Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shooting of rancher in rural Idaho by local law enforcement has distrustful residents on edge

A small rural county in western Idaho is reeling from an incident on Nov. 1 in which a rancher was shot and killed by local police officers dispatched to an accident scene in which a vehicle struck a bull. "Emergency medical personnel and Adams County (Wikipedia map) deputies arrived to the scene and began to extricate the driver and a passenger from a Subaru station wagon. During this time the bull that was injured in the crash began charging at first responders and other vehicles," according to a statement from the Adams County Sheriff's Department obtained by The Adams County Record.

"As deputies prepared to put the injured bull down, the owner of the bull, Jack Yantis, 62, of Council, arrived on scene with a rifle," states the sheriff's department. "The events that transpired over the course of the next few minutes are under investigation, but, at this time, it is believed that two deputies and Mr. Yantis all fired their weapons. Mr. Yantis sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. One deputy sustained a minor injury."

The collision wasn't an unusual occurrence in Adams County, where animals are often found wandering in the road, Kirk Johnson reports for The New York Times. During such incidents, the "owner of the animal, if it is still alive but deemed beyond recovery, puts a bullet through its head and hauls it away."

"Much about what happened that night, on a dark stretch of highway just outside Payette National Forest, two hours north of Boise, remains uncertain," Johnson writes. "State and county officials said Mr. Yantis’s bolt-action rifle had discharged, but they have not described the circumstances. Family members say flatly that Mr. Yantis was murdered. Inquiries by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States attorney’s office and the Idaho State Police are just beginning. Mrs. Yantis (who suffered a heart attack after learning her husband had been killed) is recovering in a hospital in Boise, and one of the people in the vehicle that struck the bull is still hospitalized."

But anger and anxiety is running rampant among the 800 residents of Council (the county has 3,900 residents) since the shooting, much of it directed at the sheriff’s office, Johnson writes. "And though the circumstances of other recent police-involved shootings around the nation are different—including that all the parties involved here were white—the alienation from authority echoes in a way that feels much the same." Dale Fisk, editor of The Record, told Johnson, “This is a very conservative community in a very conservative state, and people are just distrustful of the government.

Serving as a law enforcement officer in a county with low population and a vast area to cover is not easy, with pay ranging from $14.50 to $15 an hour, Johnson writes. "With the two officers involved in the shooting now on paid administrative leave, only four deputies are left to patrol an area bigger than the state of Rhode Island." Another problem is the economic woes in Adams County, which has the state's highest unemployment rate, 6.8 percent, compared with 4.2 percent statewide. Some say the sheriff's office tries to make up for it by issuing an excessive number of speeding tickets.

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