A co-worker of one of two sheriff’s deputies who killed Adams County rancher Jack Yantis last November told state investigators in January that he thought the deputy’s behavior and mental state two months after the shooting threatened his and others’ safety.
Adams County Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Phillips told Idaho State Police detectives that he was frightened by Deputy Brian Wood’s comments, actions and expert marksmanship, and that he feared for his life and his family’s. Phillips, a seasoned law enforcement officer, said he ultimately left both his job and Adams County to distance himself from Wood.
In late December and January, Wood contemplated suicide and threatened to shoot any law enforcement officers who tried to take his gun or detain him, Phillips told the detectives on Jan. 22.
“He’s one of those guys that if he goes off his rocker, he’s gonna be somethin’ to handle,” Phillips said.
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Phillips’ concerns led the Ada County Sheriff’s Office to alert local law enforcement officers that Wood posed a possible threat. No incidents involving Wood were reported then or since.
The Idaho Statesman obtained a transcript of the detectives’ interview with Phillips through an open-records request.
The transcript and subsequent claims by Phillips and Wood tell a complicated tale of friends turned adversaries. Finding the truth is difficult, because Phillips, Wood and other authorities will say little on the record. But Phillips’ interview with ISP made clear that he and some other Idaho law enforcement officers considered Wood dangerous, at least temporarily.
In a Facebook post in May, Wood called Phillips’ statements “slander” and “lies.” Wood filed a tort claim in May that said Phillips was motivated by a personal agenda that included a “romantic” interest in Wood’s wife.
“Lt. Phillips’ statements were malicious and made with purposeful intent to harm Brian Wood’s reputation,” said the tort claim Wood’s attorney filed against Adams County. A tort claim is a precursor required by state law before filing a lawsuit against a county or government agency. Wood’s claim said Adams County failed “to act to protect Brian Wood’s rights.”
Wood did not respond to Statesman questions about why he believed Phillips had a romantic interest in his wife. Wood’s wife and Phillips, who now works in Elmore County, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Adams County did not respond to Wood’s tort claim within 90 days — leaving him free to sue — and did not respond to a Statesman request last week for comment.
Wood and fellow deputy Cody Roland shot and killed Yantis on the highway next to his ranch on Nov. 1, 2015, as Yantis held a rifle he had brought to euthanize a bull that had been struck by a car. Both deputies were then placed on leave. Prosecutors said last month that there was insufficient evidence to charge them. Neither deputy reportedly will return to their jobs.
Part of the conflict between Phillips and Wood can be traced to a bulletin sent to law enforcement agencies statewide last winter.
The bulletin: ‘If cops get involved, shots will be fired’
On Jan. 22, the day Idaho State Police interviewed Phillips, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office sent an “officer safety/extra patrol” bulletin to its deputies and other police agencies.
The bulletin said Wood’s in-laws, who live in Ada County, “requested extra police patrol due to statements from Wood that they are ‘not safe.’ ”
It added: “According to Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Brian Wood has become increasingly unstable in recent weeks. ... During a conversation with [the Adams County Sheriff’s Office], Wood advised, ‘If cops get involved, shots will be fired.’ ”
Such bulletins are intended for law enforcement use and not the public, but this bulletin was leaked and posted on social media in May. Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman said then that a lieutenant on his command staff had contacted the Ada County Sheriff’s Office in January but “was not acting as a representative of my office.” Zollman did not name Phillips.
After Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced July 29 that his office would not prosecute the deputies, Wasden and police released thousands of pages of documents from the shooting investigation. Among them was a 40-page transcript of the ISP interview with Phillips.
The transcript shows that Phillips at first thought Wood was struggling as a result of the Yantis shooting, but later concluded that problems in his friend’s marriage contributed.
The interview transcript: Sleepless nights as friends talked
Phillips, 43, recounted what transpired over several days in late December when he and his wife tried to help Wood, 32, and his wife, who Phillips said were struggling with escalating marital issues and Wood’s suicide threats.
Here is what Phillips told investigators:
Phillips met Wood while both were attending the Idaho Peace Officers and Standards Training Academy in Meridian. (POST training records show that both deputies attended basic academy in June 2010.) All state and local law enforcement officers must be certified through POST.
The men and their wives became good friends after Wood joined the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, where Phillips worked, in June 2013. Wood was hired as a part-time marine deputy in Hells Canyon and became a full-time deputy three months later. Phillips ranked higher than Wood but did not directly supervise him.
If you’re worried that we’re not going to take this or you seriously, you’re wrong. We’ve been seeing smoke on the hills since (Nov.) 1. We know there’s fire.
Idaho State Police detective to Steve Phillips
Late in December, nearly two months after the Yantis shooting, Wood’s father called Phillips and said his son had contemplated suicide. He asked Phillips to reach out to him. Phillips did.
“At this point in time I think it’s the stress from the shooting,” Phillips told the detectives. “I’ve been through shootings, I understand that … [Brian’s] not one to deal with that stress at all.”
Phillips met Wood in McCall and said they “sat until 4:30 in the morning talking.”
Phillips learned that Wood was dealing with more than the stress from the shooting: Marital problems led to Wood and his wife agreeing to separate for a week. Phillips said he, too, heard Wood say he was thinking of taking his life.
Phillips said he went without sleep over the next three days as he tried to help his friend. He said Wood threatened him twice when Phillips said official law enforcement involvement might be needed to keep Wood and others safe.
“[Brian] made it very clear that if he loses his guns there’ll be gunplay,” Phillips said. “I know enough about [Brian’s] abilities that I’m not taking any chances with it.”
The interview, continued: A ‘thousand-yard stare’
Phillips said he gave Wood two options: Go with Phillips and talk to Wood’s father, “or option B is I’m gonna handle this law enforcement-way. I’m gonna … get an endangerment hold on ya.”
(Under Idaho law, officers may take mentally unstable people into protective custody if they pose a threat to themselves or others.)
Wood then “turned in his seat and squared off with me and stuck his hand down by his gun,” Phillips said. “He says, ‘There will be gunfire if we go that route.’ ”
Phillips backed off and told Wood they would go talk to Wood’s father. “And then he reiterated that there would be gunfire if there’s any law enforcement action whatsoever.”
Phillips and Wood met with Wood’s father, and Wood agreed to see a counselor, a police chaplain, in the Seattle area. Wood, his father and Phillips went to Washington state. Phillips said he sat in on Wood’s eight-hour counseling session on Dec. 30 and returned to Idaho with Wood the next day.
Phillips’ wife stayed with Wood’s wife in Idaho while their husbands were in Washington state. On Dec. 31, while the men were on their way home, Phillips’ wife accompanied Wood’s wife to Washington to see the same counselor.
Phillips said he cautioned Wood on Dec. 31 not to harm another person. “That was the second time that he squared up with me, and his hand went down toward his gun and … he’s got a thousand-yard stare in his eyes ...”
The interview, continued: Phillips alerts colleagues
Phillips contacted his bosses, Sheriff Zollman and Undersheriff Jeff Brown, and told them about his interactions with Wood.
“They’re in way over their head with this, and they have no clue what to do,” Phillips told the Idaho State Police detectives. Phillips said Zollman told him, “I’m going to fail ya’ [because] I have no idea what to do about this.”
Phillips said he gave Zollman a detailed written report.
(Zollman confirmed to the Statesman that Phillips came to him and submitted a report. He declined to comment further, citing pending litigation.)
Phillips also reached out to another friend of Wood’s, McCall police officer Josh Johnson. (Wood had worked at the McCall Police Department in 2010-11, until he was fired after poaching an elk.) Since Wood still lived in McCall, Phillips thought McCall police should know that Wood had said there would be gunplay if any officer approached him.
Johnson and Phillips compared notes about Wood’s mental state, and both concluded that there was cause to be concerned about Wood’s emotional stability. Johnson shared his concerns with his chief, Justin Williams. Williams then called Phillips to say he agreed they should be concerned.
(Williams confirmed to the Statesman that he spoke with Phillips about Wood. “I did contact ISP with the information Phillips had provided,” Williams said. “I recommended to ISP that they offer counseling to Wood through his attorney, because he had refused to speak to them at that time.”)
Williams said he could not comment further because of possible litigation. Johnson could not be reached for comment.
Phillips also provided his report to the Valley County Sheriff’s Office in Cascade. (McCall is part of Valley County.) He and his wife also took Wood’s wife to talk to the Valley County Sheriff’s Office to make a statement.
(Valley County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Jason Speer confirmed to the Statesman that the office received Phillips’ report and talked to Wood’s wife. He declined to comment further.)
The interview, continued: Phillips is frightened
Phillips said he became concerned for his personal safety when Wood told him there would be gunfire if someone came for Wood’s guns or if Wood lost his job or got in trouble.
Phillips said he is an accomplished marksman who has scored well in national shooting competitions, but Wood is better and owns “some of the best sniper equipment on the market.”
“He is an advanced, skilled sniper,” Phillips told the investigators. “I sent him to the FBI Academy, their advanced sniper school, and he came out top shot. This guy’s freakin’ good. ... He’s young. He’s fast.”
Phillips said he had worked in the Middle East as part of a counterterrorism team and is not easily intimidated. Nonetheless, he went home, and he and his wife packed some bags and left.
“Because I live in the canyon, everything around me is high ground,” he told ISP. “My house is approachable from all sides, and it’s all uphill.”
“If we get a call to deal with Brian in a law-enforcement manner, we best take it freakin’ seriously. OK? He’s got explosives, he’s got guns out the ass. ... This guy can pick a lock like nobody’s business.”
An ISP detective told Phillips, “Yeah, you don’t have to convince me. … This story is not falling on deaf ears, believe me.”
Except for the officer-safety bulletin, it is not clear what, if any, actions any law enforcement agencies took in response to Phillips’ interview or his reports to the Adams and Valley county sheriffs.
After the interview: Wood threatens to sue
One month after being interviewed by the Idaho State Police and talking to the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, Phillips resigned from Adams County and joined the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office in Mountain Home.
The Statesman repeatedly asked Wood about the statements Phillips made to at least five law enforcement agencies about Wood’s behavior. Wood declined to discuss them. “There is pending litigation regarding former Lieutenant Phillips in this matter, so I am not currently able to discuss his statements,” Wood told the Statesman on Aug. 19 via Facebook.
I know enough about Brian’s abilities that I am not taking any chances with it. ... when he finds out what — about my report or any law enforcement action — absolutely I believe he will do something about it.
Steve Phillips, to Idaho State Police detectives, about Brian Wood
After last spring’s media reports about the officer safety bulletin, Wood’s attorney, Kevin Dinius, of Nampa, filed the tort claim with Adams County on May 6. It read in part:
“On or about January 22, 2016, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office issued an Officer Safety Bulletin based on statements made by Lt. Steve Phillips of the Adams County Sheriff’s Department regarding Brian Wood’s mental disposition. ... Lt. Phillips knew his statements were false. Lt. Phillips’ malicious false statements were motivated by his own personal agenda in ‘romantically’ pursuing Brian Wood’s wife. Brian Wood’s claims arise from the Adams County Sheriff’s Department and/or Adams County’s negligent and/or intentional failure to protect Brian Wood’s rights.”
Dinius declined to comment on the claim’s assertions or Wood’s plans to sue.
Wood posted on May 8 to his Facebook page:
“My natural response to slander is to be angry at the person who made up the lies, and to defend myself by getting the truth out. ... The man who fabricated the information in the law enforcement bulletin lost his job a couple weeks later, and the man who published the bulletin to the Internet was arrested by the FBI the very same day.”
The second man Wood mentioned might have been Michael Emry in Oregon, whom the FBI arrested on May 5 on weapons charges related to a group’s occupation last fall of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Emry, founder of the websites The Voice of Idaho and The Voice of Grant County (Ore.), was embedded with the occupiers. The day he was arrested, The Voice of Idaho posted details about the officer safety bulletin issued on Wood. Nothing in Emry’s charging documents connects his arrest to the Wood post.
And Zollman told the Statesman in May, “No one lost their job over this incident.”
The tort claim said Wood would seek damages “in excess of $400,000” from Adams County. The county’s attorney, Jim Davis, of Boise, declined to comment.
So far, Wood has not filed any lawsuits against Adams County or Phillips.
On Aug. 4, the Statesman reported that Wood had been fired from his McCall job over the poaching incident. Citing records from the state investigation of the Yantis shooting, the Statesman reported that both deputies had been disciplined for behavior in previous jobs.
On Aug. 15, Wood and Roland told KIVI-TV in Nampa that they had not decided whether they want to return to work. “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” Roland said.
Three days later, the Statesman reported that a group seeking justice for Jack Yantis’ family had learned that neither deputy would return to their jobs. It turned out that Roland had resigned on Nov. 30 to take a seasonal job. Wood is still on paid administrative leave.
Wood’s letter to Boise State student newspaper
On July 26, 2006, Boise State University’s student newspaper, The Arbiter, ran a brief story that began: “BSU security contacted the Boise Police Department when they saw a man walking down University Ave. with a sidearm hanging out from under his shirt in plain view.”
The police officer who responded told the Arbiter, “(W)e met with the man, he didn’t have any intent, there was not a threat. We found out he does carry a (concealed weapon) permit.”
The article did not name the man. He was Brian Wood, then 22, who was enrolled at Boise State from 2001 to 2008. Wood submitted this letter to The Arbiter, which ran Aug. 21, 2006, under the headline, “Callin’ out the cops.”
I could be recognized for many noteworthy accomplishments. I bought my home at 21, I am an Eagle Scout, I earned a Congressional Medal from the United States Congress for community service, and I am a National Merit Finalist.
I find myself in the news not for a personal achievement, or even for something illegal, but rather for the simple fact that I legally carry a gun. ...
I was carrying one legally concealed weapon and one fully exposed firearm. My gun wasn’t “hanging out from under my shirt” but rather it was in a holster on my belt with my shirt tucked in (exactly how many law enforcement officers carry their sidearm).
In July I was detained by Boise Police Department officers for carrying a gun at BSU.
I had broken no law. The officers disarmed me. Through the entire incident I was very cooperative, polite and reasonable. Even so, the three primary officers were very unpleasant and unprofessional.
It became obvious that this wasn’t about whether I had broken a law or not; they were just bent out of shape that I would dare to carry a gun. They tried to intimidate me by saying that I was trespassing and that my concealed weapons permit was invalid (both statements are false).
When I told them I am a firearms instructor, they doubted me and treated me with disdain. One officer even said, “You aren’t even in the same league with us.” This statement sums up their condescending attitude. As they left, an officer returned my guns with an incredible display of unsafe gun handling.
Do I hold resentment against law enforcement? I don’t. My family has a long history of military and law-enforcement service. My uncle Harvey holds the national record for being the oldest living active-duty sheriff.
I work part-time at a nationally recognized firearms training institute where most of my colleagues are law enforcement.
This is why I am concerned about Boise PD’s unprofessional handling of this particular situation — because unprofessional law enforcement officers give the rest a tarnished name.
This event was handled in an unsafe and unprofessional manner, so, I would like to extend an offer to the three primary officers involved. I offer my firearms training services to you free of charge. I will work with you personally to bring your firearms safety, gun-handling and marksmanship up to industry standards.
To the officer who said that I am not even in the same league as him, there is nothing honorable about such a statement. I would like to give you the opportunity to prove it publicly. I challenge you to a shooting competition open to the public, particularly BSU students.
Contact the Arbiter to obtain my contact information.
(Wood did not respond last week to a message from the Statesman asking whether his challenge was accepted.)
The Yantis shooting
After a car collided with one of Council rancher Jack Yantis’ bulls on Nov. 1, Yantis went from his house to the highway to euthanize the animal with his rifle. Brian Wood and Cody Roland, both Adams County deputies, said Yantis disobeyed their commands and pointed the rifle at one of them and fired, so they returned fire.
Yantis was shot 12 times. He died at the scene.
Yantis’ widow and nephew said that Yantis did not threaten the deputies with his rifle and that the deputies killed him needlessly. They have served notice that they plan to sue for wrongful death.
After a nearly nine-month criminal investigation, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said July 29 that they would not file either state homicide or federal civil rights charges against the deputies. The two prosecutors said the evidence was too weak to overcome reasonable doubt.
In two long Facebook posts Aug. 11, Wood argued that Yantis conducted himself with a “complete disregard for human life” in the way he handled his rifle after he was called to put down his bull. Wood said Yantis positioned himself so that firing at the bull would have meant firing toward emergency workers and victims at the crash site, and he said Yantis ignored repeated commands to point his gun down.
Wood wrote that he heard Yantis fire his weapon.
“Recognizing Yantis’s obvious threat, or attempt, to murder Deputy (Roland), I raised my rifle toward Yantis’s chest,” Wood wrote. “While I was raising my rifle, I heard a gunshot. I believe the gunshot was from Yantis’s rifle. The next shot I heard was from my own rifle ... I also heard Deputy (Roland’s) handgun firing.”
Yantis had a blood alcohol level of 0.104 percent, the state’s investigative report said.
Donna Yantis and Rowdy Paradis, the rancher’s nephew, witnessed the shooting. Both told investigators that Yantis did not point his weapon at a deputy and that one of the deputies grabbed Yantis and spun him around.
Jack Yantis: Longtime Council logger and rancher shot and killed Nov. 1.
Brian Wood: Adams County deputy, involved in the shooting.
Cody Roland: Ex-Adams County deputy, involved in the shooting.
Steve Phillips: Former Adams County lieutenant and friend of Wood’s. He left Adams County in February and now works for the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office.
Ryan Zollman: Adams County sheriff, elected in 2012.
Justin Williams: McCall police chief.
Josh Johnson: McCall police officer.
Donna Yantis: Wife of Jack Yantis. She witnessed the shooting and had a heart attack at the scene.
Rowdy Paradis: Jack’s nephew. He witnessed the shooting.