Paper gets records detailing remote Idaho shootout

From the Associated Press

Public records recently obtained by the Post Register detail a strange incident in which four Idaho State Police officers were left scrambling for safety when they were shot at by an unknown assailant at a remote mining claim.

No one was hit by the gunfire and no arrests were made, but the Jan. 14, 2009, incident was shrouded in secrecy until the Idaho Falls newspaper won a nine-month court battle to unseal the Idaho State Police documents.

The documents, ordered released by 7th District Judge Gregory S. Anderson, say that the police were responding to a citizen’s report of possible illegal drug activity when they rode snowmobiles to a shed on a mining claim at the remote central Idaho ghost town of Gilmore. The ghost town, made up of about two dozen buildings, was once at the heart of Idaho’s largest silver-lead mining district outside of the Coeur d’Alene region.

The officers’ pace was leisurely, according to the reports. Before going to the shed’s door, they ate their lunches while sitting atop their snowmobiles.

Though they knew who owned the building, the officers didn’t have a search warrant and didn’t announce their presence before trying to enter the shed, according to the ISP reports. That’s when someone opened fire, sending the officers running for cover behind a man-made berm.

All of the officers’ names were redacted from the reports.

“I yelled toward the structure that we didn’t want any trouble, and if he stopped shooting we would leave the area,” one of the officers wrote in his narrative of the incident.

Eventually, the officers did just that, leaving their snowmobiles behind and crawling on their bellies through snow to a nearby creek bed. Once under the cover of trees, they walked four miles in 3- to 4-foot-deep snow to their vehicles.

None of the officers returned fire, according to the reports. The group returned days later to retrieve their snowmobiles, which were unharmed.

The incident wasn’t reported until April 2009, after a Post Register reporter began digging into the matter. At the time, ISP Capt. Danny Bunderson refused to provide details because the case was still under investigation.

Bunderson declined requests for an interview this week, saying the agency can’t release additional information without risking investigative efforts being conducted by the Lemhi County sheriff’s office.

According to the ISP reports, the officers knew the building was owned by a former Idaho Falls resident and they’d even conducted surveillance on the man in the past. Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman says he believes the man is still in the area and says deputies will try to reach him soon to ask him to meet with law enforcement, on the promise he won’t be arrested or detained.

According to records from the Idaho State Police debriefing following the incident, the officers didn’t take their police radios with them and only had some food. ISP officials concluded the shooting “should have been (treated) like all critical incidents,” and that ISP leaders should have considered relieving the officers from duty for a time. Additionally, the shooting should have been investigated by another agency, the debriefing officials found.

“The biggest thing was that having to do it again, they may not even attempt it or at the least be better prepared,” the debriefing said. “Planning and communication are always essential elements when planning an operation such as this.”

From the Associated Press

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