Investigations at the Boise Police Department
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Last week, after a series of racist comments from former Boise Police Captain Matt Bryngelson and his appearance at a conference for white supremacists came to light, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean quickly announced an investigation into the captain and, more widely, into any similar situations in the Boise Police Department.
Several readers reached out to BoiseDev and asked why the city was taking quick action with an investigation on Bryngelson when past news reports had indicated the McLean administration took little to no action on a series of complaints against former Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee.
In recent months, BoiseDev pushed city officials to add additional context to reporting on the complaints. The city has generally said the complaints are part of several personnel matters, and they could not comment. After the new questions from the public in the wake of the new investigation, we continued to press the city to add transparency to the matter.
McLean asked for Lee’s resignation after a KTVB aired a report into complaints about Lee and after the police union shared their concerns about his performance with her.
Late Thursday afternoon, for the first time, the city is sharing more details about the complaints against Lee.
These new details reveal that four of the nine complaints were investigated by outside police agencies, Boise’s own Internal Affairs, or are still open. The city contends other complaints lacked sufficient details or were “disagreements with management.”
ISP investigation triggered by city
Earlier this year, the Idaho State Police Department investigated an incident in November of 2021 where Lee conducted a demonstration of a series of holds as part of a discussion of a neck hold the city was instructing officers to no longer use in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Sgt. Kirk Rush, who was the subject of the demonstration, told the Idaho State Police the maneuver Lee demonstrated on him left him with a severe neck injury.
ISP conducted a months-long investigation, interviewing dozens of witnesses, as BoiseDev detailed in September. Ultimately, the matter was referred to prosecutors in Clearwater County, who decided not to press charges against Lee but said it was “a close call.”
After questions from BoiseDev on how the ISP investigation came to be, the city said it was triggered after an initial review by BPD’s Internal Affairs division and the city’s human resources department.
“Rush filed a workers comp claim and spoke with city staff about the incident,” City of Boise Spokesperson Maria Weeg said. “To ensure the complaints would be treated fairly and impartially, the matter was referred outside of the internal city IA/HR process to an independent investigator.”
Weeg said the city asked former Captain Tom Fleming to find an appropriate outside agency for the investigation. Fleming later told KTVB-TV that he, too, made complaints about Lee. She also said after Fleming identified ISP, the agency “shortly after” told the city that they would conduct a criminal investigation into the incident involving Rush and Lee.
As first reported by KTVB, in April, a series of nine complaints against Lee were referred by the Office of Police Accountability to McLean’s Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn. OPA Director Jesus Jara reports to McLean via Washburn.
Jara suggested, according to the memo published by KTVB, that the city take action steps, including hiring an outside party to investigate and putting Lee on leave. BoiseDev has not been able to procure the memo independently, but McLean verified its authenticity to BoiseDev in an October interview.
McLean said in October, the April 5th memo from Jara to Washburn prompted the city to take his recommendation of an outside party to review the nine allegations but said the recommendation to put Lee on leave was “outside the authorization” of the ordinance establishing the OPA.
The city has denied public records requests by BoiseDev to obtain the complaints attached to the memo, citing Idaho State Code on personnel records. BoiseDev asked in the interview with McLean for the city to provide more detail about the nine complaints and again asked over the last two weeks.
Some complaints investigated
Weeg provided additional detail late Thursday.
She said that the Office of Police Accountability received nine complaints from eight individuals and noted that in the KTVB story, Bryngelson and Fleming “have stated they are two of the nine individuals.”
Bryngelson was the only on-camera source in the KTVB story, though Fleming was quoted in the online story and appeared in the television version by voice only. As noted earlier, Fleming was also the individual who selected ISP to investigate Rush’s claims against Lee, according to Weeg.
KTVB, in a story earlier this month, said it wasn’t aware of Bryngelson’s connection to the white supremacist website American Renaissance. Fleming told the Idaho Statesman that “flat out…” he “was not involved in that,” referring to Bryngelson’s writings and interviews he did with American Renaissance.
Weeg also provided BoiseDev with a rundown of the complaints against Lee as presented to the city by OPA.
“While the details of the complaints varied, they shared a common theme of disliking management style and decisions,” she said.
Here’s how Weeg characterized the nine complaints:
- Two “lacked sufficient information for further action.”
- One is part of “a closed ISP criminal investigation but still part of an ongoing IA investigation.”
- BoiseDev asked Weeg if this was Rush’s complaint against Lee that ISP investigated. She declined to comment.
- One is part of an “ongoing investigation” for an incident that did not happen in Ada County.
- One was investigated by Internal Affairs and later closed.
- One was “investigated by another police agency” and closed.
- The final three “were disagreements with management decisions including treatment of officers, discipline, equipment selection, policy changes, and hiring practices and promotions.”
The list provided by Weeg indicates that of the nine complaints, four were investigated by either the city or referred to an outside agency. It also indicates that two of the claims are part of currently-open investigations.
In October, Fleming filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city, alleging wrongdoing against Lee, according to the Idaho Statesman.