Doesn't Add Up 

When problem solvers become the problem

Do you want the bad news first? Or the other bad news?

OK, I know how much we dislike unpleasantness here in Boise, so let me ease your mind. The first bit of bad news isn't so bad. It's just, like, pretend bad news. So don't get all depressed that everything sucks. Some things suck far more than others, see?

The other bit, though, is bad. Bad for the community, bad for our confidence in authority, bad for the concept of truth, and particularly bad for the family of the boy who was shot to death. I don't intend to make light of this bad bad news by likening it to the pretend bad news, but I see a parallel. I'm hoping you do, too, by the time we're done here.

And if you do, maybe next time you're spouting some bile on how the parents of that dead boy should have done a better job raising him, or how the boy paid a fair price for bad decisions, you'll stop and consider the possibility that those arguments, whether they are true or not, don't have a damn thing to do with it.

First bit of bad news: I am addicted. I've tried a lot of weird stuff in my day, but nothing has grabbed me as quickly as this. Two weeks was all it took. I'd heard how it could hook people, but I never thought it would happen to me. I curse Boise Weekly for pushing this junk. That's right, Boise Weekly! If they hadn't started dealing in Sudoku, I'd probably be doing nothing more damaging than crosswords and the daily Jumble.

But now, I'm lost. I picked up five of last week's BW, one day after another, because I couldn't get enough.

Actually, it's more because I couldn't get it right. Let me explain to those who have never succumbed to the siren song of Sudoku. It appears simple at first. Enticing, even. It gives you a grid of 81 squares divided into nine equal zones, along with a few numbers scattered around the grid in what appears to be a random manner. All a user has to do is fill in the blanks so that horizontally, vertically and within each zone, the numbers one through nine are all present and never repeated.

The deal is, there's only one way it can go. It demands the sort of precision and logic that little else does. No sorta this or sorta that with Sudoku. That is its appeal and its addictive power. There is no twisting the absolute truth of a Sudoku puzzle. There is no spin, no interpretation, no public relations, no equivocation. It cannot be reworked to fit preconceived expectations. It's either right, or it's wrong. And there can be no cheating, because there's nowhere to hide your mistakes. I believe Sudoku supplies what we crave from so many other things--politics, religion, war, love affairs ... coroners' inquests--but seldom get: an unequivocal answer.

Which leads us to the other bit of bad news: There is absolutely no excuse for a coroner's inquest ending up on the same list with politics and love affairs.

There may be no unequivocal answer to the killing of Matthew Jones. I think we all understand that fear, darkness, the pressure of having to make a life-or-death decision in the blink of an eye, a father's love, a screwed-up teenager's state of mind, a cop's confusion and a thousand other variables make the final judgment a tremendously difficult call.

With that said, there is something foul about a coroner's inquiry which creates more questions than it answers. After all, the purpose of this process was to impose some level of clarity and a story line that makes sense of a lethal jumble of events. Yet what we have after Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg's kangaroo inquest is just another level of contradictions and a story line that is at best schizophrenic, and at worst, fabricated. Precision and logic were felled by the inquisitors as surely as Matt Jones was felled by Officer Johnson's bullets.

But never mind the inconsistencies in how far the Jones boy was from Johnson when the shots were fired. Never mind the trail of evidence, which should have been inviolate, but wasn't. Never mind the bayonet punctures that should have been in a line with one another, but weren't. (And exactly what was the hastily-arranged press conference two days after the shooting meant to accomplish? The truth, or a belated back-up? And what exactly was Jim Tibbs' duty at the time? To expose the facts, or to enhance a crony's report?)

But again, never mind those dangling details, no matter how unresolved an irritant they are, that they aren't the most troubling aspects of this affair, are they? They are only small pixels of a much larger puzzle--a grid within a grid, if you will--and because they were presented with so little precision and logic points to a contamination in the larger grid. All the bluster about supporting the police aside, we must ask ourselves this: If the same evidence had been considered by a true third party--by which I mean a party unaffiliated in any way with either side of the dispute--would the verdict have been the same?

In a grid the size of Boise--which, in spite of its childish attempts to act all grown up, ain't--I fear there is little hope that a city cop, the county prosecutor's office and the only coroner in town aren't all on the same line. They may not all meet every Friday after work for beers, but they certainly belong to the same community. They are certainly in the same zone. For justice to be pure--vertically and horizontally--there can be no zones.

And in that even larger grid--the one that includes the Matthew Jones tragedy but extends far beyond it into the past and no doubt into the future--hasn't the wisdom of that panel of citizens who chose outside the city for Boise's new police chief become obvious? I mean, in light of the Coles scandal (another incident where too many of the wrong figures were hunkered down in the same zone), isn't it likely they realized the need to fill the blank with a fresh, uncontaminated number?

There will be two more attempts to get this puzzle right. The Boise ombudsman and the FBI are both investigating, and we can only hope they fill in the blanks with more integrity than we have seen so far. Still, I see the need for even more light on the matter. Sonnenberg and the office of Prosecutor Greg Bower have earned themselves some serious outside examination, and I for one release Matthew Jones' father from his pledge to not sue. All he asked for was an honest process and a little understanding for his slain son. He got neither.

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