Star-News files court action

From the Star-News

The Star-News in McCall has filed a court action to force the city of McCall to release an investigation into the conduct of former McCall Police Department Chief Ralph Appa and two of his top officers.

The petition was filed July 24 in Fourth District Court in Cascade. In it, The Star-News asks a judge to overturn the city’s rejection of three separate requests made by the newspaper for the report under Idaho public records laws between November 2005 and March.

A hearing on the petition has been scheduled for Aug. 17 before Fourth District Judge George Carey.

“The documents requested contain information that cannot be released, based on the requirements of Idaho Code,” McCall City Manager Lindley Kirkpatrick said in a statement in reaction to The Star-News filing.

“The City looks forward to the resolution of this petition in a way that protects the interests of the individuals involved within the limits of the law,” Kirkpatrick said.

After a three-year tenure marked by controversy, Appa resigned as the head of McCall’s police force in June 2005. Also submitting their resignations were Lt. Chris Moore and Sgt. Lance Rogers.

The three were suspended with pay from their duties earlier in June 2005 by Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick launched an investigation into the officers, hiring James Bensley of Northwest Investigative Solutions of Garden City as investigator.

The report has not been released and no official reason for the investigation or the resignations has been given by the city.

After the suspensions, McCall City Council member Bonnie Bertram said the officers were disciplined because of suspected mishandling of evidence in two high-profile investigations.

Those cases included that of former McCall Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tracey Smith, who is now in prison for stealing money from the chamber.

The other case was that of Russell Antonucci, who has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing in the shooting and wounding of two people outside his McCall apartment in April of 2004. )In responding to the public records requests by The Star-News, Kirkpatrick cited state laws that exempt disclosure of personnel records or if release of the records would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

“We believe the disclosure of these records are in the public interest,” said Tom Grote, editor and co-publisher of The Star-News. “The Bensley report investigated the conduct of the police department and apparently found things that were terribly wrong,” Grote said. “This is information that city taxpayers who pay the salaries of police officers have a right to know.”

Appa continues to live in McCall, where he operates a handyman service.

In an interview, he said he received a severance package in return for his resignation, but declined to reveal the amount of that severance.

Appa said he requested and received a copy of the Bensley report from the city but that his copy was heavily censored. The parts of the report that he could read, however, show the investigation was biased against him and his fellow officers, Appa said.

“The report was designed to do what the city wanted to do, which is dig up enough garbage to hand their hat on to terminate us,” he said.

Rogers also continues to live in McCall, where he operates a home inspection service, according to his wife, Cherish. Rogers did not return a telephone message.

Moore lives in Boise, but his occupation was not known. He did not return a telephone message from The Star-News.

The Star-News is represented in the case by Boise attorney Debora Kristenensen, who has frequently represented the Idaho Press Club in court and in the Idaho Legislature on public records and open meeting issues.

The Star-News, an independent weekly newspaper, has a paid circulation of 4,500. The newspapers owners are Tom and Tomi Grote of McCall and A.L. Butch Alford Jr. of Lewiston.

Alford also is the owner of The Lewiston Tribune in Lewiston and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow.

From the Star-News

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