Editorials

In Yantis shooting, idle body cameras a critical misstep

Wasden answers: What about the body cameras? And other questions.

How many shots? What about inconsistent testimony? What could have been done better? Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden answers questions from the media after he said there is insufficient evidence to convict the two Adams County sheriff’s dep
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How many shots? What about inconsistent testimony? What could have been done better? Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden answers questions from the media after he said there is insufficient evidence to convict the two Adams County sheriff’s dep

We don’t question the “no charge” conclusion Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and his team arrived at Friday, or even the time it took for them to conduct their investigation. But given the lack of definitive evidence, how can any of us know the truth in the Jack Yantis killing?

Which is exactly the problem. The means are available. In fact, Adams County deputies already had been outfitted with body cameras that could have recorded what happened Nov. 1 and helped us avoid all of this uncertainty and anguish.

Instead, a dash camera and body cameras were not deployed.

The AG’s probe faced a dead end because of conflicting witness accounts and missing information — critical information that, perhaps, would have been available to sort things out had the two Adams County deputies’ cameras been on. We might have had video of what transpired during those tragic five minutes along U.S. 95 near Council last November, when Yantis was shot dead after showing up at the scene to deal with a bull the rancher owned that had been struck by a vehicle.

Deputy Cody Roland’s body camera was not activated. Deputy Brian Wood’s body camera was on standby but the memory card was full. Two body cameras — neither operating. One of the vehicles had a dash camera; it wasn’t on.

The Adams County policy on that fateful night was to activate body cameras only for critical incidents — a vague and, in this case, unfortunate circumstance. Since Wasden announced the results of the AG investigation, Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman said that he has altered the policy: “If they’re assisting someone walking across the street, their cameras are on. If they’re having any kind of law enforcement/public contact, then the cameras are on.”

It’s too little, too late.

Like it or not, we live in an age of policing with body cameras and dash cameras. To not deploy them — whether by neglect or choice — should not be a county-by-county or agency-by-agency decision. And it should not be left to an officer’s discretion. Justice demands every available tool.

▪ Our Legislature should work with law enforcement agencies to establish some basic guidelines about when cameras must be turned on and how the data will be processed, preserved and made public.

▪  If cost is a factor in smaller jurisdictions, the Legislature should appropriate money to create a level playing field by subsidizing agencies when needed.

▪ Since all Idaho law enforcement officers must complete Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training, Idaho must include instruction in an open-range state such as ours about how to euthanize wounded livestock on or around our roadways, rather than summon the owner to do it.

We saw the awful outcome when a rancher with a high-powered rifle showed up to a scene where deputies failed to put a bull out of its misery.

Tragedy.

Anything that could have gone wrong the evening of Nov. 1, 2015, did — and we must do our best to make sure it never happens again.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com.

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