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2 Sheriff's Deputies Won't Be Prosecuted In Idaho Rancher's Death


This next story might sound familiar. It's about a family man killed by law enforcement and his family's anger when the officers were not charged. But as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the case of Jack Yantis is also different from other police shooting stories in some crucial ways, starting with where it happened.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Jack Yantis was a rancher in Adams County in western Idaho. It's a remote area, and it's open range. That means cattle wander across the highways, and sometimes they get hit by cars. That's what happened to one of Yantis' bulls last November. It was a Sunday around dinner time when the sheriff's office called Yantis down to the road to put the injured animal out of its misery. He came down with his rifle, and that's when things went terribly wrong.


SARAH YANTIS: This is the exact spot, right here on the road, where my dad, Jack Yantis, was brutally gunned down and murdered by the Adams County deputies.

KASTE: That's his daughter Sarah doing a live TV news conference a few days after the incident.


YANTIS: He was shot and left for dead like common roadkill.

KASTE: Yantis was shot 12 times. But as so often happens, the details are murky. We know there was some kind of dispute over how to kill the bull. The deputies say Yantis wasn't obeying them. And one of them says he thought Yantis was going to kill him. Witness accounts are contradictory, and the deputy's body cameras were not rolling.

Now, eight months later, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says he doesn't have grounds to charge anyone.


LAWRENCE WASDEN: The level of evidence was not sufficient to warrant a prosecution.

KASTE: All of this echoes similar cases in urban areas. But what's interesting here is how this death has raised the issue of police shootings in the rural west.

MICHAEL MCLAUGHLIN: Until Jack Yantis, I kind of ignored this.

KASTE: That's Michael McLaughlin, a trucker and a longtime Yantis family friend. He helped organize protests through a Facebook site called Justice for Jack.

MCLAUGHLIN: I'm 60 years old, and I remember policemen being nice. But our militarization of our police departments by our government - it's a drastic difference.

KASTE: This sounds a lot like the things you hear from protesters in St. Louis or Baton Rouge. And yet, in Idaho, the people I talked to are hesitant to make common cause with, say, Black Lives Matter. They're more likely to sympathize with anti-federal movements such as the people who took over the wildlife refuge in nearby Oregon last winter. But some of them have tried to reach out. Take Terri Flett. Originally from Idaho, she spent much of her summer traveling to big cities to protest over Jack Yantis.

TERRI FLETT: Yeah, I was over 3,000 miles when I got home.

KASTE: When a black man named Philando Castile was killed by a policeman in St. Paul last month, Flett decided to join the protests there.

FLETT: I went to St. Paul, and I had made poster sign. And I went there worried to death, as my friends were worried for me to go to that environment. And I just walked up and went there and was received really well.

KASTE: Still, these are two movements that run in parallel more than they intersect. And it's unclear what long-term effects the Yantis case will have in Idaho. The Republican Attorney General Laurence Wasden does not see a big shift in public opinion, for instance, on this question of whether police get too much legal leeway when they use deadly force.


WASDEN: But I do think we need to engage in an appropriate discussion. And that is actually talk to each other about the issue and make a determination of where we think that line should be drawn.

KASTE: One thing has changed. The Adams County sheriff has tightened his department's policy on body cameras to make sure they're rolling whenever deputies come into contact with the public. Martin Kaste, NPR News.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we say Philando Castile was shot in St. Paul, Minn. That is incorrect. He was shot in Falcon Heights, Minn., a St. Paul suburb.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 8, 2016 at 10:00 PM MDT
In this report, we say Philando Castile was shot in St. Paul, Minn. That is incorrect. He was shot in Falcon Heights, Minn., a St. Paul suburb.
Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.