|Homicide in progress: Seconds later, Deputy Scott Sloan killed Barry Johnson.|
“They’ve laid us out,” Idaho State Police Trooper Sam Ketchum reported in a text message to his superiors during an April 13, 2012 court hearing in Payette. The intended recipient was Lt. Colonel Ralph Powell, who would shortly be appointed ISP Director. “They” referred to ISP Corporals Quinn Carmack and Brandon Eller, who had – in defiance of expectations – testified truthfully in the preliminary hearing for Payette County Deputy Scott Sloan, who was charged with vehicular manslaughter.
Ketchum’s text message was part of a concerted campaign of perjury, obstructionism, witness intimidation, and retaliation intended to insulate Sloan from prosecution. Troopers Carmack and Eller, along with their supervisor, Sgt. Fred Rice, would suffer official reprisals. The trooper who committed perjury, Justin Klitch (who is no stranger to those who regularly visit this space), would remain a “valued member” of the agency – in no small measure because of his prowess in plundering motorists who wander into the ISP's Patrol District Three, where pretext stops and property seizures are commonplace.
On October 18, 2011, Deputy Sloan plowed into the driver’s side of a jeep driven by 65-year-old New Plymouth resident Barry Johnson, killing him instantly. At the time, Sloan was driving 115 miles per hour in response to a 911 call. Johnson was turning left into his own driveway when he was blindsided by Sloan.
Predictably, the ISP’s initial report suggested that “alcohol may have played a role” in the crash. A post-mortem of the victim confirmed that his blood alcohol level had been within the legal limit at the time of death.
Spokesmen for both the ISP and the Payette County Sheriff’s Office insisted that Sloan was entitled to travel at nearly twice the speed limit as a matter of discretion. Corporal Carmack, an expert crash scene investigator, produced a report concluding that Sloan had made an “unsafe pass” that wasn’t warranted by the circumstances. Corporal Eller, who had been with the crash reconstruction unit for seven years, concurred with Carmack’s assessment. Those findings were submitted to ISP Trooper Justin Klitch, who in an email instructed Carmack to include the phrase “unsafe operation” in the official report.
After the report was submitted to Gem County Prosecutor Richard Linville – who had been appointed special prosecutor in the case – Sloan was charged with vehicular manslaughter.
“He is only allowed to exceed the speed limit so long as he doesn’t endanger life or property,” explained Linville during the preliminary hearing. He would soon learn that the ISP had arranged to throw the case by having Trooper Klitch perjure himself on the witness stand.
Klitch Commits Perjury
“To my surprise, after I had rested the State’s case, Trooper Klitch volunteered to testify for the defense,” recalled Linville in a March 11, 2013 letter to ISP Captain Steve Richardson. Klitch’s testimony was intended to create ambiguity by describing “inconsistencies” in the ISP’s crash report. Those inconsistencies did exist; Klitch – who had been covertly collaborating with the defense for several months – had helped to create them.
In a lawsuit filed in May 2014, Sgt. Rice – who supervised the accident reconstruction team – describes how changes were made “in the Recon Report” and the direction of his superior officers. The revised version deleted the statements “Sloan made an unsafe pass,” and “Sloan was operating an authorized emergency vehicle in an unsafe manner by driving without due regard for the safety of all persons and reckless disregard for the safety of others.”
During direct examination in the preliminary hearing, Klitch was asked about the final line of the initial report, which faulted Deputy Sloan for “unsafe operation of an emergency vehicle.” After admitting that he had inserted the words into the narrative Klitch immediately contradicted himself:
“Correction – going back, I don’t believe that I put that in there…. I’m almost positive I didn’t put that in there because I had no idea what the speed of the deputy’s patrol car was at the time that I did this narrative so I can honestly say that I did not put that in there.”
The problem with that testimony, as a stunned Linville would later explain, is that Klitch had “specifically requested” in an email to Carmack that the phrase “unsafe operation of an emergency vehicle” be included in the report.
This was not the only unpleasant surprise Linville would experience in the Scott Sloan case.
“When I initially asked Trooper Klitch to meet with me to discuss filing the case, he made a recording of our meeting without my knowledge or consent,” Linville wrote to Captain Richardson. “I don’t know why Trooper Klitch would make such a recording. His duty at the time was to present to me all of the evidence he had collected regarding the Sloan case. He was meeting with me to present evidence, not to create it.”
“Never in my 25 years as a prosecuting attorney have I had a law enforcement officer secretly record discussions during case preparation that are otherwise privileged and protected work product, then hide the existence of such a recording from me,” Linville told Richardson.
Klitch “was communicating and cooperating with the defense attorney, unbeknownst to the prosecutor,” observed Erik Strindberg, an attorney representing Corporal Eller. In the fashion of a zampolit in the Soviet KGB, Klitch was informing on the prosecutor to his superiors – just as Trooper Ketchum informed on Corporals Carmack and Eller during the April 2012 preliminary hearing.
The Reprisals Begin
While that hearing was underway, Lt. Col. Powell summoned Sgt. Rice, Coordinator of the Crash Reconstruction Program, to a meeting that included Captain Richardson and several other high-ranking ISP officers. Rice had just been promoted to that position a few days earlier, with the clear expectation that he would keep a tight rein on Carmack and Eller – whose insistence on telling the truth under oath had produced an unwelcome complication.
“Rice was told that Corporals Carmack and Eller `have laid us out’ and that they might be removed from the reconstruction team,” recounts attorney Strindberg. Three days after that meeting, Rice was summoned before his superiors again and informed that “because of their testimony, Corporal Carmack and Master Corporal Eller could not be trusted, that they should be taken off of the [team] and that they might not even have a job,” continues Strindberg. “Importantly, there were no accusations that either Corporal Carmack or Master Corporal Eller had lied during their testimony; rather the sole issue was that the administration did not like the substance of their testimony.”
Three ISP troopers testified during that April 13 hearing. Two of them, Carmack and Eller, testified truthfully, and their accounts were corroborated by the preliminary draft report and official email correspondence. The third, Klitch, committed perjury. The ISP dealt with this problem by issuing an order requiring that officers assigned to the CRU destroy all “draft copies of their reports.”
Plans were also made to punish those troopers who valued truthfulness more than tribal solidarity. Rice, Carmack, and Eller, reported the Idaho Statesman (in an uncharacteristic specimen of actual journalism), suffered official retaliation in “myriad ways” – including punitive reassignments, “rejected pay increases, denied promotions and poor evaluations.”
In March 2013, Linville dropped the vehicular manslaughter charge against Sloan. A few weeks later, Sgt. Rice was suspended for supposedly “withholding exculpatory evidence” in the case. This charge makes sense only if one assumes that Rice knew of Trooper Klitch’s intention to perjure himself on the witness stand, and had tried to discourage him from doing so.
By this time, Corporal Eller had received the first negative evaluation of his career: He was accused of causing “dissention” and displaying poor “communication skills.” On April 24, 2013 – the day the case against Sloan would have gone to trial, had Linville not been forced to dismiss it – Carmack was placed on administrative leave for unspecified reasons. He, too, eventually received an official rebuke for “failing to maintain a high standard of integrity, honesty and respect for others, and for inefficiency, incompetence or neglect of duties.”
“His new supervisor … criticized him as not being a team player … told him he needed to stop more cars and write more tickets and if he did not make the changes it would be reflected in his 2013 evaluation,” summarized attorney Strindberg. Carmack and Eller, who are still employed by the ISP, have filed whistleblower lawsuits. Rice, who resigned, has filed a lawsuit of his own that is scheduled for trial in October.
“Blue Privilege” Uber Alles
Scott Sloan was spared prosecution, but he was fired by the Payette County Sheriff’s Office. In January 2014, the Idaho State Industrial Commission ordered Sloan to remit $5,606.23 in worker’s compensation he received following the accident. Between October 2o11 and Sloan’s termination the following February, Sloan “received workers’ compensation income benefit payments from Surety while also receiving his salary from [the] Employer.”
As it happens, I visited Payette County Sheriff Chad Huff’s office in January 2014 on a morning that found him immersed in paperwork arising from his former deputy’s case with the Industrial Commission. To his credit, the sheriff radiated disgust over Sloan’s attempt to get away with double-dipping in the aftermath of a fatal accident he caused. Not only should Sloan be banned from law enforcement, Huff told me, “he should be facing prosecution.”
Sheriff Huff is a former ISP Trooper. He hasn’t shared with me his opinion of the agency’s conduct in the Scott Sloan case. Jackie Raymond, the only surviving child of Sloan’s victim, has not been diffident on this subject. She describes the ISP’s behavior as that of a criminal “enterprise or conspiracy with Sloan to … conceal evidence, harbor and protect Sloan from criminal and civil liability, and intimidate, influence, impede, deter, threaten, harass and obstruct witnesses … to protect fellow Idaho law enforcement officers from the consequences of their criminal misconduct.”
As is so often the case in ISP Patrol District Three, the focal point of official corruption has been Trooper Justin Klitch, who remains on active duty even as he continues to accumulate lawsuits – and despite earning a Brady List nomination from Gem County Prosecutor Linville.
“Trooper Klitch has lost my trust as a result of his conduct in [the Scott Sloan] case,” Linville informed the trooper’s supervisor, Captain Richardson, in a March 11, 2013 letter. “I ask that he not be assigned to patrol in Gem County so that I will not be put in a position of having to rely on him to testify in prosecution of criminal cases in this jurisdiction.”
“Trooper Klitch is a valued member of the Idaho State Police,” wrote Captain Richardson in his reply to Linville, dismissing the controversy in the Sloan case as a “difference of opinion.”
Klitch’s Lawsuit Collection Expands
Before he was removed from active patrol duty, Klitch had earned both professional and media notoriety for his performance as an “interdiction” specialist – that is, an officer who engineers pretext stops that lead to seizures of contraband and, preferably, cash. Two lawsuits highlighted by the Statesman’s recent coverage of the Scott Sloan scandal document the predatory methods Klitch used to engineer opportunities to plunder unsuspecting travelers.
During a May 2014 encounter, Arizona native Jose Castillo, a retired forest ranger, was tailed by Klitch for several miles on I-84. As Castillo approached a parked emergency vehicle, Klitch “accelerated rapidly toward the rear of Mr. Castillo’s Blazer before moving his patrol car into the passing lane,” thereby preventing the driver from moving into the left lane, as traffic regulations require.
Prior to doing this, Klitch – who had noticed that the vehicle had Arizona plates and was driven by a Latino male – contacted ISP Trooper Christopher Cottrell, a K9 officer, in anticipation of a pretext stop and vehicle search. A few minutes after Klitch pulled Castillo over for a traffic violation that the ISP officer had created, Cottrell arrived to play his role in this scripted exercise by walking his dog around the captive’s vehicle and prompting it to “alert.”
Castillo, who had done nothing wrong, was forced to undergo a pat-down search at the side of the freeway while Klitch demanded to know “how much cash” he was carrying. The warrantless and unconstitutional search disclosed neither contraband nor treasure.
As if to console himself for failing to find any loot, Klitch mocked and taunted his victim, who said that he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder: “When Trooper Klitch did not find any drugs or other contraband, he approached Mr. Castillo to inform him that he had repeatedly urinated in the Blazer during the search, stating that he had `only peed in there a couple of times.’”
On that thoughtful parting note, this “valued member” of the Idaho State Police allowed Castillo to leave the scene.
Klitch’s sociopathic resourcefulness isn’t limited to contriving traffic violations. A few weeks prior to his encounter with Castillo, Klitch and ISP Detective Corey Gates used a text message to lure an entirely innocent Idaho resident named Jarrod Bush into an ambush that cost him more than $4,200.
A February 2014 traffic stop and search of a vehicle operated by Gabriel Owen led to a marijuana trafficking charge. Among Owen’s effects was a cell phone containing evidence of phone correspondence with Mr. Bush. Using Detective Gates’ ISP-provided cell phone, Klitch sent Bush a text message “requesting [his] assistance because `Owen’ had been involved in a car accident and needed a ride,” narrates Bush’s lawsuit. A meeting was arranged at a Chevron station in Nampa.
When Bush arrived at the station, he was surrounded by Klitch and a thugscrum of ISP officers who insisted that “it was a `done deal,’ and that there was enough evidence to charge [him] with Conspiracy to Traffic in Marijuana.” This was a lie, of course, as was the subsequent claim that a drug-detecting dog had “alerted” on Bush’s vehicle during the course of an entirely illegal search.
Scouring the interior of the car, Klitch didn’t discover any contraband but he did find $4,260 and a cell phone. These were stolen – or as Klitch and similarly disreputable people would insist, “forfeited” – and Bush was taken to the ISP’s District 3 office for interrogation.
No evidence was ever found that Bush had violated any laws. He was never charged with an offense, nor was a formal civil forfeiture proceeding ever begun. This was an act of felonious theft devoid of even the pretense of lawfulness. It is also quite typical of the behavior Idaho residents should expect from the criminal syndicate called the Idaho State Police
Dum spiro, pugno!