Police release memo critiquing Statesman story

In response to an Idaho Statesman public record request, the Idaho State Police publicly released an internal memo written by two top officers that analyzes a May 31 Statesman story chronicling a series of lawsuits filed against ISP.

The memo says the story is one-sided because it quotes from ongoing lawsuits to which the agency says it can’t respond. Such incomplete reporting, the memo says, is “inflammatory and misleading.”

“All members of the Idaho State Police and I take allegations of misconduct very seriously,” Col. Ralph Powell said in a release that accompanied the memo. “While our command staff cannot comment or answer questions on specific allegations contained in pending litigation, we have a duty to assure the public that their trust is not misplaced in our employees and our agency.”

The memorandum is a public document under Idaho’s Public Records Act, ISP said, although one part was redacted because it contained personnel information exempt from disclosure under the law.

Powell and other Idaho State Police leaders said before and since the May 31 story they could not comment on the specifics of the allegations because of the pending lawsuits.

“This memo contains information that is currently not available to the public due to pending litigation,” Lt. Col. Ked Wills and Major Steve Richardson wrote in their joint June 4 memo to Powell.

In the seven-page analysis, Wills and Richardson offer their explanations to various allegations raised in the lawsuits and detailed in the story. Their responses raise more questions about whether ISP enforced a July 2013 directive to staff that draft crash reports be destroyed.

On June 9, ISP told the Statesman it did not enforce the directive, which was a misunderstanding about the distinction between draft and peer-reviewed reports. “It is ISP’s policy to retain all peer-reviewed reports,” spokesperson Teresa Baker said. Crash reports are peer-reviewed reports.

But in the memo, written just a few days prior, Wills and Richardson say instead that the statement that a prosecuting attorney should not have received two approved peer-reviewed crash reports “is accurate.”

“There has been a longstanding practice within ISP … that draft copies of reports are not kept but are destroyed once the final report is complete.”

State police employees say in their lawsuits they were retaliated against for opposing changing a final crash report to cast blame away from a Payette County sheriff’s deputy involved in a fatal crash.

But in the ISP analysis, the authors say the report was revised because it contained incomplete or inaccurate information.

The memo also says a state police officer testified for the defense in the fatal crash case because he was subpoenaed; the prosecutor in the case said the officer volunteered to testify for the defense and was not subpoenaed.

The conclusion to the memo reads, “As we examined both the article and the editorial, it became obvious to me that reporting one side of an issue without waiting for the other side to be able to present information to the court of public opinion would not be accepted in other parts of our society. How different would our area feel, for example about the Boise State football team if all we ever knew about them was what was said by the competitor well in advance of the game, knowing that the results of the actual game would not be reported until several months away, if at all.

“I think society would demand that type of reporting not be accepted, but yet for some reason, we allow this type of reporting to occur when the Idaho Statesman knows full well that not only can ISP not provide the information to complete the story, but that we will be able to do so through court documents in the near future. Rather than wait until the entire story is available, these types of articles are inflammatory and misleading.”