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Eye On Boise

No charges against the two deputies in Yantis shooting

Both federal and state authorities announced this morning that no criminal charges will be filed against the two Adams County Sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed rancher Jack Yantis in November as he was preparing to shoot his injured bull after it was hit by a car on Highway 95. Yantis’ family has filed a tort claim against the county as a precursor to a wrongful-death lawsuit seeking damages of $500,000. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said the decision on the criminal charges has no bearing on the civil case, which he said “is handled on a different standard in a different forum.”

Wasden said a thorough investigation found insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and he was therefore ethically bound not to file charges. Nevertheless, he called the shooting “tragic” and “devastating.”

“Think of this: You’re sitting at your dinner table,” he said. “You receive a phone call from law enforcement officers.” That was the call asking Yantis to come deal with his injured bull. “You drive to the end of your driveway. And five minutes later you’re shot dead. Something has gone tragically wrong. But my responsibility as the prosecuting authority in this case is not to determine what has gone tragically wrong. It is to examine whether there is evidence sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s a different function.”

In a formal letter to Adams County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Faulks, Wasden’s office wrote that conflicting statements from the four closest witnesses to the shooting – the two deputies and Yantis’ wife and nephew – “create sufficient doubt to prevent a jury from holding anyone criminally responsible for this extremely unfortunate fatality.”

Wasden said his office received the bulk of the investigation results from the Idaho State Police on March 10, and received the final portion June 8, including ballistics test results and an additional interview with one of the deputies. Evidence showed Yantis fired his rifle once, and a 20-caliber bullet was found at the scene. Twenty other spent shell casings were found, four from Deputy Cody Roland and 16 from Deputy Brian Wood, who had fired several shots at the bull before Yantis arrived on the scene. The bull had eight wounds, though just six were confirmed gunshot wounds, with the others likely from the accident. Yantis was shot 12 times, three times in the abdomen, eight in upper extremities and once in his chest. The chest wound was fatal, and was fired by Wood’s .223 Remington rifle.

The deputies said as an angry Yantis prepared to shoot the bull, he was aiming in the direction of the car accident down the road, where first responders were aiding the severely injured occupants of the car that struck the bull, and where traffic on the highway was being held. Yantis’ wife, Donna, and nephew, Rowdy Paradis, said Yantis’ rifle was aimed safely. There are conflicting reports as to whether there was physical contact between Yantis and a deputy; the deputies said Yantis swung his rifle toward one of them, and they all fired.

Donna Yantis suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized after the shooting.

In addition to the state investigation, federal authorities launched an investigation into possible federal criminal civil rights charges against the two deputies. “Federal prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers acted willfully,” Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson’s office said in a news release this morning. “This high legal standard – one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law – requires proof that the officer acted with the specific intent to do something that the law forbids. It is not enough to show that the officer made a mistake, acted negligently, acted by accident, or even exercised bad judgment. Mr. Yantis’s death is tragic, is a tremendous loss to his family and has had a substantial effect on the Adams County community. However, the evidence does not meet the substantial evidentiary requirements imposed by the criminal law.”

Wasden said both deputies were wearing body cameras, but neither was on; one had a full memory, and the other hadn’t been turned on, reportedly because the deputy said he was responding to a traffic accident, not a critical incident. Both deputies tested negative for drugs and alcohol; Yantis’ blood alcohol content was .104%.

The entire incident lasted only five minutes, Wasden reported; the call to Yantis to come deal with his bull came at 7:22 p.m., and the call to police dispatch from Deputy Roland requesting all units for "shots fired, owner has been shot" came at 7:27 p.m. Wasden's office has posted extensive documentation from the investigation on its website here. There's also a press release, fact sheet, and copy of the formal letter to the Adams County prosecutor online here.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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