Judge Orders Release of McCall Police Department Investigation

From Tom Grote, The Star-News

A judge has ordered the city of McCall to release to the public a 2005 investigation into the conduct of the former McCall police chief and two of his former top officers. The release came following a formal request for the release by The Star-News in McCall.

Fourth District Court Judge George Carey issued the ruling on Oct. 18, the same day he heard arguments on the case from attorneys for The Star-News and the city.

On Oct. 26, the McCall City Council decided not to appeal Carey’s ruling, and the report was given to The Star-News.

In a report on the contents of the investigation published on Nov. 2, The Star-News said investigators had found serious incidents of mishandling of evidence by a police detective in two high-profile cases, but that the chief of police and his lieutenant tried to downplay the extent of the problem. “In spite of early warning signs . . . the upper command of (the police department) ignored problems with apparent hopes of it fading away” the
report said.

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

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

Kirkpatrick launched an investigation into the officers, hiring Northwest Investigative Solutions, headed by Garden City Police Chief Jim Bensley. The report was completed in October 2005 but was not released despite a public records request by The Star-News.

In court filings prior to the Oct. 18 hearing, the city claimed the Bensley report could not be released under state laws that exempt disclosure of personnel records. Release of the report also would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy of the three former police officers, the city claimed. Carey rejected those claims in his ruling. “This is a close question, but the court concludes that the documents do not amount to the personnel record of the three officers, because the report and its supporting document were not submitted until after the officers had left the police department,” Carey wrote.

“Consequently, the documents were more in the nature of an administrative review of a perceived problem than a personnel record of an individual officer or several officers,” he wrote.

Carey also dismissed the city’s claim that Bensley’s firm was a law enforcement agency, which would have qualified the report under state law to be exempt from disclosure. “Arguably the report was prepared for law enforcement purposes, but patently Northwest Investigative Solutions did not come within the statutory definition of a law enforcement agency, ” Carey wrote in his opinion.

Free to speak after to the release of the report, Valley County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Williams told The Star-News that he had to scramble to counteract the mistakes made by the police department to prevent the two high-profile cases from turning into what he called “a circus,” where the conduct of the police department would sidetrack the prosecution of the cases.

The defendants in both cases, a shooting that injured two people and an embezzlement from the McCall Area Chamber of Commerce, pleaded guilty to reduced charges and no trials were ever held.

Also, members of the city council said that Kirkpatrick, and not them, took the lead in the investigation and suspension of the three officers. Some in the community had accused council members of targeting Appa and the officers because of previous crackdowns by the police of liquor violations by McCall bars. That crackdown had angered bar owners, who in turn complained to the council.

The Star-News was represented in the case by Boise attorney Debora Kristensen of the law firm of Givens Pursley.

From Tom Grote, The Star-News

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