Open Range, Open Season: The Killing of Jack Yantis

“They’re calling us murderers,” protests Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman, referring to local residents and others who have contacted his office to express their outrage over the November 1nd killing of local rancher Jack Yantis by two of his deputies. That appears to be the opinion of Rowdy Paradis, the only witness to the shooting who has spoken about it publicly.

“They took a family man from the dinner table and slaughtered him,” Paradis told the Idaho Statesman newspaper.  At the time the fatal shots were fired, Paradis was about ten feet away from the victim.   Upon learning of her husband’s death, his wife Donna suffered a heart attack. She was taken to Saint Alphonsus Hospital in Boise.

Yantis was not a criminal suspect at the time of the shooting. Because he was killed by law enforcement officers, however, the shooting – Against the State: An ... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details) assuming that standard protocols will be followed by the Idaho State Police – will be treated as a “suspected assault on law enforcement.” This means that Yantis is, in effect, the suspect, and his killers are considered the victims.

As we will shortly see, the ISP’s history of investigating unlawful killings by fellow law enforcement officers strongly suggests that the deputies will never face criminal charges, irrespective of the facts – and that those facts will never be presented to the public without adulteration.

Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of this tragedy is the fact that Yantis was shot because he had responded to a call for help from the same Sheriff’s Office whose personnel killed him on the scene.

Yantis, a 62-year-old rancher from Council, Idaho, received a call from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office on that Sunday evening informing him that one of his bulls had been struck by a car on Highway 95. He arrived at the scene a few minutes later, armed with a rifle to put down the wounded animal, which had turned aggressive and was threatening emergency responders trying to treat two people injured in the collision.

Within a few minutes, Yantis was dead – shot by the still-unidentified deputies, who had been trying to contain the wounded animal. The likeliest explanation is that the deputies, already frantic from dealing with one ton of bovine menace, saw an armed Mundane and opened fire after their “officer safety” instincts took control.

Significantly, Sheriff Zollman – who, it must be said, was not on the scene, and was visibly shaken when speaking to the media about the shooting – was among the “constitutional sheriffs” who signed a declaration in early 2013 proclaiming their fidelity to the Second Amendment, and their determination to interpose against federal efforts to disarm law-abiding citizens within their respective Battlefield America: T... John W. Whitehead Best Price: $10.95 Buy New $18.80 (as of 10:15 EST - Details) jurisdictions. He was also one of the four local sheriffs who convened a February 2013 public meeting in Payette to rally support for the individual right to armed self-defense.

However noble his intentions might be regarding a theoretical federal gun-grab, the sheriff may have needed to train his deputies not to surrender to panic at the sight of a local resident carrying a firearm.

Zollman describes Yantis as a well-known and widely respected figure in Adams County. “This is going to be a big hit to this community he told Boise’s NBC affiliate, KTVB. “The gentleman involved, Mr. Yantis, was a well-known cattle rancher around here. It’s just a sad deal for everybody involved, for the whole community.”

The fact that Yantis was on the scene following the accident says something about his conscientious nature. Under Idaho statutes and court rulings, Yantis could not be held legally responsible for injuries or damages resulting from the accident involving his bull: Since the accident took place in a section of Adams County designated “open range,” livestock and other domestic animals have unqualified right-of-way, and may roam freely without their owners incurring liability.

Idaho Code, Chapter 25 section 2118 states that “No person owning, or controlling the possession of, any domestic animal running on open range, shall have the duty to keep such animal off any highway on such range, and shall not be liable to any vehicle or for injury to any person riding therein, caused by collision between the vehicle and the animal.” In the 1999 case Adamson v. Blanchard, the Idaho Supreme Court held that livestock owners enjoy absolute immunity with respect to animals that wander onto public highways.

By declining to exercise his absolute immunity, Yantis came within the lethal range of state functionaries protected by “qualified immunity.” Yantis had an obvious property interest in a bull worth a considerable amount of money. By the time he learned of the accident, however, the animal had been lost; the only reason he went to the scene was to help contain the bull and protect the people it threatened, A Government of Wolves... John W. Whitehead Best Price: $1.16 Buy New $2.99 (as of 10:15 EST - Details) including the deputies who wound up killing him.

State-aligned media outlets are playing their familiar role of producing a law enforcement-friendly narrative: The Statesman referred to the killing as the result of a “shootout,” and the Oregonian referred to the incident as a “gun battle.” Both expressions subtly imply that the Mundane bears the responsibility for his own death.

Sheriff Zollman insists that his department “takes matters involving any use of force very seriously and we have requested detectives with the Idaho State Police to conduct the investigation into this incident.” The deputies involved – one of whom reportedly suffered an unspecified “minor injury” — are on paid vacation. If the fatal shooting had involved three hunters, rather than two deputies and a rancher, the names of all three would now be public knowledge.

Yantis’s family must call upon its own resources to deal with his death. The Sheriff’s office is being attended to by a “crisis management team” and receiving material support from the Idaho State Police – the same agency that is investigating the shooting. The eventual outcome of that investigation is not a question that should leave informed people burdened with suspense.

As related in this space just a few months ago, the Idaho State Police is currently facing lawsuits from two troopers and one former sergeant who claim to have faced official retaliation for refusing to participate in an official cover-up in a previous law enforcement-related fatality. ISP Corporals Quinn Carmack and Brandon Eller, along with former Sergeant Fred Rice, were involved in the investigation of former Payette County Deputy Scott Sloan, who killed 65-year-old New Plymouth resident Barry Johnson by plowing his police vehicle into the side of Johnson’s jeep at an estimated speed of 115 miles per hour.

On the basis of evidence produced by Carmack, Eller, and Rice, Sloan was fired by Sheriff Chad Huff and charged with vehicular manslaughter by special prosecutor Richard Linville. That case was sabotaged through the perjured testimony of ISP Trooper Justin Klitch, Crippled America: How ... Donald J. Trump Best Price: $1.48 Buy New $8.97 (as of 03:40 EST - Details) who had secretly collaborated with Sloan while working in the official investigation of his actions.

In defiance of its own investigators, the ISP tried to craft a narrative blaming Johnson for his own death by claiming that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the October 18, 2011 crash. Even if his had been the case, it wouldn’t explain why he was supposedly at fault when Deputy Sloan crossed into the left lane, careening into the driver’s side of Johnson’s vehicle as he was turning into his own driveway.

Carmack and Eller, to their considerable credit, were determined to tell the truth as dictated by the evidence, rather than the imperatives of Blue Privilege. Following their testimony in an April 2012 preliminary hearing, Trooper Sam Ketchum – who was in the courtroom as  the ISP’s zampolit, sent a text message to Lt. Col. Ralph Powell (who is now ISP Director),complaining that Carmack and Eller had “laid us out” by testifying truthfully, rather than endorsing the officially sanctioned fiction.

One issue examined at that hearing was whether the original ISP report faulted Sloan for “unsafe operation of an emergency vehicle.” In his surprise testimony for the defense, Klitch perjured himself by denying that the phrase had been in the original document. In a letter to the ISP written following the hearing, prosecutor Linville pointed to an email in which Klitch – before the official story had changed – “specifically requested” that the phrase be included in the report, based on the available evidence.

Revising his testimony to suit the official line was not the only favor Klitch did on behalf of Sloan, and for his own superiors at the ISP.

“When I initially asked Trooper Klitch to meet with me to discuss filing the case, he made a recording of out meeting without my knowledge or consent,” Linville recalls. “I don’t know why Trooper Klitch would make such a recording. His duty at the time was to present to me all of the evidence he had collected regarding the Sloan case. He was meeting with me to present evidence, not to create it.” Swords Into Plowshares... Paul, Ron Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $15.99 (as of 11:36 EST - Details)

“Never in my 25 years as a prosecuting attorney have I had a law enforcement officer secretly record discussions during case preparation that are otherwise privileged and protected work product, then hide the existence of such a recording from me,” Linville protested.

Klitch’s perjury earned him a place on the “Brady list” – a roster of law enforcement officers whose testimony cannot be trusted in court. For testifying truthfully in court, corporals Carmack and Eller were summoned by their ISP superiors and told that “because of their testimony [they] could not be trusted….” Sgt. Rice, who had conducted a professional and conscientious investigation, was reprimanded for supposedly “withholding exculpatory evidence” – meaning that his original report was later contradicted by Klitch’s perjured testimony.

Subjected to a punitive transfer, Rice was told by his new supervisor that he was “not being a team player” and that “he needed to stop more cars and write more tickets and that if he did not make the changes it would be reflected in his 2013 evaluation.” Rice has since resigned from the ISP.

The perjurer Klitch, according to his supervisor, remains “a valued member of the ISP” — despite the fact that his name is now inscribed on the “Brady list” and he faces a growing collection of lawsuits by motorists who have suffered abuse at his hands in pretext stops conducted for the purpose of asset forfeiture. 

Jackie Raymond, the only surviving child of the man killed by Deputy Sloan, has filed a tort claimdescribing the ISP’s behavior as that of a criminal “enterprise or conspiracy …[to] conceal evidence, harbor and protect Sloan from criminal and civil liability, and intimidate, influence, impede, deter, threaten, harass and obstruct witnesses … to protect fellow Idaho law enforcement officers from the consequences of their criminal misconduct.”

The death of Jack Yantis may have been the product of tragic miscalculation, misunderstanding, mishap, or culpable malice. Now that the investigation is in the hands of a “criminal enterprise” with a documented history of suppressing and misrepresenting evidence, it is doubtful that the public will ever learn the unadorned truth of the matter.

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