Twitter and Facebook and not just the traditional print and broadcast media, is being manipulated to shape the disinformation you read every day.  You will also hear just how easily the Russians turned President Trump’s frequent Tweets against him.

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.

September 10, 2016

Exceptional Police Work

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 12:13 pm

irvine-pd-patchAt a time when citizens throughout the United States are being propagandized by various media including the skews media to ridicule and deride law enforcement officers, it was not only refreshing but also inspiring to see the Los Angeles Times newspaper run its six-part series entitled ‘FRAMED – She was the PTA mom everybody knew.  Who would want to harm her?

The series highlights the exceptional and insightful work of the Irvine, California, Police Department.  It is worth noting that the Irvine officer who was first assigned the call was an experienced police officer, not a rookie.  The article rightly raises the question:  Would the outcome of this case have been different if a less experienced and less patient patrol officer had been the first to respond?

The series was written by LA Times staff writer Christopher Goffard.  Goffard’s bio states, “He shared in the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s Bell coverage …”  Attentive readers may recall the Kootenai County connection to the Bell scandal which the LA Times reported and for which it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

The entire six-part series can easily be read in half an hour.  It’s worth the time.

August 2, 2016

Read and Decide for Yourself

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 11:46 am

KC Int Audit Cover for OCdA PostOn July 26, 2016, our local skews paper, the Coeur d’Alene Press, published an article headlined ‘Audit of fair raises red flags.’   The article is available online for those who care to read it.

Then two days later on July 28, the Press published the Kootenai County Fair board’s response in an article headlined ‘Kootenai County Fair board responds to audit concerns.’  That article was not published online.

As a service to readers, OpenCdA is linking to the complete Kootenai County Internal Audit – Final Report – North Idaho Fair Financial Processes – June & July, 2016.  It is not some tedious tome.  It is readable and equally important, understandable by those of us with no accounting background.  Counting the one-page executive summary and the one-page table of contents, it is 24 pages.

The County’s audit report is well-organized and succinct.  Each  condition the audit team observed is reported.  The remedial recommendations are also reported.  And finally, the responses of the Fair Board accompany each condition and set of recommendations.

In short, by reading the Internal Audit Final Report, readers will have a far more complete understanding of why in late May 2016 the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners ‘… directed the Clerk’s internal audit team to review the Fair’s financial practices as soon as possible.’  It is likely readers will also have a much better understanding of why the Commissioners recommended the addition of two Fair Board members who have ‘deeper financial expertise’ that the existing Fair Board members.

We also suggest that readers read two sets of meeting minutes.  The first is captioned ‘Minutes of Meeting – Fairgrounds – April 19, 2016, 3:00 p.m.‘  The second is captioned ‘Minutes of Meeting – Internal Audit Committee, May 31, 2016, 11:00 a.m.‘   Both sets of minutes are relevant to the Audit Report, but equally important, they provide voters with some insight into the official conduct of elected County 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.

August 19, 2015

Berns Doesn’t Act Alone!

Berns for OpenCdaIn this morning’s editorial titled ignite cda:  Transparent as black tape,  the Coeur d’Alene Press skews paper lamented that it has yet again watched LCDC Schlockmeister Tony Berns reprise the role of the Governor in the musical Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

But Tony Berns does not act alone.  He has been empowered to be arrogant, evasive, and deceptive by the willful or ignorant actions or inactions of past and present members of the LCDC Board of Commissioners.  Here are the current Commissioners.

Berns’ sidestep dance experienced by the Press and recounted in today’s editorial sounds very similar to his response to us as detailed in our May 2007 Whitecaps blog post titled Official Ignorance.

It’s not the first time Berns has pulled the wool over the Press’s eyes.  In December 2006 Berns booted Press reporter Tom Greene from an LCDC Board meeting being held at one of the LCDC Commissioners’ homes.  Berns told Greene he had to leave the meeting because the LCDC was going into executive session.  It wasn’t.  Although the Press reported the deception in articles on December 21, 22, and 23,  an honest and competent editor and publisher would have been screaming for Berns’ head and the resignation in shame of every LCDC Commissioner who went along with it.  Patrick and Thompson didn’t scream; they whimpered.

The LCDC Board of Commissioners (or ignite cda Board of Commissioners if you prefer) have the authority to remove Berns. In our October 11, 2011, OpenCdA post titled Berns Must Go (And He Shouldn’t Go Alone)!, we called for Berns and some Commissioners to leave.  Of course, they didn’t.

In part because of the persistence of some Coeur d’Alene community watchdogs who became elected officials, notably Senator Mary Souza, Councilman Dan Gookin, and Representative Kathy Sims, the antics of Tony Berns and the inattentive cast of clowns at the LCDC/ignite cda have come to the attention of other officials in the state.  What some state officials in the past have dismissed as “just a Coeur d’Alene problem” is now being recognized as symptomatic of larger statewide issues.  In its 2015 session, the Legislature approved the formation of the Urban Renewal Interim Committee, its charge being “To undertake and complete a study of urban renewal plans and issues.”

Regardless of what the Legislature’s Urban Renewal Interim Committee recommends, we hope that Tony Berns and several Commissioners of the LCDC/ignite cda will soon be gone.  They are “underperforming“.

April 27, 2015

April 25 Awards

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 8:17 am

awardsApril 25, 2015, should possibly be designated as “Idaho Journalism Awards Day.”  There were two equally meaningful and important sets of awards given out then.

The first was the Idaho Press Club Best of 2014 Annual Awards, and the second was the Max Dalton Open Government Award. (more…)

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