One of the biggest questions the public has about the fatal Nov. 1 encounter between Adams County sheriff’s deputies and rancher Jack Yantis is whether there is any video evidence.
Yantis, 62, died at the scene on U.S. 95 about 6 miles north of Council. He was called to the highway in front of his ranch after a bull he owned was struck by a vehicle. Authorities haven’t explained what happened but did say Yantis and the deputies all fired their guns; Yantis’ family says the deputies killed him needlessly. Idaho State Police and the FBI are separately investigating the incident.
Sheriff Ryan Zollman told the Statesman that the two deputies had body cameras. He also said one of their vehicles had a dash camera, but it wasn’t on.
But it’s not clear whether the body cameras were on, either. Zollman has said he doesn’t know. He told The New York Times that he turned over the cameras to ISP without checking because he did not want anyone to say that evidence might have been doctored.
Never miss a local story.
Will investigators at least disclose whether there is any video from the scene?
“I can’t confirm whether or not there is video of the incident in Adams County — even answering that question could affect the investigation,” ISP spokeswoman Teresa Baker said Thursday. “Sorry, but we are still in the midst of it.”
ISP previously denied a formal request from the Statesman for body camera video, again citing the ongoing investigation.
Video and audio from cameras worn by police officers have helped clarify other cases, including the fatal shooting in March of a Middleton man by a Canyon County deputy. Deputy Chad Bingham was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the death of Brandon Rapp.
We checked in with some Treasure Valley law enforcement agencies for a quick update on their use of body cameras, as well as their policies regarding who wears them and when they are activated.
▪ Boise police: They currently use audio recorders. The department is in the process of obtaining and phasing in video cameras. About 25 officers could participate in a pilot project in the spring, with video cameras issued to all officers by 2017. “We’re working through all the issues, including data storage,” Boise Police Chief Bill Bones said. “We want to do it right.”
He said the annual cost for data storage alone could be about $250,000, though that figure might change.
▪ Meridian police: The department has 75 video cameras. “Giving people cameras and sending them out is pretty easy,” said Deputy Chief Tracy Basterrechea. “Until you realize there’s downloading, storage and redacting. There’s a lot of moving parts to it.” All patrol officers wear them every day. If the camera is malfunctioning, they are required to use an audio recorder.
The cameras are not running all the time because the data storage would be far too expensive. Officers activate the cameras on enforcement actions, such as traffic stops and when taking reports. They might turn the cameras on when responding to an accident but shut them off if the situation is under control, Basterrechea said.
The video is automatically downloaded when officers return to their office. “It’s easy enough that even I wear one when I’m in uniform and go out on the road,” Basterrechea said. “It’s that easy.”
▪ Ada County Sheriff’s Office: All patrol deputies, patrol sergeants, school resource officers and civil deputies are wearing video cameras. Jail deputies and detectives do not wear them.
The department’s body camera policy requires deputies to get training before using the devices. They are supposed to inspect the cameras at the start of each shift to be sure they are functioning properly and the lens is unobstructed. If the camera is not working, another will be assigned for use while it is being repaired.
According to the policy, deputies should record vehicle pursuits, traffic stops, investigative contacts, confrontational contacts, any enforcement activity, use-of-force situations, crimes in progress and other situations as the deputy sees fit. The policy advises against recording victims of crimes and cooperative witnesses, citing privacy concerns. The device is not supposed to be deactivated during an encounter without some explanation of why.
▪ Canyon County Sheriff’s Office: Canyon County was the first local law enforcement agency to implement a body camera program, according to spokesman Joe Decker. About 155 deputies are required to wear a video camera throughout their shift. They are required to turn their cameras on before most interactions with the public, including traffic stops, field interviews, enforcement stops, self-initiated activity and any other contact that could escalate into an adversarial interaction.
The footage is downloaded at the end of each shift and handed over to a staff member whose full-time job is devoted to managing the footage. “We keep all video for a minimum of six months,” Decker said. “If video is involved in an investigation, we keep that throughout, until it’s been completely adjudicated.”
Detectives also have body cameras but are not required to wear them on their person at all times.
▪ Nampa police: Nampa’s patrol officers are required to wear either a video camera or audio recording device. There are about 60 working cameras in Nampa, and the department is seeking funding to purchase 80 more, said Lt. Joe Ramirez. Most of the department’s cameras are from 2010 so they are nearing the end of their lives, and many have already broken, prompting the replacements, Ramirez said. Officers are required to have their camera or audio on during traffic stops, calls for service and investigations.
▪ Caldwell police: The department has had audio recorders for decades but does not have body cameras. Chief Chris Allgood said they just reached an agreement with a camera provider and might have them within a month. Allgood said the cost of adding the new devices has been a concern, and his department also decided to let other agencies try them first and work out the bugs.
All 64 uniformed officers currently have audio recorders, Allgood said; the plan is to outfit all of them with video cameras.