The mind’s fallibility under stress is evident in accounts four eyewitnesses gave after Adams County sheriff’s deputies shot Council rancher Jack Yantis.
All four witnesses — Donna Yantis, Jack’s wife; Rowdy Paradis, their nephew; and deputies Brian Wood and Cody Roland — gave statements that, in at least some details, conflicted with the others. Wood and Roland, who fired a total of 20 shots during the incident, both admitted they weren’t entirely certain about everything they saw.
That’s normal, say two men who might know as much about officer-involved shootings as anyone: former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney and Pierce Murphy, who was Boise’s first police ombudsman and now handles similar duties in Seattle.
“We tend to become hyper-focused on the source of the threat or the thing that we find most scary,” Murphy said. “We may be perceiving other data in terms of what we hear and see, but we’re not retaining it because we’re in a mode of hyper-vigilance.”
This is why eyewitness testimony, unless accompanied by some other evidence, often isn’t enough to convict someone.
“The mind does some interesting things. And that doesn’t mean they’re dishonest, but they’re inaccurate,” Raney said. “It is not unusual at all, particularly within many hours right after the incident, to not have clear recollection because of what the emotions and the adrenaline and the psychology does to the human mind.”
Thank God I’ve never had to pull the trigger, but I’ve been as close as you can possibly be, and it’s disturbing.
Former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden repeatedly spoke about the witness conflicts Friday when he announced his decision not to pursue criminal charges against Wood and Roland.
“There were four critical witnesses at this scene. Their statements do not coincide with each other and sometimes they do not coincide with themselves,” Wasden said. “What we are left with, from a prosecutorial perspective, is we have four witnesses who each have varied stories to tell, and the question is, does that add up to proof beyond a reasonable doubt? The answer is, no, it does not.”
Think for a moment about this case: You are sitting at your dinner table. You receive a phone call from law enforcement officers. You drive to the end of your driveway and five minutes later you are shot dead. Something has gone tragically wrong.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden
Some degree of conflicting testimony is expected, Murphy said. It’s the investigator’s job to resolve the conflicts.
“As an investigator, if everyone has the same story, I get a little suspicious,” he said.
Raney also said the total number of shots the deputies fired isn’t necessarily unusual. He said knowing the sequence of shots and how each person reacted is almost impossible because no video footage of the incident exists.
If an officer perceives a lethal threat, Raney said, he or she is trained to fire on that threat until it’s “neutralized” — though not necessarily dead. Officers’ weapons training takes hold in these moments, even if the memory doesn’t recall what’s happening.
“It’s very, very common in officer-involved shootings for them to say, ‘I think I pulled the trigger three or four times,’ and in fact, they emptied a complete magazine and maybe even reloaded,” Raney said. “Those little misperceptions are very common because of what happens in the human mind when there is such a rush of emotion.”
Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell contributed.
Adams County Sheriff’s deputies carry their own handguns, because the department does not supply them, Sheriff Ryan Zollman said. Deputies can also use rifles; agency policy requires all deputies’ service weapons to meet county specifications.
Here’s a look at the three weapons that were fired in the Nov. 1 incident:
Jack Yantis’ rifle
Shots fired: one
Rifles with bores this small are designed for target shooting and small game, such as coyotes, and would not be good for killing big animals like the bull Yantis was preparing to put down. However, Former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney said Yantis might have been able to put the bull down if he knew exactly where to shoot and has the skill to pull it off.
Brian Wood’s rifle
Shots fired: 16
Wood told Idaho State Police Detective Jason Horst that Adco Firearms, an upscale gun equipment dealer based in Ohio, built the rifle for him. It had a 10.5-inch barrel made by Oregon manufacturer Noveske, and a holographic red dot sight made by EOTech of Michigan. Wood also carried a .40-caliber Glock handgun that he did not fire Nov. 1.
Cody Roland’s pistol
Shots fired: four
This is a standard-issue law-enforcement sidearm. In fact, many of the Boise Police Department’s officers carry Glock .45s, Chief Bill Bones said Friday, though the department has recently begun to mix in Glock 9 mm handguns. The Adams County Sheriff’s Office did not supply Roland’s sidearm, Sheriff Ryan Zollman said.
Source: Idaho Attorney General, Idaho State Police