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.

The first sentence in the quoted paragraph strongly suggests that someone at KCSO (though not necessarily the assigned investigators) may have prematurely formed a factually unsupportable conclusion (… alcohol did not appear to be a factor …) about the circumstances surrounding Reggie Nault’s death.

OpenCdA is confident that the Nault family’s legal counsel will thoroughly examine the timeline or sequence of events leading up to and following the young man’s death.  Thanks to technology, there is a good deal of information that would have been available and should have been exploited by the investigators and included in their reports.  We discussed some of the technological repositories of timeline/sequence of event information in our January 24, 2005, Whitecaps post entitled Got the Time?  In the over ten years since that post, those repositories have become even more commonplace and useful in all kinds of investigations.

For example, we understand that there was a video recording of the young man’s going overboard into the water.  Especially if that video was made on a cellular mobile telephone, there can be a very precise date/time stamp of the event.   The video metadata may reveal other important investigative information as well.

Assuming there was an accurately time-stamped video or some other device to accurately verify when Nault entered the water, then we presume the KCSO’s investigators will have identified participants and witnesses with cell phone and will have obtained call records for those phones.  The call records would help investigators determine the time interval between when Nault entered the water and when the first call for help (e.g., to 9-1-1) was transmitted.  Investigators would also be particularly interested in the time, sequence, and destination of cell phone calls from those on the boat immediately after Nault went overboard.  This information will be of value to the family’s legal counsel as well.

We admit to wondering if others on the boat were timely given tests for alcohol and drugs in their systems.  If so, when, where, and by whom? In particular, was the boat’s operator impaired?   More specifically we wonder what investigative processes were followed which led to the statement, “An initial investigation by the KCSO after the incident revealed that alcohol did not appear to be a factor in the death.”   Certainly a reasonable person might ask, “If Nault had alcohol in his system and yet there was no evidence of alcoholic beverage at the incident scene (including in the boat and on shore), is it possible that physical evidence might have been removed before law enforcement arrived?”

We also are curious about how the Coroner arrived at the manner of death (accidental) before the KCSO investigation was completed.  We presume that in Idaho as in some other states, a Coroner can change the manner of death if subsequent facts warrant it.  We hope that the family’s legal counsel will have access to the entire Coroner’s report.  We also hope that for the family’s sake, it will not be necessary for them to request and pay for an independent post mortem examination by a qualified forensic pathologist.

As we said in our first post, we sympathize with Reggie Nault’s family and friends, but we cannot overstate our admiration for their desire to get the complete and accurate facts surrounding his death.   That knowledge may help others to avoid similar outcomes, and it will certainly provide the public with some valid criteria for judging the professional performance of elected officials including the Sheriff, the Coroner, and the Prosecuting Attorney.




  1. This is chilling, it lends a light on just how incompetent our initial investigative processes work unless they are actually pressured to perform. I recall an incident some years ago where there was quite the investigation over brownies that were eaten by students, that had a very undesirable frosting on them … that kid faced three misdemeanor charges and he was booked into a detention center. Officials went out of their way investigating that prank. This incident is obviously more serious, and really makes me think about other incidents, that may have been quickly suppressed, I mean evaluated. It was very smart for the family to engage an attorney. Sadly, this may become the norm if families want a full and proper investigation into accidental deaths or questionable incidents.

    Comment by Stebbijo — October 24, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

  2. Stebbijo,

    Public scrutiny of official conduct is the one of the most effective controls against misconduct or malconduct. However, it is still premature to conclude that either was present in this case. That’s why the Nault family is taking the right approach. They want to see everything, and they have engaged an advocate who is fully capable of knowing what “everything” includes.

    Comment by Bill — October 24, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

  3. Perhaps one question, whose answer should be sought (but probably will not), is why would the KCSO even release the statement that “An initial investigation by the KCSO after the incident revealed that alcohol did not appear to be a factor in the death.” Another might be; Who at the KCSO made that statement? Another might be; Did the person who made that statement make it because of a presumption that the boy’s body would never be located (and probably would not have been but for the Gene Ralson of Ralston & Associates joining the search, after being first contacted by the boy’s family– not KCSO)? Interestingly the Press reported on July 24th that KCSO Lt. Stu “MIller said a precise location of where Nault apparently jumped or fell in also would have helped, but was understandably difficult to obtain given the circumstances.” A question might be; What were theses “circumstances”? After all, it apparently was not difficult for Mr. Ralston to “confirm” the location where it occurred. Mr. Ralston is quoted in the Press on August 4th as saying “We took out the two boys who were with (Nault) individually, and got their opinion to where it happened,” Ralston said. “Then we ran into an eyewitness who confirmed the location told to us by the boys and from there we expanded our search.” He is also quoted as saying that he “chose to search an area that had not been explored yet.” Perhaps another question might be; Why had that area had not yet been explored? Perhaps the Press reporters and the KCSO should both do a better job?

    Comment by Tributary — October 24, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

  4. Tributary,

    All good observations and relevant questions. Some of them may have been answered in the as yet unreleased investigative report, but they still point out the wisdom of the family engaging legal counsel to ensure they get an accurate and complete accounting of what happened. Many people, especially not an emotionally distraught family, would be in a frame of mind to raise and ask those questions.

    Comment by Bill — October 24, 2015 @ 7:29 pm

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