Canyon County

Tort claim alleges long list of misbehavior by Middleton officers

A Middleton couple claims two police officers “engaged in unethical, predatory, criminal and/or exploitive behavior” during a domestic battery investigation and prosecution, according to a tort claim filed with the city.

The claim, filed by Meridian attorney Matthew Williams last week, contends the officers broke criminal and civil laws, but an Idaho State Police investigation and review by the Owyhee County Prosecutor’s Office resulted in Prosecutor Douglas Emery saying the criminal allegations were unfounded.

Middleton Police Sgt. Steve Walker and officer Robert Kightlinger did, however, violate city policies, Mayor Darin Taylor said, and both men resigned from the police force Monday.

“At least one of the criminal allegations my clients have asserted in the tort claim against the city of Middleton is sexual in nature,” Williams said, but no specific information to that effect is included in a redacted version of the tort claim acquired by the Statesman on Tuesday.

The Statesman generally does not name alleged victims in cases that are sexual in nature.

“Based on the information the city has and prior to consulting with the insurance carrier, the city is inclined to deny the claim,” Mayor Taylor said Tuesday. He noted the Owyhee prosecutor’s decision to not pursue charges against the officers and said he believes the claim includes false allegations.

If the tort claim is rejected, the couple will be free to file a lawsuit against the city. The claim seeks damages of $500,000.

Williams said his clients also plan to file a tort claim against Canyon County for the actions of county employees, in part related to prosecution of the domestic violence case.

According to online court records, the husband named in the tort claim was arrested by Middleton police in January on a felony charge of battery in the presence of a child, and he spent more than 50 days in the Canyon County jail before pleading guilty to misdemeanor battery and disturbing the peace in May. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail but was given credit for time served, and the remaining 129 days were suspended.

While the husband was in jail, the claim alleges, Middleton police went to see the wife “under the pretenses of official business and/or asserting police authority.”

Some characterizations of the officers’ conduct were redacted from the copy of the claim released to the Statesman, but other alleged conduct includes “harassment, stalking, ... destruction of evidence, computer crime, intimidation of a witness, unlawful imprisonment, malicious prosecution, falsifying evidence, bribing a witness, using public position for personal gain, wiretapping and criminal conspiracy.”

Prosecutor Emery said in a news release Tuesday that he reviewed allegations including bribery or corruption.

The seven-page tort claim as released by the city Tuesday omitted two long sections representing about two-thirds of a page each, plus several short portions. Taylor said the redactions were limited to information that would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” for the couple and the officers. In the claim, attorney Williams wrote that public disclosure of protected personal and health information could cause further damages or another potential tort claim.

Sgt. Walker and officer Kightlinger made up nearly half of Middleton’s police department, which the city established in late 2014 after years of contracting with the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office. The two officers had been on administrative leave since May. Now that they have resigned, the city plans to fill the two open positions.