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.
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