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Fort Hall representatives say residents “deserve more than loose law enforcement”

Here is the press release sent Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. While the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office said they cannot discuss the investigation because it’s still open, they say it is an officer’s duty to protect not only their communities, but themselves as well.

December 4, 2013

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are deeply concerned about the recent law enforcement shooting, and are committed to finding answers.

The Tribes are not rushing to judgment, but have legitimate cause for concern. It is troubling that Bannock County law enforcement has had multiple officer-involved shootings in the recent past, and that this was the same officer that was involved in one of those recent shootings. In addition, here some troubling facts about this shooting: The driver had pulled over in an unpopulated area on the Reservation with no other traffic. He was surrounded by multiple law enforcement vehicles on a marked dead-end road. His tires had been spiked and were flat. He had pulled over already. The officers had identified the driver and had access to his record. They knew or should have known that he had no history of violence. After the driver pulled over, he reversed a short distance at low speed and bumped the officer’s vehicle, doing no damage to the officer’s vehicle. The officer was still in his much larger SUV, but drew his weapon and immediately shot through his own windshield and Mr. Toane’s rear window, hitting Mr. Toane twice in the neck. Beyond Mr. Toane’s vehicle and directly within the shooting officer’s field of fire were other officers on the scene. These initial facts alone do not prove that the officer was wrong to use deadly force, but they raise legitimate questions that must be answered by a transparent investigation.

The Tribes want everyone to be accountable to the rule of law. The individual that eluded law enforcement and all persons must respect the rule of law. Mr. Toane must be held accountable for his actions, but by courts of law. He should not be subject to unlawful or excessive force, and he should not be tried in the press. Premature statements should not be made at a press conference to taint the jury pool or attempt to justify or vilify the County officer before an impartial investigation is completed. Based on the information available to the Council, this was not a ‘high speed’ chase, and Mr. Toane did not ram the officer endangering his life as characterized at Bannock County’s press conference. Rather than jump to conclusions, however, the Council believes it is best to gather credible evidence about the facts and let the legal system work.

Mr. Toane is accountable to the law, and so is the County officer. Tribal members are not second-class citizens and deserve more than loose law enforcement. It is too early to conclude that the officer used excessive force, but it is not too early to conclude that the same standards that apply to an officer’s use of force in town also apply on the Reservation. Officers are not infallible and the Reservation is not a place for roughshod law enforcement. The officer should be held accountable to established standards for the use of force.

The Tribes want everyone on the Reservation to be safe. The Fort Hall Business Council will earnestly seek to address these issues in order to protect all residents of the Reservation.

The County’s administrative ‘independent investigation’ must be transparent and neutral. When Tribal officials responded to the scene, which is on Tribal owned land on the Reservation, Bannock County law enforcement refused to let them take video or photographs. Bannock County removed the officer’s vehicle before the Tribes could investigate and have not made the dash camera or audio recordings available to the Tribes. An investigation conducted by Idaho Falls or Idaho State Police officers that associate with the officers in question or Sheriff Nielsen is not truly independent or impartial. The shooting officer’s comrades from another agency that he associates with should not be conducting the investigation. Has such an ‘independent investigation’ in Bannock County ever concluded that a shooting was wrong? At a minimum, the Tribal government should be consulted and informed about the investigation since it occurred on the Reservation on Tribal land.

The Tribes support the FBI’s investigation. The Tribes are glad the FBI is conducting a separate investigation into whether the officer committed a crime or used excessive deadly force. The Tribes understand that the FBI has started investigating and hope the FBI will consult with the Tribes about the investigation status.

The Tribes are initiating an investigation into the shooting. Since the Tribes have not been included in the County’s investigation, the Tribes will be conducting a separate investigation, involving federal law officials, accident reconstruction and use of force experts. The Tribes have requested access to Bannock County law enforcement video, audio, incident reports, and crime scene logs. The Tribes see no reason why that information would be hidden or withheld until later. The Tribes have given the County notice of the investigation and the obligation not to spoil evidence, lose, or erase audio or video recordings. The Tribes have offered open access to all Tribal Police Department records and reports about the incident to the County and expect the same in return.

This is a circumstance about people, not race. The lead fact should not be that he is a ‘Fort Hall man.’ He has a full-time job, a family that loves him, is known as a kind and religious person, and has a future. Obviously he was involved in conduct for which he must be accountable, but the story should not focus on his race.

Tribal law enforcement expertise and experience should have been used by the County in this case. Tribal officers are intimately familiar with the area and the people on the Reservation. Tribal officers have certification and qualifications equal to or exceeding County law enforcement. Tribal officers also have a record of successfully deescalating conflict situations like this. The Fort Hall Police Department spiked his tires and could have resolved this situation without use of deadly force. The Council is concerned that the Tribal law enforcement expertise and experience resource was not used in this case by the County. They had the time and opportunity to involve the Tribe more, but lacked the respect or protocol to involve Tribal law enforcement.

The Tribes want a more cooperative law enforcement relationship and protocol with surrounding agencies. This tragic circumstance demonstrates the need for cooperation between County, City, and Tribal law enforcement. County and Tribal leaders owe it to all citizens and Reservation residents to develop a respectful and cooperative agreement or protocol defining how the agencies will work together on hot pursuit cases in a way that takes advantage of the unique assets and resources each agency has.

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