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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ex-Idaho state trooper sentenced in Coeur d’Alene

Daniel Charles Howard stood before a judge Monday in Coeur d’Alene and took responsibility for crimes that cost him his career as an Idaho state trooper and took a heavy toll on his family.

“I screwed up and I stand here utterly ashamed,” Howard said before he was sentenced for malicious injury to property, petty theft, title fraud and failing to tag a deer he shot.

“I will forever endeavor to correct these wrongs,” he said.

First District Court Judge Benjamin Simpson imposed a suspended prison term of three years and placed Howard on probation. However, Simpson also ordered Howard to serve 120 days in local jail and perform 600 hours of community service.

The judge said he believed Howard acted under considerable stress brought about by his return to duty following a 2011 police shooting in which he killed a woman, followed by Howard learning his wife had an affair with his best friend.

“It’s obvious to me that you were not yourself, you were a broken human being,” Simpson said. He added, “You rehabilitated yourself. A lesser man could not have done that.”

Howard, 48, resigned from the Idaho State Police on Nov. 14 after 19 years on the job. In a plea bargain, he admitted to fraud for using a fictitious name in a title application for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and admitted to misdemeanor possession of a white-tailed deer without a tag.

He also entered an Alford plea to two other charges – felony malicious injury to property and petty theft – acknowledging the evidence could persuade a jury to convict.

The Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office said Howard confronted and threatened to kill his friend, Matthew Wood, in 2013 after his wife told him about her relationship with Wood. Howard later poured syrup in Wood’s vehicles, left him vulgar messages and fired a shotgun at his house, the prosecuting attorney alleged. Howard admitted to some but not all of those acts, and he agreed to pay restitution to Wood.

Investigators also found thousands of rounds of ISP ammunition at Howard’s residence in Athol and noted the ammo had disappeared when they returned weeks later with a search warrant. Howard claimed he kept the ammo at his house for convenience – he was a shooting range officer and lived near the range.

Five people spoke on Howard’s behalf at the sentencing, including his father and his wife, with whom he has reconciled. Many other friends, former co-workers and family members wrote letters to the judge and attended the hearing in support.

Glenn Swearingen, a retired trooper who has known Howard 21 years, called his friend intelligent, philosophical, hardworking and dedicated to family.

“This is not the Dan Howard that I know that has done these things,” Swearingen said.

Several said Howard was different after the 2011 on-duty shooting, when he fired as a fleeing fugitive backed a Jeep into him. He mistakenly shot the female passenger, who died. Howard spent the next nine months on leave and had little contact with the agency or fellow troopers. The shooting was ruled justified by an outside agency and Howard returned to duty but said he never felt the ISP absolved him of wrongdoing.

Dealing with all that, then the shock of the betrayal of his wife and best friend, was too much, friends said.

“He was just in a really dark place,” said Joseph Sullivan, a former ISP trooper who now works for the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane.

Defense attorney Chris Bugbee said Howard was diagnosed with post-traumatic-stress disorder. “He was just falling apart. That’s the simplest way to put it. … He was at rock bottom,” Bugbee said.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Art Verharen asked the judge to impose a five-year prison sentence, saying it’s justified because Howard betrayed the public trust as an officer and because his crimes spanned nine months, requiring a lot of thought and preparation.

Bugbee disputed that characterization. “He was a hurt, damaged person who also just happened to be a police officer,” he said.