Investigations at the Boise Police Department
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Jesus Jara is out as the Director of Boise’s Office of Police Accountability after a special meeting of the Boise City Council on Friday morning.
At the brief meeting, council members convened and immediately voted to go into executive session to discuss a personnel matter. They returned less than half an hour later and voted 5-1, with City Council Member Luci Willits opposing, to terminate Jara’s employment with the city.
This comes after new records reveal a meeting in late November where Mayor Lauren McLean and other city leaders posed questions to Jara about his review of 8,000 random videos from on-body cameras worn by Boise Police Officers. In the meeting, McLean raised questions about the potential legality of viewing videos not related to complaints, but appeared to stop short of asking him to stop the practice. He had his access to the video monitoring system cut prior to the meeting.
City ‘deeply concerned’ about body cam viewing, Jara in opposition
McLean put out a lengthy statement on the firing Friday after the vote. She is “deeply concerned” about his viewing the videos, calling it an invasion of privacy when citizens are at their most vulnerable. The statement listed a variety of situations, such as “parents trying to protect their kids” and “women in domestic violence.” McLean said she believes if residents think there’s a possibility that interaction with police will be watched at random, they might be less inclined to call dispatch for help.
“In early November, my office learned that Jesus Jara was conducting unauthorized surveillance of community members,” she said. “I believe he was effectively exploiting his access for audits to the system by randomly viewing over 8,000 videos, almost exclusively without cause. This is a serious violation of the privacy of our residents and a worrisome erosion of the trust we intended to build with the OPA model of oversight.”
“Our community deserves to know those interactions, while recorded, are protected unless and until there is a compelling reason for a stranger to view the interaction,” the statement continued. “The intrusion of privacy caused by a director acting outside the bounds of the ordinance authorizing his work is untenable. “
Jara fired back with a statement from his attorney Grady Hepworth, saying he is “dismayed” by the vote and called it a “bold and blatant act of retaliation in violation of Idaho’s Whistleblower laws.” His statement appeared to allude to complaints he took from officers with grievances against now-resigned Police Chief Ryan Lee and a memo reported by KTVB saying he recommended Lee be put on leave earlier this year.
“Mr. Jara is inspired by the courage exhibited by the members of BPD who risked their careers in order to speak truth to power, and remains steadfast in his belief that integrity, accountability, and diligence will ultimately prevail over deceit, incompetence, and shortsighted political convenience.
One dissenting council member
The subcommittee of council members who oversee the Office of Police Accountability, City Council President Elaine Clegg, City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings and City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton all released statements supporting their decision to terminate him.
“The extent of Mr. Jara’s review of police body cam footage, which is not authorized by city policy, is a gross violation of privacy for our residents, often in their worst moments,” Woodings said in the statement. “This behavior has completely eroded my confidence in Mr. Jara to lead an office that is intended to serve our community.”
“It is important to me that community members still have a place to go to report any concerns, and I have confidence that they can still reach out to the remaining members of the office of police accountability to voice those concerns,” Hallyburton wrote in a comment to BoiseDev. ” “I Will be working closely with council leadership and the mayor’s office to make sure that availability continues.”
After the vote, Willits answered questions from several media outlets. She said there should be a broader community conversation about policing, police oversight and the reporting structure of who reports to who within the city needs to be evaluated. Willits said the combination of the viewing of body cam videos and other factors were what pushed council members to vote to terminate Jara, but she did not disclose those details.
“For me, I do not think this office was set up for success and I could not in good conscience fire the director,” she said. “What we’ve seen in the last couple of months is there are lots of things in the public where our policies do not align with what we want. It’s very clear to me that the City of Boise has a lot of work to do so that the Office of Police Accountability, that the chief and the leadership are all on the same page with what we expect of police.”
In response to a question from BoiseDev, Willits said, “everything is on the table,” and she would not be opposed to reimplementing the police ombudsmen model employed in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The last time the City of Boise voted to remove an appointed director was 20 years ago in the wake of a travel scandal involving former Mayor Brent Coles. The council at the time voted to remove Susan Mimura, who was then city attorney.