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Terminated Office of Police Accountability director files suit against City of Boise

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The attorney for recently terminated Office of Police Accountability Director Jesus Jara said he filed suit against the City of Boise on Monday for retaliation, wrongful termination, and violations of the Idaho Whistleblower Act.  The attorney provided BoiseDev a copy of the complaint.

In the complaint, Jara outlines his time at the City of Boise he says was marred by retaliation after he sought to push for more investigation into complaints against now-resigned Chief Ryan Lee. He’s seeking damages, compensation for past and future lost wages, lost retirement, and pension benefits, lost future earning capacity, general damages for emotional distress, defamation, and libel, as well as reimbursement for attorney’s fees. 

This comes after a tumultuous ten days where he was placed on administrative leave by Mayor Lauren McLean and terminated in a special session of Boise City Council on Friday in a 5-1 vote. McLean’s office and city council leadership put out statements saying they’d lost confidence in Jara’s ability to run the office and say his viewing of 8,000 body cam videos from Boise Police Officers outside the scope of use of force complaints violated the city’s ordinance. 

Jesus Jara. Photo: Don Day & courtesy of City of Boise

Jara’s suit is connected to a lengthy series of events stemming from a series of complaints against Lee filed through the Office of Police Accountability. Earlier this year, Lee Idaho State Police investigated Lee after a referral from the City of Boise for an incident where he severely injured a Sergeant’s neck in a training briefing. Lee was ultimately cleared of legal wrongdoing in what a North Idaho prosecutor called “a close call.” Lee was the subject of a story by KTVB earlier this fall detailing complaints against Lee and an internal memo from Jara suggesting he be placed on administrative leave. He was asked to resign shortly after it aired.

Now, two officers who were publicly outspoken against the chief have filed grievances against the City of Boise with the Idaho Human Rights Commission. One of the officers, Tom Fleming who oversaw BPD’s internal affairs, also filed suit against the city in district court. The second officer, now-retired Captain Matt Bryngelson, was revealed to be connected to a white supremacist website and is at the center of an investigation into the department from a Washington D.C. law firm.

Fleming and Jara are both represented by the same lawyer, Grady Hepworth. Hepworth previously also represented Bryngelson, but Hepworth confirmed to BoiseDev he is no longer counsel for Bryngelson.

‘Conflicting guidance’ 

Jara contends in his complaint he was hired to investigate allegations of police misconduct and provide independent and transparent findings about violations of laws and police procedure. He says his independence was codified in the ordinance, where it reads “no person shall attempt to unduly influence or undermine the independence of the Director or any employee of the Office of Police Accountability.”

He says one of his early concerns in the position included how the office should handle complaints raised against command-level officers within BPD, including the chief of police. In the complaint, Jara says he received “conflicting” guidance on the issue from the city’s legal department and his direct supervisor McLean’s Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn.

Jara said this tension about how to handle investigations into command staff was temporarily resolved with a new city regulation saying the OPA director may use their discretion to determine if a complaint warrants an investigation within the office instead of forwarding it to BPD’s Internal Affairs department.

“Mr. Jara reasonably relied upon representations by Chief of Staff Washburn that the City was ‘working’ on the updates as he continued to perform the duties of his office in good faith and with utmost diligence in accordance with both city ordinance and city regulation,” the complaint reads.

He says in the spring of 2022 he received a $1,000 bonus, a nearly $20,000 raise and then also earned a 1.5% bonus in August for his role as a “solid contributor” to the city. 

Complaints about Chief Lee roll into OPA 

In February, Jara’s complaint says he received an email from the Office of Internal Affairs related to concerns about Lee’s reported interference in an Internal Affairs Investigation. Fleming, one of the officers who spoke out against Lee and has since filed suit, ran internal affairs at this time. He also was the one who referred the investigation into Chief Lee’s assault on a sergeant during a daily briefing to Idaho State Police, according to reporting from BoiseDev.

The complaint says the city’s human resources department did not believe they had the legal authority to investigate the issue, so it was sent to Jara for independent review. In addition to the concerns from the internal affairs investigator, nine separate BPD staff members, “many of whom” served in command-level positions, submitted independent complaints and concerns about Lee.

“The (nine) complaints ranged from general concerns regarding hostile work environment and retaliation, to concerns regarding waste of public funds and manpower, to serious concerns of interference in ongoing (internal affairs) investigations arising from concerns of use of force by active officers and allegations of otherwise criminal behavior and violations of the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.”

According to previous reporting from BoiseDev, the City of Boise says 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.” The city also said there were eight individuals who complained, with one person submitting two complaints.

Jara said after he received the complaints and learned about their severity, he reported them to Washburn and questioned whether an independent organization should review the allegations. The complaint then alleges Washburn responded “dismissively,” saying that the complaints were likely from the same officers who had “already reached out to her office and others in the city” and “were always making noise.” Jara’s complaint said he then asked if he could interview the officers and compile their complaints and statements into a report.

The complaint said Jara then “engaged in protected activities under Idaho’s Whistleblower Act” by conducting an investigation. Jara says Washburn told him to make sure all communications regarding his investigation go through her. The report was delivered to Washburn and McLean on April 5, 2022, per their direction, according to the complaint. Jara also provided a policy recommendation to have Lee put on leave, which he provided to McLean, Washburn, and the officers who filed the complaints. 

This memo was publicly revealed by KTVB earlier this fall. The television station did not say how it received the memo. BoiseDev was not able to obtain the memo after a request under Idaho’s Public Records Act.

Jara’s complaint says at that time, Washburn said, “no further action will be taken by the Office of Police Accountability, and the role of the office will be considered complete unless further action is requested.” On May 6, Jara received a memo from Washburn saying she had reviewed the OPA report and “initiated a review by outside council of the complaints.”

It went on to say, “there has been no violation of city or Boise Police Department policy or procedure” and that the officers who filed the complaints were to be thanked for providing information. Jara alleges the identity of the “outside council” referenced by Washburn is unknown and he was never provided a copy of their findings or summaries. Jara’s complaint says he’s not sure if a formal inquiry was ever conducted.

“Given the serious nature of the allegations raised but he complaining officers, it’s unclear how the City of Boise could have concluded no violations of law or policy occurred without further investigation,” Jara’s complaint reads.

Jara alleges City of Boise restricted his authority in retaliation 

The complaint says after the city moved to end the investigation of Lee the Office of Police Accountability was restricted in its actions with new policies.

Jara says he received contact from an unnamed reporter about his recommendation to put Lee on leave at the end of May. He says he did not respond to this inquiry and kept the matter confidential. A week later, Jara says Washburn accused him of “releasing confidential information.”

He says on June 21 he received another memo ordering him “not to accept or investigate complaints from City employees including BPD officers regarding workplace conditions,” which Jara says “unreasonably restricted OPA’s ability to perform its legal duties.” Jara says Washburn’s instructions violated city code. 

Jara says he received another memo on October 13, following the airing of KTVB’s story about OPA’s memo about Lee and complaints against Lee from McLean, City Council President Elaine Clegg and City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings telling him to “suspend all complaint intakes of BPD employees by you or any member of your staff and refer that employee to Employee Relations in Human Resources.” He says there were a series of meetings about his recommendation for Lee to be put on leave and the complaints throughout October.

The complaint said another memo on November 1 followed, alerting him to the formation of a new subcommittee made up of three city council members that will be overseeing the Office of Police Accountability twice a month. Jara said in a second memo he was “falsely accused” of “exceeding (OPA’s) legislative authority” and “instances where the office has failed to follow through with certain responsibilities. Jara says these memos are retaliatory.

Jara said these changes prohibited him from investigating allegations raised in February 2022 about a BPD officer who made “inconsistent, or potentially dishonest” testimony about his involvement in an off-duty shooting, which resulted in someone dying. The complaint says Jara was also concerned about the BPD Office of Internal Affairs not investigating or disciplining repeat excessive force complaints from another officer who had multiple complaints from the public and department-initiated investigations against him.

Access cut off to city video systems

Jara filed a Notice of Grievance and Breach of Contract complaint against Washburn, McLean and the Boise City Council on November 21. 

Jara says his access to city databases to review evidence was revoked the day after his complaint, on November 22. He said the move prevented the office from performing their duties. Jara says he was falsely accused of “live auditing” BPD’s body camera videos later that day and told the Mayor’s office he does not have the ability to live stream.

The city earlier told BoiseDev it cut his access on November 15th, which would be before the date Jara says he filed the grievance notice. The city said and provided documents noting the November 22nd meeting.

During a March Boise City Council meeting updating the public on the operations of his office, Jara said “we have access to now even live auditing,” which appears to refer to his ability to review the department’s CAD system to see what calls for service are coming in and what units are responding. Jara told the council if he sees items with heavy police presence, he pulls up the body camera video to review the following day when it is available.

In his complaint, Jara refutes the city’s claim that the ordinance does not allow him to review random body camera videos not within the scope of an inquiry, citing a section of the ordinance that says the OPA “shall conduct regular review of police actions to evaluate compliance with BPD policies and relevant state and federal law.”

Meeting minutes from the November 22 meeting provided by the City of Boise reported by BoiseDev say McLean asked Jara what the ordinance said about videos not tied to a specific complaint and he told her the ordinance is “silent,” meaning it does not address this type of practice. 

Jara alleges defamation by press release

McLean placed Jara on administrative leave on December 2.

He then said the City of Boise “maliciously defamed” him in the press release announcing the decision saying he had “undermined the confidence” of the Office of Police Accountability or had otherwise exceeded his legal authority. He said McLean’s statement after he was fired on Friday by the Boise City Council was “false, misleading, and libelous.”

“The false and libelous statements were issued knowingly and maliciously to damage Mr. Jara’s reputation, cause embarrassment, and to otherwise cause economic harm to Mr. Jara in light of his filed grievance and foreseeable Whistleblower claims,” the complaint said. 

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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