Law Enforcement

Report Raises Ombudsman Stock

The credibility of Boise’s Police Ombudsman, Pierce Murphy, has risen a few points with the long awaited report on the shooting of teenager Matthew Jones in December 2004.

The report comes across as accurate, factual, and impartial. The conclusions and recommendations are well reasoned if not predictable. The response of Top Cop Mike Masterson are cautious and tend to defend the officers and the department–also predictable.

During the Dec. 2005 “show trial” coroner’s inquest conducted by the coroner–dressed in a robe acting as judge–and presented by the prosecuting attorney, the GUARDIAN was concerned about the lack of impartiality and quest for the TRUTH. We feel even stronger about that flawed system today.

If you followed the case at all you know the Jones boy was apparently high on drugs, his dad called the cops, officer Andrew S. Johnson responded and was confronted by the teen who was wielding an unloaded W.W.II rifle with a bayonet attached.

From that point it all got fuzzy. Dad said the cop shot without warning (Murphy agrees). The kid was never close enough to poke the cop (Murphy disagrees). Dad told dispatch the Japanese rifle was unloaded and dispatchers told cops he had an assault rifle (Murphy agrees . The trauma of a cop shooting a teen in front of a father who had called the cops to help–not kill–his son rocked the community.

The mayor got involved, making a phone call to the coroner, the former police chief did a show-and-tell simulation of the tragedy at a press conference which compromised the evidence, and the prosecutor made a case against the dead kid at the inquest. It was not a proud period in Boise law enforcement history.

Top Cop Mike Masterson was not even on the force at the time of the incident. He seems to be well respected by his officers and has taken some small steps toward changing the “culture” of the police force, while not making wholesale changes. The ombudsman wants more training and suggests a “crises intervention team” to deal with mental and drug induced situations…the Jones matter was all over in 10 seconds.

Since police chiefs, mayors, and city councilors come and go, the GUARDIAN thinks it is time to truly involve the community in the police department with the creation of a police commission. Mayor Bieter has so far refused to propose it, despite our repeated requests to him.

We see a commission as establishing: broad policy, training parameters, budget priorities, and generally serving in the same capacity as the airport, library, parks, and other commissions. The commission would NOT be involved in personnel matters and the ombudsman should remain in place with the same duties.

Citizens have no voice in the most expensive and highest profile department in city government. It is time we got a voice for the benefit of all concerned.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Still have questions
    Jul 13, 2006, 11:15 am

    So where was the Tazzer gun? Why was it not used if the cop knew the gun was not loaded? Seems like there were options.

  2. “So where was the Tazzer gun? Why was it not used if the cop knew the gun was not loaded?”

    I’m not a cop, but if I WERE a cop, I wouldn’t take Dad’s word that the gun wasn’t loaded. Sorry, but if a drug-addled teenager was rushing me with a rifle/bayonet, my instinct would be to drop the punk.

    The whole thing has been hashed and re-hashed ad nauseam. It’s a tragedy from start to finish. Obviously tragic for the kid’s family, but sad for the cop as well. Hopefully some policies and procedures can be improved to avoid a similar situation in the future.

    I agree with The Guardian that Murphy did his job well in this case. And that a civilian Police Commission is an idea whose time has come.

  3. Still Have ?’s,
    Let’s not start beating this drum again…
    A Taser is a less-lethal weapon and would not introduced into a lethal force situation. The cliche – “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight” would be on point to answer your question. Officers are trained to meet deadly force with deadly force. In this situation, the force anticipated was a rifle with a bayonet. Either the rifle or bayonet by itself would merit a deadly force response by an officer. The fact that the dad said the rifle was unloaded would mean nothing to an officer. Officers (as should everyone) are trained to treat all weapons as if they are real & loaded until PROVEN otherwise (and then you still treat them as if they’re loaded! “Unloaded” weapons kill hundreds of people in this country each year.)

    I agree with the Guardian’s analysis of the report. The report was well thought out and predictable. I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions, but that’s for another time. The situation was tragic for all parties involved… it’s time to heal and move on.

  4. Talk about threading a needle. Hats off to the ombudsman for his professionalism and skill. He de-fused an obviously divisive issue in our community and suggested attainable methods to avoid a similar tragedy. I hope his suggestions are implemented.

    Now bikeboy I must again quibble. The officer knew there was a “drug addled teenager” with an assault weapon. Yet he didn’t wait for backup and instead insinuated himself alone into a volatile situation. The actions of a “drug addled teenager” can’t always be anticipated but I’m thinking that one forseeable consequence is that he is going to rush you with the weapon. Swaggering into the situation like John Wayne and “drop[ping] the punk” is the level of law enforcement I might expect in small towns fifty years ago but as the ombudsman observed there are non-lethal options available that could have been employed.

    Now the Guardian raises an excellent point what to do about the kangaroo court, er, coroners inquest. There needs to be a method by which the obvious and inherent conflict of interest can be addressed and destroyed. It should also be made adversarial so opposing viewpoints can be heard. Interested parties should be allowed to participate so they may ask questions to assure that one side’s version of the truth doesn’t become the truth.

  5. Sysiphus – I believe we’re NOT in disagreement. Yep – the LAST thing we need is a bunch of cops who think they’re John Wayne. I was only responding to the question of a Taser being used, once the kid is already on the charge.

    It would have been MUCH better if the cop had waited for assistance before engaging the kid in any way.

    We can all armchair-quarterback… hindsight is 20/20. I’d like a policy where the authorities ascertain whether the situation is out of control with people in imminent grave danger. If it is, the cop might have to hit the ground running. If it isn’t, by all means, wait for your buddies to arrive with tasers, pepper spray, bean bags, etc. (tranquilizer gun), and try to defuse if possible.

  6. Common Sense
    Jul 13, 2006, 10:51 pm

    Some people just don’t get it.

    The current wails of indignation from the armchair polices officers in this town make but a fraction of the noise that ordinary citizens would make if Officer Johnson chose to wait for backup while Matthew Jones stuck a bayonet through the ribs of friendly neighborhood jogger or little kid that happened by. Nobody with a heart disagrees that the Jones shooting was a tragedy for all involved. But let’s be clear, the incident was not caused by Officer Johnson. He acted reasonably and appropriately under a very difficult circumstance. Was he perfect? Of course not. Only an ignorant fool would expect a police officer – even a highly trained and experience police officer – to act perfectly under such a difficult circumstance. Frankly, I take comfort knowing that people like Officer Johnson are willing to put their life in that kind of danger to protect me and my family.

    The assertion that Officer Johnson should have used a Taser gun or other non-lethal instrument in this situation is utterly and completely ridiculous. I dare any Taser gun believer (i.e., those of you whose knowledge of the Taser gun comes from Hollywood) to stand with a Taser gun as close as Officer Johnson did to a drug-crazed teen with an “unloaded” rifle with a bayonet. I’ll place my bet on the kid. Then multiply the odds of this situation by the number of times that an officer in America is faced with a similar situation. Then calculate how many police widows and orphans your Hollywood-induced belief in Taser guns would create. Anybody who believes that police officers should take those kinds of risks with their lives does not deserve the protection that officers like Officer Johnson provide.

    I have read all of Ombudsman Murphy’s report, but the published reports indicate that he did a very thoughtful investigation that first (and foremost) cleared Officer Johnson of wrongdoing. Second, the report appears to contain some good suggestions for helping officers, like Officer Johnson, do better in these difficult situations. Not everyone appears to agree with Mr. Murphy’s findings and suggestions. That’s OK. Not everyone agrees that Elvis is dead. It’s a wonderful thing that we have an ombudsman with the guts and ability to make the findings and suggestions that he did in this case. It is even better that we have officers, like Officer Johnson, who are willing to continue to improve their skills and abilities in these difficult circumstances through good training.

    As to Mr. Fraiser’s idea of a police commission: It is an idea worthy of consideration, but I don’t think he has come anywhere close to meeting the burden necessary for creating a new level of government bureaucracy. A police department is a not an airport or parks department. We need much better oversight and management of our police force than we could get through an appointed volunteer board. Also, I don’t think I want the Mayor and City Council – who make the real decisions in this town – to have an excuse to shove real problems off to unrepresentative committee.

  7. The ombudsman’s report is ONE MANs opinion – a police commission is a much better way to ensure a more diverse and complete eveluation.

    EDITOR NOTE–While the GUARDIAN has endorsed a police commission for years, we have no problem with the ombudsman concept. He should report to and be protected by the commission.

  8. Well I didn’t hear that there was a “friendly nieghborhood jogger or little kid” that were being threatened and that would certainly change the fact pattern, Common Sense. Indeed the father gave every indication to the police that it was a situation that required the corralling of his son, not the shooting. To further the Western analogy, we would never consider shooting a bronc we were trying to break even though it presented a danger to those around it.

    You state: “Anybody who believes that police officers should take those kinds of risks with their lives does not deserve the protection that officers like Officer Johnson provide.” I submit that Officer Johnson was quite safe in his vehicle and no exigency existed for him to exit the vehicle before backup arrived. It is the second part of your sentence that all of us with kids have concerns over, whether we “deserve” or desire that level of “protection”. I do appreciate your defense of Officer Jones and the very difficult job all officers have. But some of us have children the age of Matthew Jones and if we have a problem with our child violent or otherwise this incident will certainly make us think twice about asking for help from the local constabulatory. I’m sure the local police force does not want the reputation that the community they are sworn to protect and to serve doesn’t trust them.

    Everyone on the post agrees that the Ombudsman did an excellent job and his recommendations should be implemented. While there may be no legal culpability (something the family never sought) the Ombusdman acknowledged we can do better.

  9. A police commission is a great idea and could do much to provide positive communication between the people of Boise and law enforcement. Many cities have tried and benefited from implementing a ” police commission” made up of a number of citizens who reflect the ethnic and financial makeup of the city.

    I have lived here 7 years and have often observed simmering distrust and unanswered questions after a “critical incidents” involving the police and the community. A police,or rather a “Citizen Commission” gives everyone a chance to ask questions and to better understand what happened and how to avoid future mistakes.

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