Investigations at the Boise Police Department
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The lead investigator and the attorney for two former city employees are at odds over their potential participation in the ongoing probe into racism in the Boise Police Department.
Michael Bromwich, the lead investigator with Washington D.C. firm Steptoe & Johnson, says former Boise Police Department Internal Affairs Captain Tom Fleming and recently terminated Office of Police Accountability Director Jesus Jara have declined interviews with his firm. Jara and Fleming’s attorney Grady Hepworth disputes this and says his clients are happy to participate in the investigation, but only if the questions can be answered in written form.
Mayor Lauren McLean initiated this investigation in the wake of revelations that now-retired police captain Matthew Bryngelson was involved with a white supremacist publication while he was employed by the department. Bromwich, a former DOJ inspector general, was hired to see if Bryngelson’s views had an impact on the department’s policies, how it policed, who was promoted or demoted, complaints or any other impacts in the decades Bryngelson worked at BPD.
Bromwich said his firm is still awaiting documents his team requested from the Boise Police Department and it is unknown when the investigation will conclude.
Lawsuits, evidence and interviews
In an interview with BoiseDev, Bromwich said Fleming and Jara’s refusal to participate in an interview is disappointing to him due to their roles in overseeing complaints about BPD, both internally and from the public. He says investigators of all types at the local, state and federal levels always do in-person interviews instead of written questions because it allows the investigator to ask follow-up questions and hear from the subject what they have to say, instead of having their lawyer or another third party write the response.
“Between them they have had two of the most significant accountability positions over the Boise Police Department,” Bromwich said. “We’d be interested in their relationships and contacts with Matthew Bryngelson…also more generally how complaints about racism were handled in the department, whether they were investigated thoroughly or if they tended to be dismissed.”
Hepworth says his clients cannot participate in an interview because it could compromise evidence in Fleming and Jara’s cases against the city, where they are both alleging retaliation and discrimination. Their suits came amid a tangle of events surrounding complaints against former police Chief Ryan Lee who resigned at McLean’s request last year.
“As an attorney representing them, I also am bound by ethical duties to preserve evidence, and the written questions/answers would need to be given to the city’s attorneys appearing in the lawsuits—the law firm of Jones Williams Fuhrman Gourley, PA (Daniel Williams and Erika Judd),” he wrote in an email. “Written questions/answer are as much for their benefit as anyone, given the concerns my clients have already raised with city leadership about potential bias, discrimination, and retaliation.”
In response to Hepworth’s comments, Bromwich said no member of the city staff would be present for any of the interviews, no notes from the interviews would be provided to anyone outside of the firm and anyone who is interviewed gets a pre-publication review of their comments.
“Finally, the interviews are entirely voluntary,” Bromwich concluded his email. “Mr. Fleming and Mr. Jara could at any time decline to answer any question that relates to their civil lawsuits or terminate the interview entirely. Under these circumstances, it is hard to understand how their decision is anything other than a decision not to cooperate with our investigation.”
How is the rest of the investigation going?
Bromwich couldn’t reveal many details, but he’s “pleased in general” with how things are progressing.
He and his staffers have made two trips to Boise so far to conduct interviews with over a dozen people. Although the focus of the investigation is on Bryngelson and his influence after decades in the department, Bromwich said a major goal of the investigation is to understand the culture of the department, including recent events surrounding the actions and departure of Lee.
Bromwich also confirmed that Bryngelson himself declined to participate in an interview for the investigation.
Critics of McLean have opposed the probe with some on social media calling it a “witch hunt” and other moves from the mayor’s office to paint all police officers in Boise as racist. Bromwich says this is not true and his investigative team is operating independently of the mayor and any political goals. He merely wants to get to the bottom of what is going on, if anything, in the department surrounding Bryngelson’s influence and how racism could influence police policy.
“People who have sat for interviews have said they were reluctant to do so because there is a pervasive feeling our investigation is driven by politics and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Bromwich said. “This is an independent investigation and everyone we spoke with said ‘after speaking with you I feel much more comfortable and I will tell people you’re asking relevant questions’.”