In the summer of 2015, after several high-profile police shootings across the country, Idaho Reports began looking into the investigations surrounding officer-involved shootings in Idaho: How they’re handled, what the timeline is, and what those outcomes usually are.
We worked with then-associate producer Brad Iverson-Long to compile a comprehensive list of shootings in which an officer discharged a firearm in Idaho between 2000-2016. Iverson-Long submitted public records requests to every law enforcement agency in Idaho. (Most complied, though some tried to charge Idaho Public Television more than $1,000 for the records.)
Why did it take so much work? There’s no single agency or entity that keeps track of these incidents from department to department across different levels of government. We looked into training for law enforcement officers, investigations, and the civil and criminal repercussions. In fall 2015, US Attorney Wendy Olson about how these shootings are tracked and investigated.
Then, on Nov. 1, 2015, two Adams County deputies fatally shot rancher Jack Yantis.
We put a hold on our overarching story while tracking the investigation of what happened between Yantis and deputies Brian Wood and Cody Roland. We continued to track officer-involved shootings throughout the state while checking in with investigators for updates on the Yantis shooting.
One of our biggest questions surrounding the incident: Why were accounts from witnesses, Wood and Roland all different?
Wood and Roland might not be lying. FBI research shows officers commonly experience perceptual distortions — visual changes, auditory changes, emotional disturbances — after a shooting, regardless of whether that shooting is found to be justified. (Click here for data outlining those changes. Information from “Police Responses to Officer-Involved Shootings” by David Klinger.)
On July 29, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and US Attorney Wendy Olson announced they had concluded their investigations into the shooting and would not seek criminal charges.
The risk of repercussions may not end with the close of the criminal investigation. Roland and Wood, who have since resigned from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, may lose their careers altogether.
In the last five years, 157 Idaho law enforcement officers have been decertified by POST — Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training. (Click here for a list of those officers.)
After decertification, people can re-apply for POST certification after ten years, but that step is rare and has no guarantee of success.
In Idaho, though, a prospective officer doesn’t have to be POST-certified upon hiring; Officers have one year to receive their certification after landing a job. Also, if an officer quits before an administrative review, and the agency doesn’t report it to POST, he or she may not be decertified. Law enforcement agencies in small communities with tiny budgets may not have the resources to check these new hires’ POST histories, or pay for training for new officers.
To put it simply: It’s easy for potential problems to fall through the cracks.
But there’s so much more to this story than we were able to fit in our Sept. 16th show — how departmental investigations are carried out, whether there are statewide standards for these investigations, why the bar is so high for prosecution.
We’ll update this blog periodically, and we’ll post a behind-the-scenes interview with producer Seth Ogilvie. Check back for more.