Police learn lessons from teen shooting inquiry

In wake of Matthew Jones' death, Boise chief sees need for changes in inquiries of shootings by officers

Idaho StatesmanJune 15, 2013 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally ran on December 14, 2005.

Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson will suggest changes in the way Ada County's multiagency task force investigates police shootings as part of the "lessons learned" from the investigation into last December's fatal shooting of 16-year-old Matthew Jones, he said.

Masterson said analysis of the Jones investigation revealed that officers did a "good and thorough" job, but there are better ways the Ada County Critical Incident Task Force can collect evidence and present it publicly.

Masterson, who took over as Boise police chief a few weeks after the Dec. 18 shooting, also said he bears responsibility for not publicly releasing information on the case when the task force completed its report in April. The chief said he was waiting for an Ada County coroner's inquest hearing to be held -- a move that kept the information from the public and the teenager's family for nearly a year.

"We were not as responsive at the time as we should have been," Masterson told The Idaho Statesman. "I chose not to have a public release ... there were still issues with the coroner's inquest, and I felt a responsibility if there were going to be future judicial proceedings that we work through the integrity of those systems, rather than giving out the findings of the (task force).

"I think that has raised some additional questions about the investigations."

Masterson said officers working on the case didn't mishandle any evidence -- a concern of Jones' family -- but the task force could help alleviate such concerns in future investigations by limiting the number of investigators who physically collect evidence and not publicly displaying evidence that hasn't yet been forensically tested.

The Jones family has questioned the fairness of the police investigation, saying they had concerns about how the evidence was handled at the shooting scene and at a press conference two days later. Bruce Jones, Matthew's father, said he wouldn't sue the city and did not care about blame but said he hoped Boise police would learn from the shooting and re-examine their use of force policy.

Jones said Tuesday his family is awaiting the results of Boise Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy's policy analysis of the shooting, and he does not want to comment publicly at this point. He did say Masterson's suggestions are promising.

The contents of the Ada County Critical Incident Task Force report were not made public until last week, when The Statesman received a copy via an Idaho public records request .

The task force report , which is longer than 500 pages, does not state whether the shooting was justified. But Meridian police, who ran the task force, determined there was evidence that Matthew Jones committed an aggravated battery on Boise police Officer Andrew Johnson before the shooting. Police and prosecutors said after the inquest that they had determined shortly after the shooting that it was justified.

CHIEF SUGGESTS CHANGES IN EVIDENCE-HANDLING

Masterson said no evidence was contaminated, but there were too many officers physically handling evidence the night of the shooting. That evidence included the antique bayonet rifle the teen carried; Johnson's clothes and equipment; shell casings; the squad car Johnson sat in after the shooting; and items inside Matthew Jones' room.

Masterson outlined the following changes he will propose :

- Select one certified evidence specialist, usually an officer, to physically handle and secure evidence in a critical incident investigation. Other officers could help locate and photograph evidence, but only one specialist should handle it and secure it into evidence .

This would make it easier and more efficient to track the "chain of custody" and reduce the chance any evidence could be contaminated, Masterson said.

- Have all evidence examined in a crime lab or similar controlled environment. Johnson's clothes were examined by two investigators in a mobile police unit outside the shooting scene, which could have caused contamination -- even though none was discovered in the Jones case --since the mobile unit is not set up for such analysis, Masterson said.

- Do not display evidence at a press conference if it hasn't been forensically analyzed. Two days after the shooting, Boise police called a press conference where the rifle Matthew Jones was holding the night of the shooting was held by an officer , near where Johnson's clothes were lying. Johnson's duty shirt and vest had small holes in the back -- near where he said he was hit with the bayonet -- but neither the bayonet nor the clothes had been tested for evidence. A test done a month later revealed that sheetrock material found on the bayonet also was found in the puncture on the vest.

The Jones family questioned whether contamination was a possibility. Masterson said there is no evidence of that, but in a similar situation, photos of the evidence -- not the items themselves -- should be displayed until testing can be completed.

WHAT'S IN THE CITF INVESTIGATION REPORT

The Ada County Critical Incident Task Force report on the shooting mirrored testimony in the November coroner's inquest: The evidence collected appears to support Johnson's version of events, which differs from Bruce Jones' account.

The task force report includes a long interview with Johnson the night of the shooting, several police reports on how evidence was collected, and forensic reports that state sheetrock material on the bayonet was present in a hole in Johnson's protective vest, supporting Johnson's contention that the teen jabbed him with the bayonet.

Here is a summary of key information in the report.

- Distance: Johnson told investigators hours after the shooting that he estimated Matthew Jones was 15 feet away from him when he shot and killed the rifle-carrying teen. During the inquest he declined to estimate a distance but said the teen was "right on top" of him when he shot him.

The question of distance is germane because Jones' family has questioned whether Johnson used excessive force when the teen was shot. Bruce Jones, who witnessed the shooting, said his son never got close enough to the officer to hit him with the bayonet. He estimated the distance was at least 12 feet.

Fifteen feet is inside the 21-foot radius within which Boise police officers are instructed to use deadly force if being attacked by a knife .

A forensic analysis of gunpowder residue from Matthew Jones' shirt, done by the Pennsylvania-based RJ Lee Group Inc. as part of the task force report, indicates Johnson was between 20 and 25 feet away when he shot the teen.

An analysis by RJ Lee Group of how far shell casings are thrown from the handgun Johnson used during the shooting was inconclusive; distances in three different tests varied wildly. This means information on where the shell casings were found outside the Jones house wouldn't help estimate a shooting distance.

- Johnson's clothes: Task force investigators asked RJ Lee Group to do a "tool mark" analysis on Johnson's duty shirt and protective vest , which had small holes in the back. Investigators wanted the tip of the bayonet compared to the holes, which could help confirm the officer's version of events.

Masterson said that specific analysis was never done by RJ Lee because "tool mark" analysis -- usually done on solid surfaces like a wood door -- is not done on fabric . The response from RJ Lee doesn't explain why the test wasn't done, just that the clothes weren't tested for tool mark. Masterson said investigators asked for that test to be thorough but discovered later that test wasn't possible.

WHAT'S NEXT

Boise Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy is working on his investigation into the shooting. Murphy has reviewed the April report by the multi-agency Critical Incident Task Force and said he has more interviews to conduct before writing his report. He did not say how long he would take.

Murphy's report will determine whether Officer Andrew S. Johnson correctly followed police policy. He also can make recommendations to the department.

The FBI has completed a preliminary investigation into whether there was a civil rights violation in the case -- specifically if excessive force was used. That report, which has not been publicly released, was turned over to the U.S. attorney's office and the U.S. Department of Justice, who will decide whether the investigation will proceed.

SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED ON TASK FORCE REPORT

The Ada County Critical Incident Task Force, including members of all law enforcement agencies in Ada County, last week released its report into the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Matthew Jones to The Idaho Statesman.

Q: Does the report make a determination whether use of deadly force was justified?

A: No. The task force just looked for evidence a crime was committed. The decision on use of deadly force is up to Boise police and Ada County prosecutors, who determined in the weeks following the shooting that Officer Andrew S. Johnson appeared to follow Boise police policy for using deadly force.

Q. Did the task force determine a crime was committed?

A. The task force ruled the officer did not commit a crime but there was evidence Matthew Jones committed aggravated battery on the officer.

Q: Was Johnson's digital audio recorder forensically analyzed?

A: No. Johnson told investigators he didn't turn on his belt recorder until after the shooting because he didn't have time; he was attacked as soon as he got out of his car. Bruce Jones, Matthew's father and witness to the shooting, said Johnson never gave his son a verbal warning to drop his rifle before he fired. Johnson told investigators he did issue a warning. That warning is not audible on the 911 call recording between Jones and dispatchers.

Bruce Jones wondered whether Johnson's digital recorder would be analyzed to see if anything was erased. Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson and Meridian Police Chief Bill Musser said the tape recorder wasn't analyzed because it was always in the custody of an officer following the shooting. They said that parts of audio folders can't be erased, and any recording at the scene would have been in the same folder as the aftermath of the shooting, which Johnson did record. The digital recorder taped an earlier traffic stop Johnson made that day -- folder No. 1 -- immediately followed by folder No. 2 which was the aftermath of the shooting, which showed there was no possibility of tampering, they said.

Q: Did officer Johnson consider using "less lethal force" like a Taser or pepper spray?

A: No. Johnson had a Taser in his car when he shot and killed Matthew Jones but left the electronic stun device in the front seat when he arrived at the Jones' home, saying it was not appropriate for a "lethal force situation." That statement follows Boise police policy on when "less lethal technology" should be used. Two days after the shooting, then-Interim Boise Police Chief Jim Tibbs told reporters Johnson was "not carrying" a Taser at the time of the shooting but did not disclose that Johnson had one in the front seat of his car. Tibbs did say that even if Johnson had had a Taser on him, it would not have been appropriate to use at the time because he was being confronted with deadly force -- a rifle with a bayonet attached to the end.

Q: Is the Boise police internal affairs investigation into the shooting complete?

A: No. Investigators wanted to attend the Ada County coroner's inquest hearing in November before finishing their investigation. No estimate on when that report will be completed is available, and any findings will not be disclosed, since they are considered personnel records.

WHAT ABOUT THE HOLE IN THE FLEECE?

A former Garden City detective told a jury during the recent inquest into the police shooting of Matthew Jones that a small puncture was detected in the jacket Officer Andrew S. Johnson was wearing that night, according to a review of court audio tapes and police reports.

Former detective Jason Pietrzak testified that he saw a small hole in the back of Johnson's fleece pullover hours after the shooting took place the night of Dec. 18, 2004.

An Idaho Statesman story that ran Nov. 16 should have said former detective Jason Pietrzak testified that an indentation another officer saw on the fleece was a "puncture" that lined up with holes in Johnson's shirt and protective vest -- holes Johnson said came from being struck with a bayonet by Jones prior to the shooting. Pietrzak then testified that when he examined the fleece prior to the beginning of the Nov. 14 inquest hearing, he could not find the same puncture he saw the night of the shooting.

On Nov. 17, Pietrzak examined the fleece again before the inquest started and later told the jury that day that he found the tiny puncture on re-examination. The Idaho Statesman story on that testimony should not have said that the hole was previously undiscovered.

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