Idaho News

No charges in Yantis shooting

Two Adams County sheriff’s deputies will not face criminal charges in the fatal shooting of a 62-year-old rancher, state and federal prosecutors said Friday.

Their announcements ended a nine-month investigation of the death of Jack Yantis on a highway one dark November night when he went to euthanize one of his bulls, which had been hit by a car.

“There is no other way to describe what happened that day as anything but tragic and unfortunate for the Yantis family and the entire community,” Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said. “It is my hope that in the weeks and months ahead, the community can heal and rebuild trust.”

Called to the scene by first-responders to deal with an injured bull, Yantis, a lifelong rancher, was shot by deputies Brian Wood and Cody Roland after he walked down his driveway with a rifle to shoot the bull.

“This (was) a catastrophic five minutes,” Wasden said.

There were conflicting accounts and insufficient evidence to support filing criminal charges, he said.

U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said no audio or video evidence exists. Wood and Roland wore body cameras, but Wood’s camera memory was full and Roland had not turned his on, Olson’s office said in a news release.

Yantis had a blood alcohol level of .104 percent, the state’s investigative report said. A level of .08 percent is considered intoxicated for motorists in Idaho. Wasden told reporters “there’s nothing illegal about that in terms of being at his house.”

The car collided with Yantis’s bull around 6:45 p.m. Nov. 1, a Sunday, on U.S. 95 six miles north of Council, a town of about 800 that’s a two-hour drive north of Boise. The area is open range, where cattle may roam freely.

After Idaho State Police investigated the shooting, Wasden and his staff reviewed 5,300 pages of reports, lab results, witness statements and other materials.

Federal prosecutors conducted their own investigation for possible civil rights charges. They concluded they could not prove either officer acted willfully and unreasonably under the circumstances at the scene, Olson said in a news release.

“It is not enough to show that the officer made a mistake, acted negligently, acted by accident or even exercised bad judgment,” the news release said.

Here’s what prosecutors say happened

A car collided with Yantis’s bull early in the evening on U.S. 95 six miles north of Council, a town of about 800 that’s a two-hour drive north of Boise. The area where the crash occurred is open range, where cattle may roam freely.

Roland and Wood responded, and a dispatcher called Yantis while he was eating dinner to ask him to euthanize the animal.

The injured bull had become aggressive, so Wood shot it but did not kill it. The bull was shot at least six times. Yantis went to the scene, where his wife, Donna, handed him his rifle. Roland and Wood say Jack Yantis gruffly referred to Wood’s rifle and said, “Get that piece of s--- away from my animal,” or something similar.

When Jack Yantis approached the bull, Roland and Wood said, they became concerned that the trajectory of his aim endangered others, so they told him to stop.

At this point, important discrepancies enter the participants’ accounts. Both deputies said Yantis pointed his rifle toward Roland and fired. Both deputies returned fire, striking Yantis 12 times, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Donna Yantis and Rowdy Paradis, the couple’s nephew, said Jack Yantis was aiming his rifle at the back of the bull’s head when one of the deputies grabbed him from behind, swung him around and the other deputy opened fire.

He was struck once in the chest, eight times in his upper extremities and three times in the abdomen.

The wound to the chest, from a .223-caliber Remington semi-automatic rifle fired by Wood, was fatal, the report said. The round entered Yantis’ chest on the right side and traveled upward and to the left. The bullet pierced both lungs, fragmented in the aorta and lodged in his back.

Wasden said it was unclear who shot first. “We honestly don’t know the answer to that question,” he said during a press conference.

Wood fired 16 shots. Roland, armed with a .45-caliber Glock handgun, fired four times.

Investigators also found a .20-caliber round at the scene, and Yantis’ .204-caliber rifle had an empty shell casing in the chamber. An FBI ballistics expert who tested the .20-caliber round could not conclusively establish that the bullet came from Yantis’ rifle. Blood on the round was tested and found to be that of Yantis, the report said.

Both deputies tested negative for drugs and alcohol.

Meanwhile, the two occupants of the Subaru that struck the bull were taken by air ambulance to a Boise hospital. Nampa newlyweds Jack and Doris Garner suffered critical injuries but were back home in Nampa by Thanksgiving.

 
 

The deputies’ accounts

Yantis family members described their version of events to a Statesman reporter a few days after the November shooting.

But Wood’s and Roland’s perspectives have not been publicly available until they were released in a large collection of investigation records Friday.

The deputies told investigators that after Yantis arrived at the scene, Donna Yantis handed her husband his rifle and he was preparing to shoot the animal in the same direction where many bystanders were standing. They said they yelled at Yantis “no, no, no, whoa, whoa, stop, hang on” to keep him from firing.

Wood said he moved toward Yantis from behind to keep him from shooting and reached out with his left hand.

“Wood claims Jack then stepped back and swung the muzzle of his rifle across Wood’s belly and, as a result, Wood twice commanded Jack to point his rifle down,” wrote Jason Slade Spillman, chief of Wasden’s prosecution section, in an 11-page letter to Adams County Prosecutor Matthew Faulks.

Wood said Yantis then shoved his rifle forward and toward Roland’s chest. He said he heard a gunshot and believed it came from Yantis’ gun because of his motion, but wasn’t positive Yantis fired first.

Wood said he fired at Yantis “as fast as he could.”

Roland said he saw Wood reach toward Yantis with his left hand, but was not sure whether the deputy grabbed the rifle or pushed it. He said Yantis shoved Wood sideways and Wood hopped to the side on his right foot after his left leg was flung into the air.

Legal hurdles

Wasden said Friday that his office was “ethically bound not to file charges,” because he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the deputies had violated state any Idaho homicide statute. “I’m not saying the actions by the deputies were justifiable, nor that they were not justifiable,” he said.

Wasden released to the public the investigative file compiled by the Idaho State Police and prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Criminal Division, as well as letters sent Friday to the Adams County prosecutor and attorneys for the Yantis family. The documents are available for viewing online.

Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman said he learned about the decisions not to file charges from a Facebook posting by the Idaho Statesman shortly after 9 a.m. He expressed frustration with prosecutors for choosing to release the news Friday, when much of the town was at the fair and rodeo.

“This is an unnecessary distraction that we would like to have avoided,” he said.

His department’s thoughts and prayers are with all involved, the Yantis family and the deputies, he said.

“It didn’t matter which way this went, there was no good outcome,” he said while standing outside the sheriff’s office in Council.

No decision has been made on whether the two deputies will return to work or when, Zollman said. He said they will have to be cleared psychologically, a standard protocol at all law enforcement agencies.

“There is a process. It will be weeks before that decision is made, which will be based on many factors,” Zollman said.

The Yantis family will not be granting any interviews, according to their attorney, Chuck Peterson.

“They are disappointed,” he said.

Peterson said he was not surprised by the Attorney General’s and U.S. Attorney’s findings.

“There are four witnesses,” he said. “Two of them say one thing happened, another two say something else happened. … Proceeding in a criminal case in view of the differing accounts of what happened up there would have been difficult, but I certainly do not think it would have been impossible.

“Besides, isn’t that what juries are for? To make those tough calls? The standard of proof in front of a grand jury is probable cause, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Next the family and its legal team will start poring over the more than 5,000 pages of documents, nearly 600 photographs and 30-plus hours of audio recordings in the investigatory file.

“That’s the next task,” said Peterson. “We will review the report and decide where we go in terms of protecting the Yantis family civil rights,” he said.

“The thing that has not changed is that both Donna Yantis and Rowdy Paradis say that the officers fired and killed Jack Yantis without any provocation.”

Through information provided by their attorneys, wife Donna Yantis and her nephew, Rowdy Paradis, told the Statesman last fall that they saw the shooting and believed it was unjustified. Donna, who said she was thrown to the ground and handcuffed, suffered a heart attack soon after. She was hospitalized for a while.

An attorney for the deputies said last fall that the family’s account is “not accurate in numerous material respects.”

Roland, via a Facebook message request for an interview, responded: “so you can spin it, sensationalize it, twist the wording, then put it out there as a completely inaccurate article like you’ve done for 8 months? nice try.”

Wood did not respond to a Friday request for an interview.

About 500 people attended a memorial service for Yantis at Council High School. The 1971 Council High grad was remembered as a standout on the high school football team, a hardworking rancher and devoted family man.

The deputies involved — Wood and Roland — have been on paid leave since the incident, and they are both still living in the area, Zollman said. The sheriff wanted to bring them back to work at the small department while the investigation proceeded, but the county’s insurer advised against it.

Law enforcement officers in Idaho have shot and killed at least 54 people in the line of duty in the past 15 years. Officers were cleared in 50 of those deaths; four remain under investigation.

On March 10, about four months after the shooting, the Idaho State Police turned its report over to Wasden’s office.

Critics among the public questioned the length of the investigation, and occasional protests and rallies continued into May.

The prosecutors’ decision not to file charges does not prohibit the family from suing. In April, the Yantis family filed a tort claim against the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Wood and Roland, citing wrongful death, assault, false imprisonment and emotional distress. A tort claim is a precursor required by Idaho law to filing a lawsuit against a county or government agency.

Peterson said the clearing the deputies of any criminal charges does not change anything with regard to the civil case, which likely will be filed in federal court.

Protests and national attention

The fatal shooting sparked public outcry. Critics of the deputies’ actions organized online, including through a Facebook page called “Justice for Jack.” Protesters carrying “Justice for Jack” signs marched through the streets of Council in November and in March, and visited the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in May.

The officer-involved shooting drew attention from national media, including the New York Times. The Adams County Sheriff’s Office was deluged with angry, threatening calls and emails. A crisis management team was brought in to help the department continue to operate, and community leaders called for calm and patience during the investigation.

Questions arose as to whether the shooting was caught on video — from a vehicle dash camera or from deputies’ body cameras. Wasden said there is no body camera or dash camera video. Zollman has said the dash camera on a police vehicle at the scene wasn’t on, and he turned over the deputies’ body cameras to Idaho State Police investigators without looking at them.

Tempers flared at a standing-room-only town hall meeting that Zollman held in November at a Council church, but the proceedings concluded peacefully — even though many left unsatisfied with the sheriff’s answers.

About the deputies

The sheriff initially held off on releasing the names of the deputies involved in the shooting, citing concerns for their safety. On Nov. 30, he confirmed those names. There is no national standard for releasing the names of officers involved in shootings or other serious incidents.

Deputy Wood had worked for two law enforcement agencies before being hired at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office.

According to state Peace Officer Standards and Training records, the McCall Police Department terminated Wood’s employment in November 2011 after 78-year-old Rodney Whaley sued Wood and the city, claiming that Wood had used excessive force during a traffic stop. A judge dismissed an obstruction charge filed against Whaley after the stop; Whaley’s federal lawsuit was settled in April 2012. No details of the settlement were available in public records.

Wood was hired by the Adams County sheriff in June 2013.

Wood’s father, Steve, told the Statesman the Yantis shooting weighed heavily on his son, but his son felt his actions that night were justified. Soon after that, on Dec. 7, Brian Wood went on Facebook to express his feelings:

“The last five weeks have been the most trying of my life. I’d elaborate, but I’ve come to realize I don’t need to because I’m not experiencing this alone, I’m not hurting alone. You have shown me that you love me, that you trust me, and that you are hurting with me,” the message began.

Online rumors have continued to swirl around Wood this year. A leaked internal Ada County Sheriff’s Office bulletin from January said Wood’s in-laws in Meridian had requested extra patrols during a separation between Wood and his wife. By May, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office had not had any related calls for service to the addresses mentioned in the bulletin. Adams Sheriff Zollman said the information had come in part from a former Adams County lieutenant acting on his own.

Deputy Roland had worked for six Idaho law enforcement agencies in the past 15 years, joining Adams County full time just four months before the shooting.

He previously worked for the Canyon and Valley county sheriff’s offices and the Gooding, Parma and Wilder police departments.

In August 2007, Valley County Sheriff Patti Bolen presented Roland with a presidential commendation for volunteer work he did while with the Gooding Police Department.

Yantis had a prior run-in with sheriff’s deputies in the late 1990s, according to court records. Little information on that incident, which resulted in a resisting and obstructing charge, was available in the court file.

The case and this year’s elections

Zollman, who was elected sheriff in 2012, is up for re-election in November. He’s filed to run again as a Republican, according to the clerk’s office.

This fall, he’ll be challenged by Council resident Thomas Watts, a former Nevada sheriff’s deputy who had been considering a run for public office for about a year.

“Long before the shooting,” he told the Statesman in April. “That had no effect on it.”

Watts, who moved to Adams County in 2012, has filed as an independent. His work experience includes two decades as a deputy with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department in Nevada and private security for mining companies.

He said he wants to build trust between the department and residents, and his plan to do that would include having deputies interact with kids at schools and on the street. He also wants to get more highly-trained people in positions that pay $14 an hour by recruiting retired officers from other states.

The sheriff’s office has 10 officers, including the sheriff, undersheriff, seven road deputies and a resident deputy in Hells Canyon.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller. Statesman Business Editor David Staats contributed.

Key participants

Jack Yantis: Longtime Council logger and rancher.

Brian Wood: Adams County deputy, one of two involved in the shooting.

Cody Roland: Adams County deputy, one of two involved in the shooting.

Donna Yantis: Wife of Jack Yantis. She witnessed the shooting and had a heart attack at the scene.

Rowdy Paradis: Jack’s nephew who went down to the crash site to help his uncle kill the bull.

Joe Rumsey: A family friend and veterinarian who was at Yantis’ house when the car hit the bull.

Ryan Zollman: Adams County sheriff, elected in 2012.

Jack and Doris Garner: Driver and passenger in the Subaru that hit the Yantis’ bull. The Nampa newlyweds suffered critical injuries in the Nov. 1 crash, but were back home by Thanksgiving.

Kiefer: Jack Yantis’ bull.

-Cynthia Sewell

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