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Rancher’s shooting: Adams County leaders call for calm and patience

The Yantis family’s barn just north of Council, as seen Tuesday.
The Yantis family’s barn just north of Council, as seen Tuesday. rbarker@idahostatesman.com

Here are tweets from Tuesday night’s town hall meeting in Council. Watch IdahoStatesman.com for further coverage of the meeting Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Here’s Tuesday’s previous reporting:

The Bible passage that Council Community Church Pastor Les Scheneberger focused on for his Sunday sermon was from Joshua, about the creation of “cities of refuge.”

“Then the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.”

Scheneberger said his church just happened to be on that particular passage this week, but it was appropriate for the tiny Idaho community, still reeling from the Nov. 1 death of a 62-year-old native son at the hands of local sheriff’s deputies.

“We talked about how God was interested in justice and created this (cities of refuge) so there wouldn’t be more innocent bloodshed,” Scheneberger said. “So, yeah, it was very pertinent to what we’re going through.”

The death of rancher Jack Yantis has shocked and polarized the community, which wants to know how something as routine as a car hitting livestock on the highway turned fatal for someone who wasn’t even involved in the crash.

Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman, a member of Scheneberger’s congregation, is hoping to help calm the waters with a town hall meeting Tuesday night at the Council Valley Assembly of God Church. Zollman initially said the meeting is for the community only, but later allowed media to attend.

“What I’m going to talk to the community about is the process that this goes through. A lot of people are wanting to know what’s taking so long,” said Zollman, a 37-year-old who joined the department in 2001 and was elected sheriff in 2012. “I’m going to do the best I can to explain the procedure and steps — why it’s taking this extended period of time — and beg and plead for patience, for the detectives to get their job done.”

Adams County Prosecutor Matthew Faulks said Monday that he asked the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to step in as a special prosecutor on the case, and a spokesman for the AG’s office confirmed the arrangement.

Idaho State Police are investigating. The department Tuesday denied a public records request for any available 911 audio, or for any video from body cameras the deputies may have been wearing. ISP cited Idaho’s public records exemption for materials that are part of a pending investigation.

Zollman previously indicated that two deputies at the scene had body cameras, but ISP investigators have not confirmed that. Investigators have not revealed whether the cameras were even on; a dashboard camera in the deputies’ car was not.

The incident, which happened after dark, began with the crash of a Subaru station wagon on U.S. 95. The vehicle hit Yantis’ bull near the driveway of his ranch, and both people in the car were injured. Yantis was summoned by dispatchers to the scene, as is customary when livestock is injured on the highway.

As Yantis was about to shoot the bull with a rifle to put it out of its misery, a deputy grabbed him and another fired on him, according to two family members who were with Yantis. His wife, Donna, was at the scene and suffered a heart attack after the shooting, the family said. She remained hospitalized at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise on Monday.

The Adams County Sheriff’s office brought in a crisis management team on Friday. Zollman said the team from Nampa provided assistance at no cost to the county.

After the Statesman published a story Sunday with the family’s account of the shooting, which placed blame squarely on the deputies, Zollman said the department received about 30 threatening or derogatory emails and calls. The story has drawn national and international media attention; more than 920,000 people read it on IdahoStatesman.com by Monday night.

“It was not a good Sunday for us,” he said.

Zollman said his concern for the safety of the deputies is why he hasn’t released their names. He said he has no idea when he will do that.

The two deputies are on paid administrative leave for now and are currently outside the county, he said. They are under security being provided by the law enforcement agencies in those undisclosed areas, the sheriff said.

Council Mayor Bruce Gardner, a local veterinarian who was appointed mayor in 2002 and elected three times since then, said Monday that he hadn’t heard that some were planning a “peaceful protest” in Council Saturday.

The City Council’s monthly meeting happens to be Tuesday, he said. What’s on the agenda? Sewer issues, street lighting and typical municipal things.

“It’s just all very routine.” Gardner said.

He said there’s nothing on the agenda about the Yantis case because the shooting happened outside the city’s jurisdiction, about 6 miles north of Council.

“We just have to reserve any kind of judgment until all this shakes out,” the mayor said.

Council doesn’t have a city police department. The city contracts with the sheriff’s office, which also covers the town of New Meadows, about 25 miles north. The department has 10 officers, including the sheriff, undersheriff and a resident officer in Hells Canyon.

Gardner said he’s called out about once a year to put down injured wildlife or livestock, if the owner can’t be found. He said a bull can be humanely dispatched with a handgun, but the target area is small because “bulls’ brains are not very big.”

“You don’t need a big-caliber weapon as long as it’s placed properly,” he said.

Family members said deputies repeatedly shot the bull without killing it, and Yantis was preparing to shoot it in the head with a rifle when the altercation with deputies began. Investigators have said nothing about what happened in those moments, except that Yantis and both deputies fired their weapons.

Gardner has lived in the community about 23 years. He said he has provided livestock and/or pet care services for both Yantis and the two deputies, and he knows their families.

“This just came entirely out of the blue,” the mayor said. “I’m looking forward, as much as anybody, for the truth to come out on this ... I commiserate with everyone involved.

“Things will never be back to normal. But it will be easier once questions have been answered.”

Scheneberger of Council Community Church said a prayer vigil held Sunday night drew 70 to 75 people to the Baptist church, one of a half-dozen churches in the town of about 800. He was encouraged by what he saw.

“There wasn’t bickering or dispute about anything,” Scheneberger said. “There was prayer for the (Yantis) family and for the Sheriff’s Office and EMTs and the people in the accident.”

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

Cynthia Sewell contributed.

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