Law Enforcement

No Winners in Bungled Inquest

The Ada County Coroner and law enforcement in general have their work cut out to restore public confidence following the bungled inquest into the police shooting of 16-year-old Matthew Jones.

The case was a tragedy of errors and ineptitude almost from the beginning.

Police responded last December to a call for help from a father unable to control his drug and alcohol influenced son. policebdge.jpg
The boy had an antique gun with bayonet in his hands at the time he was shot and killed by Boise Police officer Andrew Johnson. The Coroner’s jury ruled the death as “justifiable homicide” based on the evidence presented.

Based on the evidence made public it is hard to argue the cop was not “justified” in shooting the juvenile. The jury did the right thing. They were about the only ones who did.

Here is a losing scorecard from the GUARDIAN :

–Police should have two man cars respond at night to any disturbance calls. That way officers can watch each other’s backsides, deal with threats, and not wait for backup. There is little “team-style” training at present. Our opinion is the officer was “shocked, scared, startled, frightened” and acted out of instinct. It was a reflex action to pull his weapon and shoot.

–Acting Chief Jim Tibbs went overboard in his defense of the officer and the “show and tell” press conference the next day was inappropriate. It is inexcusable the evidence was presented to the media before it was properly analyzed and preserved. That show led to a lot of rumors and speculation among the public and has left many with little or no faith in the police.

–It has taken the coroner 11 months to hold an inquest. He involved the Ada prosecutor who had a conflict of interest since the potential defendant was a policeman represented by the prosecutor. If a prosecutor needed to be involved, it should have been someone from outside the area with no ethical conflict. If the jury had returned a finding of an alleged crime on the part of the officer, the prosecutor would have “conflicted out” of the case like he did with the county commissioners civil case over a closed meeting.

–Coroner wasn’t forthright with the media on the questions asked of potential jurors after declaring he couldn’t get a jury due to media hype. The Statesman found leading questions about ACLU and Amnesty International had been added to the “standard” jury questionnaire. He was able to get a jury on the second try with 8 of the first 10 people interviewed.

–After the first inquest attempt was canceled, Mayor Dave Bieter revealed he had conducted private discussions with the family and the coroner and had urged the coroner to forget about the entire inquest and rely on the Boise Ombudsman for a finding.

–Instead of a fact finding procedure, the prosecutor presented the jury that was finally impaneled with a prosecution of the deceased.

–The officer claimed the boy had “nicked” him with the bayonet and police produced a Kevlar vest and uniform shirt with tears in them. Evidence.jpg
However the task force investigators who examined all the evidence and produced testimony were unable to explain how two inner layers of clothing were cut, but an outer layer fleece pullover had no damage.

Next day in the courtroom they used magnifiers and claimed to have found misplaced fibers of some sort. More doubts about proficiency, credibility and integrity surfaced.

–While professing to have no prejudice about the case and promising the citizens a fair and impartial look into the shooting, police command staff put the involved officer back on normal duty. If they had concluded the officer acted properly and violated no rules or laws, it was wise and proper to return him to duty…but why go through 11 months of investigations they claimed were “impartial?”

–If a teacher is the focus of a sex investigation he is removed from contact with children–with pay–immediately. Same should be true for police involved “critical incidents.” Take them off the street until cleared for duty. We shouldn’t be subjected to police who under investigation. That is why the investigations should be completed within 30 days unless there are extenuating circumstances.

The GUARDIAN frankly doesn’t have any compelling doubts about the outcome of the case, but there was little in this fiasco that would encourage the public to have faith in the actions of the Coroner, the Prosecutor, the police commanders or the evidence technicians.

We can all hope these officials will have a big meeting and work to prevent these errors in the future. You can also figure on calls for a medical examiner system from the Legislature.

Meanwhile Ombudsman Pierce Murphy will come up with a report and we hope to see some recommendations for two man police cars at night among other things.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. This whole incident was handled badly from the begining…. Parents, Police, Politicians, etc. etc. I think one of the saddest parts that you forgot to mention is Tibbs using this in his political ads. A few weeks ago many people were questioning if some of the candidates that were running for City Council had enough experience for the job. Your City Council should be fixing what happened wrong with this shooting… but just watch, they are going to be running for cover. I guess that is what we get with “experienced” leaders!

  2. We probably won’t be seeing the “dramatized” version of this case on CSI any time soon.

    I agree with the Guardian’s assessment. Particularly, it makes sense to have 2-officer teams respond to situations where a volatile situation is known to be unfolding.

    I s’pose the attorney representing Mr. Jones reacted predictably. But I was offended. He was spouting that the outcome sends a disturbing message to the citizenry in general – that all of us are in danger of having deadly force used on us by out-of-control cops. I would amend that… “If you’re in a drunken, drug-crazed stupor, are wielding a rifle with a bayonet on it, and your family has called the cops because you have a track record of out-of-control violence and they’re afraid of you… don’t be too surprised if law enforcement shows up and ends up shooting you.” I can live with that.

    Too bad for Matthew Jones. But I’ve got more sympathy for his family, and for the officer who decided his only recourse was to shoot the kid.

  3. Steve,

    The officer’s testimony at the inquest was that he didn’t “decide” anything. He repeatedly testified that he never exercised judgement of any sort, that he only responded from fright as he was trained.

    Alone, in the dark, with an unknown assailant … he should never have put himself in that position, with backup literally only a minute away. More poor procedure for which command staff should be held accountable.

  4. Boise Police Department hires officers with intermediate POST certificates or a college degree. Many former military men and women choose to convert their military service to college credits when applying. I recall hearing Officer Johnson was former Military police. There are lots of good reasons people go from military to civilian police work. They are also two completely different types of training and two different sets of expectations. Not much is done to desensitize and emphasize the new set of expectations. Perhaps it should be.

    There is nothing more frightening to a Boise Police chief than having one of his officers shoot and kill the relative of a high powered attorney. If anyone thinks this didn’t have an impact on what followed immediately, he/she is simply naive. The officer’s attorney Fillecetti should NEVER have been allowed access to the incident scene and evidence before investigators had secured clothing etc. Tibbs has been privately critical of the manner in which other chiefs have handled critical incidents. This was especially difficult for him as he was Public Information guy during most of them. So…knowing he was on his way out, he chose to mishandle this one exactly how he wanted. Even if the officer was right in his actions, make it look REALLY right. How did the shirt AND vest get sheetrock dust on them without getting it on the jacket? I don’t know when the Boise Police will learn to just let things speak for themselves. Just tell the truth. Just allow the process to work. Instead of spinning and stroking and weaving something that ultimately leads to fractured credibility with the those they serve. Many officers have teenage sons and daughters with behavioral, drug and alcohol problems. Matthew Jones was clearly a troubled young man. He likely had undiagnosed mental illness which was self medicated and was masked by the symptoms of drug use. He was very young. Parents of children with drug problems will tell you there is nothing more difficult to deal with regardless of your background and training. Without criminalizing the officer OR the Jones Family, will the City look at what can be done different, better, new, not at all? I believe we can expect them to and in fact demand they do. The officer stating he would do nothing different bothered me more than maybe anything else. Even if I knew I was absolutely justified…I’d choose to wait for backup, speak with the father on the phone, or a myriad of other choices before I would shoot down a 16 year old kid in his driveway in front of his father. Call me silly.

  5. Treva Hamilton
    Nov 18, 2005, 11:31 am

    What I am really curious about is why the citizens of Boise pay for an ombudsman? What has he been doing for the last eleven months? What if he finally comes out of his office with a totally different point of view from the Coroner?

    Someone refresh my memory – have the Boise police ever been found in error in cases of shootings that resulted in death? I would feel very anxious about calling that agency in case of emergency – it does seem they should have some non-lethal methods of subduing people who are out of control. On the other hand, the officer could not rely on hearsay that the rifle was not loaded, not to mention that a bayonet itself is a lethal weapon.

    My sympathy goes to the Jones family which certainly got no satisfaction from the inquest.

  6. I find it fascinating that people continue to push the conspiracy or cover-up theories even after all the facts have come out. Don’t people see this was the very point of the inquest? All information about the case was presented at the inquest and is now in the open for public review. I am bewildered by the actions of Attorney Blackburn in his continued criticism of the process. Referring to earlier articles I thought it was the stance of the Jones’s and their attorney that they didn’t want the inquest to happen as they felt the shooting was justified. Instead they were asking for a review of police polices. It seems to me the inquest has served the public well by bringing into full view some of the potential improvements that may be necessary in police procedures. It is not the job of the coroner to write police policy so why criticize the system that will most likely help to bring about change? Information presented in the inquest will undoubtedly aid the ombudsman in his investigation. It is the ombudsman’s job to recommend policy changes not the coroner. As for the continual referral to the “mystery hole” Attorney Blackburn sarcastically refers to in media reports it seems to make sense to me. The point of the inquest was to resolve the facts. When the issue of the polar fleece jacket not having been perforated arose it makes sense that additional analysis is warranted. To make such inflammatory comments now does a disservice to the community and promotes distrust of those who put their lives on the line to protect the citizenry. Overall I think the media has done a poor job in presenting the entire process to the public. Not surprising since conspiracy and scandal is what sells newspapers.

  7. Sara said:
    “I find it fascinating that people continue to push the conspiracy or cover-up theories even after all the facts have come out. ”

    Because … all of the facts haven’t come out. The prosecutor failed to present some number of them, and failed to adequately present others.

    Sara said:
    “I am bewildered by the actions of Attorney Blackburn in his continued criticism of the process.”

    Because … among other problems, procedures for handling evidence were so badly violated during the inquest as to damage the credibility of the hearing. And because prosecutor Bourne “misrepresented” (to be as kind as I can be) how evidence would be handled after it was opened during the inquest. To wit, after telling the Coroner that contaminating evidence wouldn’t matter since all tests had been run … ran further tests on contaminated evidence.

    Hardly a fair hearing. I hope for better from the Ombudsman.

  8. It seems the issue of the shirt having a pick, the vest having a dent, with accompanying sheetrock dust, but the outer garment (fleece pullover) not having any dust or hole/pick/dent/slash/gash/etc….should have really arisen BEFORE the inquest. Surely the investigators thought it a veritable physical phenomenon that this occurred. I’m betting there were some discussions between detectives long before the inquest. Curmudgeon articulates far better than I what many are thinking/seeing. If this happened in a real court, a judge might have sustained objections to Bourne’s re-testing evidence after stating it would undergo no further testing.

  9. Sara, I am bewildered by people like you who think that the coroner’s inquest in this case was actually a trustworthy fact-finding device. You can throw around the words “conspiracy” and “cover-up” like they were antidotes to legitimate public discourse about the way Boise PD has operated for MANY years.

    I am an attorney and I was shocked at the level of advocacy demonstrated in favor of the police department. It was not the prosecutor’s job to present a case exonerating the officer, which is what he did. Erwin Sonnenberg is no more a judge than I am the man in the moon. Although many could agree that the force used was justifiable (even if panic-induced), why the lies about being stabbed, the outrageous comments by Interim Police Cheif Jim Tibbs, and the pathetically one-sided inquest? It is pretty lame that on day 4 Roger Bourne had to rehabilitate witnesses in a ONE-SIDED proceeding. By the way, the Jones NEVER blamed the officer and early on expressed empathy for him.

    Pay a few bucks and check out the Idaho Statesman archives from December 19, 2004 forward. As recently as a week ago, the Jones were arguing that the inquest was unnecessary because there was no need to exonerate the officer–they already had in their own minds and the issue was not the officer’s actions, but perhaps Boise PD policies and procedure. But no, the Ada County prosecutor had to put on the familiar dog and pony show of trashing the deceased’s reputation and embellishing the scenario with whatever it takes. Even if we all agree that we would shoot in response to such a threat, would we have then lied after the fact to strengthen our position? Would you have allowed your boss to put forth tainted evidence or a tainted response simply “to set the stage” for public reaction? Would you have submitted to questionable reinforcement questioning to prepare you for the inquest? I had empathy for Officer Johnson until I saw and heard his testimony. I am shocked, but certainly not surprised by the number of Idahoans who are accusing the Jones of “blaming” the officer and then go on to blame the Jones for their parenting. In the 21 years that I lived in Idaho I always hated the self-righteous, uncompassionate, “every-man-for-himself in the ole wild west” attitude that is expressed every day on the streets and in letters to the editor.

    May you never be faced with such a tragic and public devestation. You may not know it, but it could have been ANYONE.

  10. There are no objections in a inquest. People obviously don’t understand the process.

  11. Sara, Tam said, “if this had happened in a real court,” meaning if this had been a legal proceeding other than a coroner’s inquest. I think Tam understands the process. She is correct that in a “regular” legal proceeding with a JUDGE, there is no way Day 4 of the inquest would have happened the way it did. The prosecutor proceeded as he did because he knew there could be no objections.

  12. The hoot of this is I HATE conspiracy theories. I usually don’t buy into conspiracy hypotheses, and I surely don’t originate them. In this case anyone who is even cursorily acquainted with BPD culture as it was, is and evidently ever will be, can see somebody(ies) intentionally placed a fly or two in the ointment and it has made just enough of a mess that the truth will likely never be known now. I’m relieved that those like Curmudgeon and C can read and comprehend my intent. I absolutely understand the inquest is not REAL court. That was, afterall, my point. What it was borders on criminal and wallows in pathetic.

  13. Sara said:
    “There are no objections in a inquest. People obviously don’t understand the process.”

    Perhaps what causes the discussion is that people DO understand the process. They understand that a prosecutor can do whatever he wants in an inquest, including “misrepresent”, and no one can object. He can leave out relevant facts, and no one can object. He can call witnesses who know absolutely nothing of the facts of the case, and no one can object. He can completely manage an oblivious Coroner, and no one can object.

    Oh, yes. People “understand the process”, all right. And they don’t like what they see. or smell. In fact, it stinks so bad that the stench of it is reaching beyond Idaho’s borders.

  14. Larry Cantrell
    Nov 19, 2005, 3:17 pm

    I don’t understand Cops investigating Cops.

    I think a Grand Jury should be seated.

  15. (some)Parents are the ultimate authority and if you need the police to help “control” YOUR CHILD ,its too late and you are weak and or ignorant!….I feel the 16 years of parenting failed on this one.

    (father of 4)

  16. It’s hard to imagine a father of four, even with ice water in his veins, who would play “bad-dog-no-biscuit” with this tragedy. If our children succeed in life, we as parents can rarely take all (if any) of the credit. If our children falter, there is likely plenty of “fault” to go around. Many parents need assistance with children who lose control due to substance abuse or mental illness. Few expect the cops to shoot them down in the driveway. Too bad more police don’t subscribe to KevinKs point of view..I mean why spend tax dollars on juvenile detention facilities when we could just make it all so easy.

    I am not a friend of the Jones family and don’t know their personal situation. However, I think them neither ignorant or weak. Just a regular mom and dad whose everday situation had a life altering and tragic ending. We should all be grateful, because but for the grace of God. I learned a long time ago to never say never with my own children. They could prove me wrong sooner than I could spit out the words. I hope KevinK’s kids aren’t as quick.

  17. The police officer conveniently changed his first story that he shot Mathew Jones at 5 to 6 feet after telling him to drop his bayonet. The second version is he was attacked by Mathew, he ran 20 to 25 feet away, warned him to drop the bayonet, shot him. Officer Johnson was able to do all of this in 4 seconds as heard by the 911 tape when Mr. Jones said look out, look out and 4 seconds later there are 4 gun shots. But of course on the 911 tape there is no verbal warning by Officer Johnson. I’m disturbed by the fact that perjury is being committed. I guess it is ok for the police department to make up their facts as they go depending on the evidence they cannot tamper with. I find this whole tragic situation disturbing that our police department has no checks and balances. Jim Tibbs set the precedence when he did a news conference when Mathew was still in the morgue. Jim Tibbs went on tv with sealed evidence that became unsealed,handeled and played with. All to exonerate a policeman that was supposed to be under investigation. Officer Johnson was back on the force before Jim Tibbs stepped down from interim police chief. Scary this is what has been going on at the police department. The police department could not tamper with the 911 tape since Bruce Jones left his cell phone on the entire time, they couldn’t get the neighbors to change their stories which matched Mr. Jones’s testimony, and the balistics report which was done in a lab in Pennsylvania couldn’t be tampered with since it was revealed the officer was not 5-6 feet away, he was at least 20 to 25. How convenient Officer Johnson never turned on his audio belt untill after he had shot Mathew, threw the bayonet in the bushes and then took it out of the bushes and put it in his squad car trunk. For someone who had just killed a 16 year old boy in his front yard in front of his father, this officer sure had the presence of mind to cover his tracks.

  18. The reason the cops are going to come out smelling like heroes again… in this tragedy, is the same reason we have un-regulated growth in Idaho, relentless property tax increases, a rise in crime,(see todays Statesman)is for one reason only. The people keep voting for the same thing over and over. They don’t want detox centers, they don’t want to pay for well trained cops,they don’t want facilities to help troubled youth. Justice by police shooting is perfectly fine for the majority of Idahoans. It is the same reason Idaho is George Bush country. He thinks killing terrorists is the only way to get them, and by the way, growing them sure is good for business. Cronyisim is alive and fertilized in Boise and Idaho. The attitude of most here is “if you don’t like it move out, I got mine, screw you”. BTW, I’m almost a 50yr old Canyon county native. Save some of your outrage for the next cop shooting episode. Tell your chidren to trust firemen.

  19. I couldn’t agree more, John. Well said.

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