State law enforcement officials are investigating claims that Benewah County sheriff’s deputies used excessive force during a routine traffic stop and a boat inspection.
A citizens group - led by a former St. Maries police officer and deputy - alleges that in June deputies on two occasions unnecessarily roughed up people who were not violent.
Two of the three alleged victims were ages 60 and 68.
Both incidents involved Scott Steele, who started as a full-time deputy on June 1, the day of the first incident.
The group, Citizens for Better Law Enforcement, wants the attorney general to get involved.
It’s the topic on the tongues of everyone in town - except those who actually were there. On the advice of attorneys, witnesses won’t talk about it.
But business owners are upset. They say aggressive deputies will scare off tourists. Some boaters claim they’re afraid to use the St. Joe River.
About 30 people joined the citizens group. And about a dozen jammed into the Benewah County commissioners’ office July 14 to protest.
“We’d like to see (deputies) be friends and neighbors, not someone to be afraid and intimidated of,” said Dan Felton, a car salesman.
“I hate to be intimidated by my own tax money,” said Gene Peet, who owns a company that makes machines that dry soggy shoes.
The Idaho Criminal Investigation Bureau is looking into the claims at the request of Benewah County Sheriff Joe Blackburn.
“I just wanted it investigated by an outside agency,” Blackburn said. Because the alleged victims are facing charges and awaiting trial, the deputies involved aren’t allowed to make statements.
Prosecutor Douglas Payne said he couldn’t release the deputies’ reports because the cases are pending.
“I hope the people will be patient and let the police have their day in court before they make up their minds,” Payne said.
Commissioner Jack Buell told protestors he’s spoken with the sheriff, but said there’s only so much commissioners can do. “It’s a problem,” Buell said, adding that he’s heard many complaints.
Because of their upcoming court dates, the alleged victims - Herb Glidden, 68, Don Hanks, 60, and Ed Dohrman, 28 - won’t talk. And their lawyers are saying little.
“We’re going to lie low for awhile and begin trial preparations,” said Hanks’ attorney, Peter Hutchinson.
But before attorneys got involved, a weekly newspaper and John Adams, a former St. Maries policeman and deputy, interviewed witnesses and the men who claim to have been beaten.
Glidden’s June 1 encounter was the first. He told Adams and his attorney, Craig Mossman, that he was driving along the St. Joe Road near St. Maries when Deputy Steele pulled him over.
Glidden was suspected of driving with a suspended license. Department of Transportation records show that because of a drunken driving conviction, Glidden’s license had been revoked from Feb. 6 through June 6. But he still had a permit allowing him to drive for work reasons.
Steele told Glidden to put his keys on the roof of his truck and to get out. He was reportedly told to get on his knees, then his belly, but Glidden refused to do either.
Steele is accused of pouncing on him, grinding his face into some gravel and dousing him with pepper spray. A reserve trainee - who is not supposed to carry a weapon - then reportedly pointed a rifle at Glidden.
Sheriff Blackburn confirmed trainee Dennis Brudeseth handled the rifle. He said reserve trainees don’t normally carry weapons, but because Glidden threatened to shoot officers during a drunken driving arrest years earlier, Steele needed someone to cover him.
“I think it was unfortunate that the reservist was riding with him when it took place,” Blackburn said, but added that “it was a high-risk stop.”
Adams said Glidden may be cantankerous, but he’s not actually dangerous. “He’s a verbal person, but he’s not a fighting person,” Adams said.
Glidden is charged with driving without privileges and resisting or obstructing officers.
“I believe those charges will be resolved,” Mossman said.
Glidden’s back and shoulder were hurt when he was taken down, Mossman said. And “getting maced in the face is not pleasurable.”
The later incident happened June 22, when Don Hanks was pulling his boat out of the St. Joe and onto his trailer at Aqua Park in St. Maries.
Witnesses, Dohrman and Hanks have said it happened like this: A deputy asked to inspect the boat but found nothing wrong.
Another deputy then asked Hanks to take a sobriety test. Hanks didn’t want to become a spectacle, and asked if he could take the test where others at Aqua Park couldn’t see. The deputy agreed.
Then Hanks’ friend Dohrman began yelling - he wanted to know where the deputy was taking Hanks. That’s when another deputy - again, Scott Steele - allegedly told Dohrman to shut up and turn around.
Dohrman supposedly turned away but still was complaining. Then Steele and some others allegedly pounced on him.
Hanks turned around to see what was going on, and allegedly was hit in the back. Next, Hanks has said, Steele shoved one side of Hanks’ face into the cement, struck the other side, then blinded him with pepper spray.
Both men suffered visible facial scrapes. Hanks has complained of a sore back, arms and legs.
Adams said witnesses he interviewed claim the men weren’t fighting back, but that they did swear at deputies.
Hanks is charged with operating a watercraft under the influence, battery and resisting and obstructing an officer. Dohrman is accused of battery and resisting and obstructing an officer.
“I’m not out to hurt the sheriff’s department,” Adams said. “I’m out to prevent them hurting somebody or killing someone needlessly.”
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