Justice Department, FBI, Idaho State Police Conclude Four-month Investigation into Shooting Involving Nez Perce Tribal Police
One Officer Indicted for False Statements; No Charges Against Officer who Fired Fatal Shot
COEUR D'ALENE – After a four-month investigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Idaho announced today that it is declining prosecution under federal criminal civil rights statutes of the Nez Perce Tribal Police Department officer who shot and killed Lewiston resident Jeffrey Flinn on November 12, 2011, near Winchester, Idaho. The shooting occurred after Flinn stole a truck and led law enforcement officers on a prolonged slow speed chase south on Highway 95.
The incident was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Idaho State Police. United States Attorney Wendy J. Olson called the investigation "detailed and thorough." "We pursued and obtained all the information necessary to make a prosecutive decision," she said.
To prove a violation of the federal criminal civil rights statute prohibiting law enforcement officer misconduct, prosecutors must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer intentionally used more force than he or she could reasonably have thought necessary under the circumstances. "That issue was the focus of the investigation," said Olson.
A decision not to prosecute may be made for a variety of reasons, Olson said, including insufficiency of evidence to prove the police officer intentionally used more force than was necessary. "The statute sets out a tough standard in cases involving allegations of unreasonable force by a police officer," she said. "It requires that we be cautious, thorough and deliberative, and that's what we've been in this case. We determined that under the circumstances, including the weather conditions, lighting and officer's knowledge and state of mind leading up to the shooting, we could not prove all of the elements of this offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In such situations, we are obligated to decline prosecution. We do so here."
U.S. Attorney Olson extended her sympathy to Flinn's family and her appreciation to the law enforcement officers who truthfully cooperated in the investigation. "We all understand that police officers have a difficult and sometimes dangerous job to do," she said, "but the law clearly prohibits them from doing it in a way that intentionally deprives citizens of their constitutional rights. Whenever there's an allegation that an officer has crossed that line, it's our responsibility to investigate fully and fairly."
Olson also announced that a federal grand jury in Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday returned a one count indictment charging Nez Perce Tribal Police Department Officer Trevor Michael Garrett with making false statements to two FBI agents investigating Flinn's death. The indictment states that Garrett was not the officer who fired the shot that killed Flinn. It alleges that Garrett on three separate occasions falsely stated to the FBI that he did not remember the details of the shooting incident between the time he fired at Flinn and the time that another officer secured Flinn's rifle. It further alleges that these statements were false because Garrett knew that he remembered that Flinn exited a truck, and that Flinn stood facing law enforcement officers with his hands in the air for three to five seconds before he was shot and killed. The indictment further alleges that Garrett's statements were false because he did know the name and identity of the police officer who shot Flinn.
"Federal law requires that we vigorously investigate allegations that law enforcement officers abused their power and intentionally used more force than is necessary," said Olson. "We take these investigations seriously. Witness officers who elect to make statements to the FBI have a fundamental duty to be truthful."
An indictment is a means of charging a person with criminal activity. It is not evidence. The person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a collaborative effort by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and communities to prevent and deter gun violence.