ISP Responds to Statesman Coverage of Fatal Crash, Cover-Up Allegations 

Reporting was 'inflammatory and misleading'

In a rare move, the Idaho State Police has responded publicly to recent articles in the Idaho Statesman detailing a number of whistleblower lawsuits that allege the agency tampered with evidence to "cover up" details of a fatal crash involving a Payette County Sheriff's deputy in 2011.

"[I]t became obvious to me that reporting one side of an issue without waiting for the other side to be able to present information to the court of public opinion would not be accepted in other parts of our society," wrote ISP Deputy Director Lt. Col. Kendrick Wills and Maj. Steve Richardson in an internal memorandum released to the public on Friday.

The reports, from veteran investigative journalist Cynthia Sewell, began on May 31 with an in-depth piece titled "Officers allege interference, retaliation at Idaho State Police after crash probe." In it, Sewell recounts the events of Oct. 18, 2011, when Payette County Deputy Scott Sloan collided with 65-year-old Barry Johnson on a rural stretch of U.S. Highway 30 near New Plymouth.

Sloan was responding to a 911 call from a child who said a stranger was in his house. According to the ISP report, he was driving at 115 miles per hour with his lights and sirens active along the 55-mile-per-hour stretch of flat highway. In front of him, a Jeep driven by Johnson traveled at 24 miles per hour. 

When Sloan moved to pass the Jeep, Johnson turned left—directly in front of the officer's patrol car. Sloan slammed into the driver's side of Johnson's Jeep. Johnson died at the scene. Sloan resigned from the Payette County Sheriff's Office shortly after the crash and was charged in 2012 of vehicular manslaughter. However, because of a series of discrepancies between crash reports and conflicting statements from ISP officers, the charges were dropped in 2013.

More than three years after the crash, concerns have been raised about the truthfulness of the investigation, with three ISP officers claiming the Payette County deputy was to blame for the collision. Drawing on hundreds of pages of court documents, Sewell pieced together a story that highlighted allegations made by the officers that they were resistant to cooperate in a cover-up of the accident.

According to the Statesman story, the officers were pressured to revise certain aspects of the initial crash reconstruction to cast Sloan in a better light, removing a section that stated the deputy had made an "unsafe pass" and was “operating an authorized emergency vehicle in an unsafe manner." They  were also instructed to include that Johnson had a blood alcohol level of .08, despite uncertainty among the investigators that alcohol played a role in the crash.

Sewell's article quoted from a 2013 claim against ISP filed by Erik Strindberg, an attorney representing Quinn Carmack, an officer who helped write both reports and who has since filed a whistleblower complaint against ISP:
"In short, [Idaho State Police leaders] wanted the report modified so as to place blame for the accident on the deceased and if not exonerate, at least minimize, the responsibility of the deputy,” Strindberg wrote. “Carmack believed that changing the report to reach a predetermined outcome or conclusion was wrong and unethical, even though he was effectively being ordered to do so.”
According to its memo, ISP said the initial report was revised because it was an incomplete first draft:

"The issue was that relevant facts were being left out in the first recon report and thorough analysis not being conducted in some areas."

Those officers involved with drafting the first crash report allege that they were retaliated against by their superiors in the way of "reassignment from crash reconstruction to night and weekend patrol duty, rejected pay increases, denied promotions and poor evaluations," Sewell wrote.

The Statesman followed its May 31 report with a June 2 editorial board op-ed that accused ISP of being plagued with "a poison of dysfunction" and called for an investigation of the police force by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

"Idahoans deserve to know the truth," the op-ed stated. "So does the family. And if the truth leads to the discovery that law enforcement officers have betrayed our trust, we need to know this sooner rather than later."

In its rebuttal to the Statesman's reporting, ISP ticked off a list of statements, facts and allegations that it claimed are either untrue, misrepresented or lacking clarity. The memo was emailed to media, including Boise Weekly, and posted to the ISP website.

Regarding allegations made in the article that ISP leadership pressured investigators to alter their report, the agency stated:
"The removal of those two statements [about Sloan's 'unsafe driving' and 'unsafe pass'] largely resulted from discussion in the Dec. 21, 2011 meeting between Carmack, Rice, Kelley and Richardson which revolved around keeping the conclusions factual and not based on interpretation of the writer/constructionist, i.e. Carmack. ... [A]nd likely resulted in part from the fact that no one in the meeting could really say what was a safe speed for Sloan to respond at."
ISP called claims that  members of the crash reconstruction team were retaliated against "misleading at best."

First, the agency stated, the reconstruction unit was disbanded "due to training and other cultural concerns ... that this case highlighted." The reassignments, meanwhile, were made "in accordance with their current rank and standing within ISP." According to the memo, all patrol shifts are rotated, including nights, weekends and holidays.

Second, ISP claimed it is "not aware" of pay increases or promotions being denied. The memo added that by working nights, weekends and holidays, the officers would have been entitled to pay increases and it "could not speak to" any poor performance evaluations.

The document concluded by calling the Statesman's reporting "inflammatory and misleading."

"How different would our area feel, for example about the Boise State football team if all we ever knew about them was what was said by their competitor well in advance of the game, knowing that the results of the actual game would not be reported until several months away, if at all," Wills and Richardson wrote.

The document went on to claim the Statesman "knows full well that not only can ISP not provide the information to complete the story, but that we will be able to do so through court documents in the near future."

On top of the three whistleblower lawsuits already facing ISP, the daughter of the driver killed in the crash with Sloan has also filed a lawsuit, claiming that the "cover up" and "evidence tampering" prevented criminal charges against the deputy from going to trial. 

The first of the three whistleblower suits is expected to go to trial in October.
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