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‘A painful gut check’: Boise leaders condemn ex-captain’s ties to racist posts

Nov. 23, 2022 Updated Wed., Nov. 23, 2022 at 3:29 p.m.

By Ian Max Stevenson and Alex Brizee Idaho Statesman

Shock waves ran through Boise over the weekend, as locals learned that a long-time and high-ranking member of the Boise Police Department was scheduled to participate in a conference hosted by an organization with white supremacist views.

Retired Boise police Capt. Matthew Bryngelson was scheduled to speak at a conference put together by an organization, American Renaissance, that has authored posts claiming people of color are less intelligent and cause crime. The 24-year veteran of the Boise Police Department appears to have authored posts linking Black, Hispanic people and refugees to crime under a pseudonym while serving as the captain of the patrol division.

But a community leader for a Treasure Valley Latino advocacy group said she wasn’t surprised.

Ruby Mendez, a co-director of PODER, an immigrant rights group, told the Idaho Statesman she believed people with extreme views have been emboldened in the political environment of recent years, and that the revelation was a step backward in the relationship between police and Latinos in Idaho.

“Huge distrust,” she said of the effect Bryngelson’s posts could have on the Latino community. “I think it just really amplifies the main reason why there wasn’t any trust in the beginning.”

Mendez, who identifies as Latinx, a gender-neutral term for the Latino community, said she knows Boise has been working to address issues with Latino people. The department has a Hispanic community liaison, along with individual liaisons for the LGBTQ, refugee, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Boise police also have an NAACP and mental health liaison.

“It’s still very troubling to see a story coming out like this,” Mendez said, noting that Latino people in Idaho, including those who are undocumented, often fear being pulled over by police.

Mendez fears Bryngelson’s beliefs could have affected his policing. She also said she wants the department’s complaint process to be more accessible, and to make sure citizen complaints are addressed.

“There are still concerns about biased policing, racial profiling and how that racial bias really does affect or go into the Boise Police Department,” she said. “Racism is very much real in Idaho.”

Phillip Thompson, executive director of the Idaho Black History Museum, told the Statesman he thinks a small percentage of the country has views like this, so any organization needs to be “vigilant” about removing such people.

“This is kind of like a painful gut check,” said Thompson, who is Black. “Not only are they all there, but they’re going to move covertly and surreptitiously and work their way up the ranks … still holding those beliefs.”

He added that the “absolute majority” of officers are not white supremacists, and that people should “fight the urge to look at this as an indication of a huge problem.”

The Idaho Office For Refugees also told the Statesman in an email that they “stand with Idahoans in calling out” Bryngelson’s “dehumanizing statements.” Spokesperson Holly Beech told the Statesman in an email that the office has worked closely with the Boise Police Department through training and the refugee liaison to “build relationships and deepen understanding,” and that it has made an important difference.

“People who came to Idaho through refugee resettlement had to do so because they were dehumanized in their home communities, their rights were violated and their safety threatened,” the organization wrote in a statement. “Idahoans for decades have come together to make sure they have a place to belong and feel safe again. And that’s what we continue to build upon as a community.”

Bryngelson’s posts were revealed on social media nearly two months after Boise police Chief Ryan Lee resigned, partly due to complaints from at least nine officers that included Bryngelson. Lee is Chinese American.

In a video on the American Renaissance online page, Bryngelson sat down with the website’s editor Jared Taylor and the former captain characterized Black people as criminals whose crimes “the sound human mind can’t even comprehend … let alone carry them out.”

The video and one of the blog posts were removed from the website, and Bryngelson did not return multiple phone calls or texts from the Statesman in the past week.

Boise City Council condemns Bryngelson

In interviews with the Statesman, members of the Boise City Council roundly condemned the views espoused in the posts, and expressed support for Mayor Lauren McLean’s decision to investigate whether anyone in the police department advanced “racist ideology.”

“I am beyond disappointed that this person was allowed to serve as a police officer for as long as he did,” Council Member Patrick Bageant told the Statesman. “The statements I saw in that video have no place in our city, and if he believes the things that he said, I hope he moves out of town.”

“It’s horrifying to think that we had a police captain who holds these kinds of views” and “was sharing them with others and essentially inciting others to join him,” Council President Elaine Clegg said.

“I can’t as a City Council member look my constituents in the eye with a straight face and say we’re protecting them if we’re not sure that we have a police department that’s doing that,” she said. “So I’ve got to ensure that we are.”

Holli Woodings, Council President Pro Tem, said in a statement on Twitter that “bigotry and racism have no place in Boise.” In a text message, Council Member Luci Willits said she was “offended and shocked” by Bryngelson’s comments, and does not believe his views represent the department.

Lisa Sánchez, the only person of color on the council, also spoke out against Bryngelson’s actions but was not shocked by his behavior. Sánchez, who is Mexican American, told the Statesman by phone that Idaho has a documented history of racism – and that when people of color speak out, people need to believe them.

Sánchez said she hopes the investigation process is as transparent as possible.

“We do live in a state and in a city that is predominantly white, and I think at times it is difficult for white people to actually see the evidence of discrimination until it is something this overt and this extreme,” Sánchez said. “The reality is that there are degrees of white supremacy that people like myself live with every day.”

Boise police Chief Lee

resigns amid complaints

Bryngelson was one of several officers who complained about former Chief Lee’s leadership, which, along with management concerns, led Mayor McLean to ask for his resignation. Bryngelson was a key source in a KTVB article that was published the day before McLean announced Lee’s departure.

McLean later said the release of the complaints had been “unprecedented,” and said the public nature of the discontent, coupled with issues with Lee’s management style, led her to ask him to leave.

The controversy over Bryngelson has prompted speculation that some of the animus toward Lee may have been racial, or motivated by progressive policing reforms rather than by his conduct.

Lee led the department through protests following George Floyd’s death and has pushed for faster release of body camera footage.

“I don’t know if it was racially motivated or if it was motivated by a more progressive view of policing, or if it was motivated from somewhere else,” Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton said. “But it’s not hard for me to see why people might be able to draw that conclusion.”

Thompson, the director of the Idaho Black History Museum, told the Statesman he sees a national trend of mayors trying to change policing without giving their chiefs enough support.

“If you’re actually going to do these things that we know are going to ruffle some feathers, expect that to be the case but be willing to fight the good fight to get it done,” Thompson said.

Thompson is a member of the department’s Community Advisory Panel, which assists the chief of police in developing strategies and improving trust. He said mayors should give their chiefs more tools to implement policing changes. It could have been a combination of old guard resistance to changes, the fact that Lee moved to Boise from Portland, and the fact that he is Chinese American that “incentivized and kind of gathered up these people who had a concerted effort to get rid of this chief.”

The Statesman has not been able to identify the nine officers who complained about Lee, but according to a Feb. 4 email, which outlines the allegations, most of those officers had been with the department for more than a decade.

Thompson said he doesn’t think an outside investigation of the department makes sense, because it is unlikely to be fruitful.

“It’s an executive approach to a problem that you can’t fix in that way,” he said. “Why would I want to talk to some foreign entity that you’re bringing in to investigate me and my fellow officers?”

In a Monday statement, McLean said she would find “an independent investigator with deep experience in this type of investigation” to determine whether “any BPD resources were used by Bryngelson, or others in the department, to advance racist ideology” and to see if people’s rights in the community were violated.

“That this officer served in this department for two decades is appalling,” she said. “This is no time to consider circling the wagons, and I will not tolerate anyone who tries to impede this investigation in any way.”

Law enforcement leaders support investigation

Boise Police Cpl. Brian Holland, a spokesperson for the department’s union, told the Statesman by phone Tuesday that he knew Bryngelson both professionally and personally, but that he “never saw this and it shocks me to my core.”

Holland, who is Black and has been with the Boise Police Department for nearly 20 years, criticized statements made by McLean on Monday and said union members feel “wholeheartedly divided” from McLean. He added that he felt McLean was associating the entire department with Bryngelson’s actions, when he said it wasn’t even a thought among union members to not comply with McLean’s investigation.

“It’s absolutely unfair to our union members who go out and work … so it just puts us all in one basket,” Holland said, referring to McLean’s comments. He pointed out that Bryngelson wasn’t a union member, and was promoted to captain under McLean’s administration and Chief Lee.

Bryngelson has not been part of the union since at least 2019, as officers above the rank of sergeant cannot be in the union. He was promoted to the role of sergeant in 2009, to lieutenant in 2019 and to captain in 2021, according to Boise police. He became Patrol Division captain in April 2021, and hosted the department’s podcast series this year.

In response to the union’s criticism of McLean’s statements, spokesperson Maria Week told the Statesman that it was McLean’s intention “to make her expectations clear.”

The Treasure Valley Fraternal Order of Police also supports McLean’s investigation and called Bryngelson’s behavior “revolting.”

“Bryngleson’s thoughts, beliefs and actions are unbecoming of a law enforcement officer of any rank, and they are devastating to our membership and our community relationships,” the order said in a statement Sunday evening.

In a phone interview with the Statesman on Monday, former president Joe Andreoli, who is a Boise police sergeant, said the order hasn’t had a chance to speak as a leadership, but he would urge officers and department leaders to comply with McLean’s investigation.

Andreoli spoke to the Statesman as a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and said his views do not reflect those of the Boise Police Department.

“If there are any other people within the Treasure Valley or Boise Police Department that share those views, I think it needs to be brought out immediately,” Andreoli said. “And the department and the community needs to move on and begin the healing process.”

Bryngelson was a long-standing member of the order but ended his membership when he retired, Andreoli said.

Gary Raney, a former Ada County sheriff who now consults for other law enforcement agencies, concurred with the same sentiments, adding that he was “shocked” and “disgusted.”

“It was like he had to have been a shapeshifter in law enforcement,” Raney said by phone. “To represent the police department and represent the ethics of the police department in this city, but then to have this alter ego that was so subversive to what’s right and wrong.”

While Raney said he would be surprised to learn of any other officers that share Bryngelson’s view, he applauded McLean’s investigation and called it “good due diligence.” He added that he understands it is not an absolute that Bryngelson was the only officer.

“This individual aside, those beliefs, that stereotyping, that racism has no place in law enforcement – in Idaho or anywhere else,” Raney said.

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