Idaho News

Idaho pays nearly $1.3 million to end state police whistleblower case

Idaho State Police whistleblower Brandon Eller during his August 2017 trial at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise. Eller claimed the Idaho State Police retaliated against him after he raised concerns about the investigation of a fatal crash involving an Idaho sheriff’s deputy.
Idaho State Police whistleblower Brandon Eller during his August 2017 trial at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise. Eller claimed the Idaho State Police retaliated against him after he raised concerns about the investigation of a fatal crash involving an Idaho sheriff’s deputy. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Two years ago, an Ada County jury awarded an Idaho State Police investigator $1.5 million in a whistleblower lawsuit he filed against the agency.

Brandon Eller thought the case was over and he could get back to focusing on his ISP job, but the judge reduced the award to $1 million, and both Eller and ISP appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the case finally resolved with the state paying Eller $1.29 million in damages, lost wages and legal fees.

“I am thankful that my family and I can finally focus on our future with this case behind us. Although this has been an extremely stressful undertaking, I close this chapter knowing that the jury’s verdict vindicated not just my rights, but the rights of every government employee in Idaho,“ said Eller, who still works at ISP, in a news release issued Thursday by his attorneys’ firm, Strindberg & Scholnick.

Eller, a crash investigator, filed the whistleblower lawsuit in 2015, claiming that ISP retaliated against him because he testified against another officer in a court hearing. He said the agency also retaliated because he objected to its policy requiring crash investigators to destroy all but the final drafts of their investigation reports.

Following a nine-day trial in August 2017, an Ada County jury awarded Eller $1.5 million in damages and $30,528.97 in lost wages. The district judge reduced the award to $1 million, saying state tort claim law caps judgments against public agencies at $500,000 per occurrence or accident.

In its unanimous May 24 opinion, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the district judge erred in reducing the jury’s award because the state’s whistleblower statute trumps its tort claim statute. There is no cap on whistleblower claims in Idaho.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to Ada County court for a partial new trial regarding damages solely under the Whistleblower Act. That trial had been set for Dec. 10, but to avoid another costly trial, both sides agreed to end the case for $1.29 million.

“Government employees should be I know able to stand up against misconduct and corruption within their agencies,” Eller stated. “With my case over, I hope ISP’s leaders internalize these principles, as I know I will continue to strive to do so each day I wear my badge. Without the whistleblower laws, the people of Idaho are unable to ensure full government accountability.”

An ISP spokesman declined to comment on the case.

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.
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