Residents of Adams County, Idaho, should compel Sheriff Ryan Zollman – by nailing his feet to the floor, if necessary — to answer this question: Are you willing to tell Donna Yantis to her face that her husband Jack deserved to die?
If Zollman answers that question in the negative, he should be forced to answer this one: Are you willing to fire the deputies who perforated Jack Yantis with gunshots, even though they will be spared criminal prosecution because they killed an innocent man?
Assuming that Zollman isn’t willing to do either of the foregoing, he should candidly admit to the public supposedly served by his office that their lives are less valuable than those of his deputies; that the testimony of a local citizen is never to be credited when that citizen accuses deputies of misconduct; that the personal safety of his deputies is the only important consideration in any encounter with a member of the public; and that he is willing to protect the job security of deputies who have exhibited lethal incompetence even when this means putting the public at avoidable risk.
If he were any part of a man, Zollman would have fired Deputies Cody Roland and Brian Wood immediately after last November’s fatal shooting. Instead, he is accusing critics of his department of enlisting in the mythical “war on police.”
“It’s clear that in the nation, law enforcement, we’re under attack, and we just have a reason here in Adams County,” simpered Zollman in a television interview shortly after Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden made the entirely predictable announcement that Roland and Wood would not face criminal charges.
Zollman invites the public to pretend that the deputies, not the man they killed without cause or the prospect of facing accountability, are the victims, their egos gravely wounded by criticism from the public that has continued to pay their salaries and – for reasons that defy my understanding — retains an ingenuous belief in the legitimacy of their profession.
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People who pursue a career in law enforcement rarely expose themselves to peril and are often burdened with an overdeveloped capacity for self-pity. From the moment the Adams County deputies gunned down a rancher in an act of criminally negligent homicide – after pleading with him to finish a dangerous task that exceeded their subsidized but inadequate skill-set – Zollman and his comrades made protection of the killers their highest priority.
To understand how law enforcement administrators would deal with an incident of this kind in a relatively civilized country, it’s useful to recall how Haraldur Johannessen, Reykjavik’s Chief of Police, reacted after his officers fatally shot a man who had been sniping at pedestrians from an apartment window. That December 2, 2013, the episode was the first fatal police shooting of a suspect by police in Iceland … well, in the entire history of that country since it achieved independence in 1944. “Police regret this incident and would like to extend their condolences to the family of the man,” Johannessen said during a press conference following the incident.
None of the officers involved in the raid regarded what they did as heroic. While acknowledging that deadly force had to be used to protect the public, several of the officers – soul-sick over their involvement in ending an irreplaceable human life – sought grief counseling. Their ability to see a violent criminal suspect as a fellow human being didn’t detract from their efficiency and professionalism.
I suspect that this is because police in Iceland, whatever else can be said about their training and professional conduct, have not been marinated in the same “No Hesitation” – “Officer Safety uber alles” indoctrination that is de rigueur for American law enforcement personnel, and that unlike their American counterparts Icelandic police are not protected by the pernicious legal fiction called “qualified immunity.”
The US(S)A is a country in which a police officer who risks his life by using non-lethal tactics to end a violent confrontation can be threatened with administrative punishment – or can find himself fired outright and subject to official retaliation for exposing the abusive behavior of his former comrades.
That the deputies who slaughtered Jack Yantis were never in substantial danger of prosecution was made clear by Zollman’s eagerness to reinstate them to patrol duty within days of the killing – long before the Attorney General had completed the cynical charade of an investigation. In late November, just two weeks after Yantis’s funeral, Zollman told the Idaho Statesman that the deputies would return “when they tell me they’re good to go. Some come back quicker, some come back later.”
The only practical consideration, apparently, was the emotional resilience of the killers. Zollman was prepared to put them back on patrol the moment they had overcome whatever trivial misgivings they may have had about killing the next time an opportunity presented itself.
Jack Yantis, obviously, is never coming back. His wife Donna, who was assaulted on the scene and shackled by the men who had just executed her husband, did rebound from the heart attack precipitated by the criminal actions of Zollman’s deputies, but she will never fully recover from the loss she suffered at their hands.
What happened to Yantis and his family, from Zollman’s perspective, was a shame. The real tragedy would be if the deputies who gunned him down and then left him to bleed to death were to lose their entitlements as members of the punitive caste.
While the Yantis family absorbed the horror of what Zollman’s deputies had done to them, Zollman – with the help of other local agencies – assigned tax-subsidized manpower to guard the homes of the men who killed him. This was done despite the fact that Wood was characterized by one of his colleagues as a “sociopath” capable of killing fellow officers if they were sent to arrest him.
At about that time, Wood was the subject of an “officer safety” flier, even though the public at large wasn’t warned of the danger he represented.
From this, we can learn everything necessary to know about the priorities of those who presume to rule us, but there is additional evidence to consider as well.
“Is he coming back as an Officer in Adams County and when?” asked Adams County resident Janet Fields of Tami J. Faulhaber, a Senior Investigator in the Idaho Attorney General’s office, in a May 2 email. The question referred to Deputy Roland, from whom Fields had received Facebook comments she considered threatening in nature.
“This seems to be getting worse as your Department allows the two officers that shot and killed Jack Yantis to walk around beating their chests,” Fields protested. “The people in this community, my husband and I are tired of being afraid of the very people who are supposed to be here to protect and serve us. I am tired of feeling like I have to have a tape recorder … every time I go to the grocery store in town or that our CCP [Concealed Carry Permit] may get us shot by the very people who issued them.”
Officials did take the concerns of local citizens into account – which is to say, they treated them as threats to the safety of the men who killed Jack Yantis.
“Paul – we have discussed here in the office a concern that we have for the safety of the officers when the announcement is made, regardless of what the decision is,” wrote Carl Ericson, Legal Counsel for the Idaho Risk Management Program, in a July 21 email to Paul Panther of the AG’s office. “There is a legitimate worry about possible vigilantism and it could pose a risk to the officers if charges are filed against them and they have not been taken into custody (or voluntarily surrendered) at the time the decision is announced. On the other hand, if no charges are being filed, they may want to leave town to protect themselves prior to the announcement of no charges…. It would be more difficult if they are given a heads up that no charges are being filed and they then start broadcasting it to the world before the announcement.”
Roland and Wood, who have been taking victory laps in the media, are not in danger of being lynched, and they never were. As noted previously, Roland and Wood were also never in serious danger of being charged, because of this killing – like every fatal officer-involved shooting– was investigated as an “assault on law enforcement.”
Rather than seeking to establish probable cause –as he would in any similar case not involving the State’s costumed enforcers – AG Wasden used the investigation to build a case against the dead victim.
To conclude that there was no basis for filing criminal charges against Roland and Wood is, inescapably, the same thing as concluding that Yantis deserved to die. If Roland and Wood had been acquitted following a trial, the public could reasonably conclude that the deputies were in the wrong, and that Yantis was an innocent victim, and that the evidence simply wasn’t adequate to support a conviction. Whether or not the deputies had been convicted of a crime (most likely manslaughter), there is a sense in which a trial was necessary to clear the name of their victim. By refusing to allow the prosecution to proceed, however, Wasden effectively convicted Jack Yantis of attempting, or at least threatening, to murder Deputies Roland and Wood–and in doing so he contradicts abundant evidence that should have been examined by a jury of Adams County citizens.
Jack Yantis must have been a criminal because otherwise, the deputies wouldn’t have killed him. That is Sheriff Zollman’s position on the issue. Is he willing to say this to Donna Yantis?