The unfolding story of two Middleton police officers and a domestic violence victim who alleges they preyed on her sprouted a new chapter Monday when the woman’s attorney held a news conference to address earlier reports.
Matthew Williams said the woman was vulnerable and additionally victimized while her husband was jailed for more than 50 days on a battery charge that ultimately was reduced to a misdemeanor. He criticized the Idaho State Police investigation into the allegations and the Owyhee County prosecutor’s subsequent finding that there was no basis to pursue criminal charges against Sgt. Steve Walker and Officer Robert Kightlinger.
Prosecutor Douglas Emery announced that decision July 11, and Walker and Kightlinger resigned that day. Officials said they both violated city policies.
Williams filed a tort claim against the city July 6, alleging a wide range of criminal and coercive behavior by the officers, including stalking, bribery, destruction of evidence, witness intimidation and conspiracy. At Monday’s news conference he added “sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult” to the allegations.
All sexual information was redacted from the tort claim as released to the media last week, as was Williams’ allegation that Kightlinger abused his power as a police officer by going to the woman’s home in uniform and trying to convince her to sell him her jailed husband’s guns.
Williams said his client, who admits having sex with Walker, never sought publicity, and he denied reports that the couple made the allegations to help resolve money woes. The tort claim, a necessary precursor to a civil lawsuit, seeks $500,000 from the city. The Statesman generally does not name victims in cases that are sexual in nature.
The woman also exchanged sex-themed texts with Kightlinger, according to the ISP interviews, but Williams said she responded to those texts only because “she thought she was helping with an investigation” into Kightlinger’s behavior.
“The behavior of the officers was predatory in nature, both sexually and otherwise,” Williams said. He said the woman was vulnerable to the officers because her husband was jailed, her house was broken into repeatedly, and she had serious health and family issues.
MAYOR AND PROSECUTOR RESPOND
At the news conference, Williams criticized all of the agencies involved in the investigation. He said the ISP investigative report — released to the media last week with accounts of interviews with his client, both accused officers and Middleton’s police chief — is “weak” and should have included follow-up interviews with his client.
But he reserved his harshest remarks for Middleton Mayor Darin Taylor and prosecutor Emery.
Taylor granted several interviews with the media last week in which Williams said he “immediately began to blame the victim” and minimized the officers’ conduct, but Taylor denied both allegations.
“The city does not condone the officers’ conduct and realizes they crossed the line,” Taylor said Monday. “The city has apologized and desires to make it right with the people who are damaged.”
The mayor said the officers committed “true misconduct” but added the investigation showed that their actions “appear to be invited or enticed by the person making the allegations, and certainly consensual.”
Williams said he plans to file an additional tort claim against the city or amend the existing claim to address the mayor’s actions. He also plans to file a tort claim against Canyon County regarding handling of the domestic violence case and allegations against the Middleton officers. And he said he hopes to hear from other alleged victims of Middleton officers.
As for Emery, Williams said the prosecutor’s letter about his findings included misinformation, including identification of the arresting officer as a Canyon County sheriff’s deputy rather than a Middleton police officer and the assertion, based on the ISP interview with Middleton Chief Brian Zimmerman, that Walker and the woman had a sexual encounter earlier than the domestic incident that led to her husband’s arrest. Walker and the woman both said in their interviews that their first sexual encounter was after her husband’s arrest.
Williams, who served two terms as Valley County prosecutor before going into private practice in 2013, said that information could have influenced Emery’s finding that no charges were called for, and he called the letter “a disgrace.”
“I think he’s a little off-base there,” Emery responded Monday evening, saying Williams has not seen his full report. A prosecutor for more than two decades, he stressed that his findings were necessarily focused on whether the officers’ actions were criminal, not the state of mind or motivation of the woman.
“We’re comparing apples and oranges here,” he said, adding that nothing in his report weighs in on whether there is a basis for a tort claim or, ultimately, a lawsuit against the city.
Williams denied allegations that his client came forward about the officers’ conduct as an attempt to gain leverage to reduce the charge against her husband. Instead, he said, she raised the allegations in an email to a Canyon County prosecutor because she was trying to get someone to look at the domestic violence incident accurately.
The husband was initially arrested on a felony charge of domestic battery in front of children, but after her email the case was conflicted out to the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office and the charge was reduced to misdemeanor battery. The husband pleaded guilty for a sentence of time already served.
The woman filed for divorce early this year but has since withdrawn that filing, Williams said.