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Boise leaders picked an interim police accountability director. Here is what she’ll do

Feb. 3, 2023 Updated Fri., Feb. 3, 2023 at 4:53 p.m.

By Alex Brizee and Ian Max Stevenson Idaho Statesman

In the fallout of firing the civilian police oversight director, Boise leaders plan to reform the rules that govern the office before selecting a new director.

Mayor Lauren McLean and council members appointed Nicole Schafer as the interim director for the city’s police oversight office last month after the former director, Jesus Jara, was fired for allegedly watching police body cameras without authorization. Jara has since sued the city, arguing he was targeted because he looked into complaints against former Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee.

Schafer is expected to oversee the office until McLean appoints and City Council confirms a permanent director, which is supposed to happen within three months, mayoral spokesperson Maria Weeg said. But it could take longer, depending on the candidates.

“My priorities are doing what the mayor and the City Council need me to do as the interim,” Schafer told the Idaho Statesman during an in-person interview. “It’s a go-between position, making sure that everything is still happening as it should and getting ready for a permanent director to be named.”

Schafer will continue to work within the city attorney’s office as the criminal prosecution senior manager while working as the police oversight director, and she said her two roles are “basically separated.”

In her role with the attorney’s office, Schafer said she trains and supervises 16 attorneys and helps them prepare for trial. The attorney’s office prosecutes criminal misdemeanors and infractions for Boise and Meridian.

“Nicole is more than qualified to run the office in the interim period,” City Council President Holli Woodings told the Statesman.

Boise Police Cpl. Guy Bourgeau, who is a secretary for the department’s union, told the Statesman by phone that he hopes to see the office regain some of its independence. He said he felt that the office has lost some of its original freedom in the last year and a half.

“Hopefully, she can achieve that independence without having to worry about what her bosses think — because that’s how it’s supposed to work,” Bourgeau said.

City leaders review rules for oversight office

The scrutiny of the Office of Police Accountability, as the oversight bureau is named, left city leaders wanting to amend the policies to make the director’s responsibilities clearer.

“The mayor and council are looking at what updates to the ordinance may need to be made so that what they want in place is clearly spelled out in the ordinance,” Maria Weeg, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, told the Statesman on Monday.

For months, city leaders have wondered whether the office’s ordinance or regulations are sufficiently clear and accomplish expected goals. In an October interview, McLean told the Statesman the city would review the oversight policies.

That includes clarifying where officers with complaints about colleagues should take their grievances, as well as what kind of access the oversight director has to the police department’s online systems.

The council has focused on the regulations rather than the ordinance itself, Council President Holli Woodings told the Statesman on Thursday.

“A lot of it’s a matter of making sure that the regulations match up” with the ordinance, she said. “There were some discrepancies between the ordinance … and the regulations that are kind of the daily operations of the office.”

Woodings said she expects the council’s review to be completed in the next few weeks. If only the regulations are changed, a vote before council will not be required.

The review is being conducted by Schafer, an attorney who consults with the accountability office, Bryan Knox, and the council members who oversee the office, which include Woodings, Jimmy Hallyburton and Elaine Clegg.

Bourgeau said he felt Schafer working as a prosecutor while also overseeing the oversight office could be “problematic.”

When asked if she had any concerns working within the oversight role as prosecutors tend to work hand-in-hand with officers, Schafer said her work as a prosecutor has allowed her to “evaluate situations,” and she believes her experience will work well with the office.

Schafer added that her time as a deputy attorney general familiarized her with the Fourth Amendment, which protects an individual from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“I know when something doesn’t look right, so I think I probably help fill that role in a way that is very receptive to concerns,” Schafer said.

Police officials to decide oversight office’s tech access

Schafer is also working with Interim Police Chief Ron Winegar and Capt. Jeff Niiya to review what access the accountability office should have to the police department’s technology systems, Woodings said.

“She’s really helping us through some of these bigger policy conversations that we ought to have been having for the past couple of years, but were not having,” Woodings said.

Boise officials restricted Jara’s access to body camera footage before he was fired, emails obtained by the Statesman showed. Those restrictions are still in place while the city reviews the policy, Woodings said.

Woodings would like to see the oversight office produce reports for the council looking at trends in policing. That way, if the director requests access to view specific incidents — like traffic stops, for example — those reviews would eventually be tied to a report.

The office is also working on a report reviewing the 2022 year. An annual report hasn’t been published since 2020.

An attorney for Jara, Grady Hepworth, noted to the Statesman by email that Jara presented a six-month report to the City Council in March, and that Jara filed reports on specific investigations.

Weeg also provided clarity on how the oversight office handles critical incidents.

In the case of a police shooting or another type of critical incident — like the one that occurred less than two weeks after Schafer was appointed — the office will use its contracted investigators to examine an incident, Weeg said. The director is not investigating critical incidents, though the office is called when an incident occurs and given the opportunity to observe it.

The contract investigators won’t begin their review until after the Ada County Critical Incident Task Force completes its external investigation. Schafer added that if an investigation is too time-consuming, then the city could hire an outside office, instead of the contracted investigators.

Schafer said she received a call from the police department’s internal affairs office when a 32-year-old Boise man was shot and killed but chose not to observe the scene in person. Schafer wasn’t able to comment on what the common practice was, since she’s only overseen a single police shooting in her three weeks as the interim director.

“I let them know that we would not have someone live on scene for that, because we have access to their report when it’s done (and) to their investigation when it’s completed,” Schafer said referring to the latest shooting.

’A wild difference of opinion’

City leaders alleged in a November memo that Jara violated state code by releasing “confidential personnel information.” But the information he allegedly released wasn’t clear until now.

In April, Jara issued a memo recommending that Lee be placed on administrative leave after nine Boise police employees, including high-ranking officers, filed complaints against the former chief with the Office of Police Accountability. after at least one officer was turned away by the city’s human resources office.

Weeg alleged that Jara shared the memo with the officers that complained and put “private personnel information” at risk. She said the memo had information about Lee and other officers.

“So rather than just saying, ‘Thank you so much, I’ve taken your complaints and sent them up the chain,’ or something like that,” Weeg said, “he did that and included the memo that he had sent out, which was effectively releasing confidential personnel information — which then made its way to the press.”

City officials released a copy of the memo through the public records process to the Statesman in January, after previously denying a request for the memo in September. The Statesman previously obtained the memo through a source.

“There was — being generous — just a wild difference of opinion in how much discretion the director would have,” Weeg said.

In his email, Hepworth said he could not comment further because of the lawsuit but said Jara “denies any breaches of policy or mishandling of information.”

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