BLACKFOOT — The girlfriend of a man on trial for reportedly shooting a Bingham County Sheriff's Office deputy refused to testify Monday despite being ordered to do so by the judge.

Juan Santos-Quintero, 24, was arrested in September after a standoff with law enforcement officers from multiple agencies. A bench trial is being held in Bingham County relating to the standoff and the reported shooting of Sgt. Todd Howell with the Bingham County Sheriff's Office.

Santos-Quintero's girlfriend, Denise Williams, is his codefendant in multiple robbery cases in Bonneville County. Williams was subpoenaed to testify in his case because she was in the house in Firth with Santos-Quintero for much of the standoff.

Juan Santos-Quintero

Judge Darren Simpson presides during the bench trial for Juan Santos-Quintero trial at Bingham County District Court in Blackfoot on Tuesday, April 23, 2019.

When called to the stand, however, Williams told District Judge Darren Simpson she would not answer any questions or offer any testimony. Simpson told Bingham County Prosecutor Paul Rogers to ask each of his 13 questions.

"I am ordering you to answer the question," Simpson told Williams, repeating himself for each question Rogers asked. "Are you refusing to answer the question?"

"No response," Williams said to the judge 13 times.

While the Fifth Amendment prevents a person from being forced to give self-incriminating testimony, Williams and her attorney, Bonneville County Chief Public Defender Jordan Crane, had an agreement with the Bonneville County Prosecutor's Office that her testimony could not be used against her in the robbery cases. Such an immunity agreement typically removes the right to refuse to testify.

Simpson told Williams she could be held in contempt for each question she refused to answer. Williams acknowledged this. Simpson said contempt proceedings would be scheduled for a future date and had Williams removed from the courtroom.

Juan Santos-Quintero

Bingham County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Rogers looks on during the bench trial for Juan Santos-Quintero trial in Blackfoot on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. 

Rogers told the judge he had learned Williams would refuse to testify only hours before she was called to the stand. He informed Defense Attorney Manuel Murdoch shortly after.

The rest of the day's testimony came primarily from law enforcement who responded to the standoff, including Howell.

Howell described his injury to the court, as well as health issues that resulted from the shooting. He said an injury to his kidney caused him to have high blood pressure and he said he had lingering pain. During his testimony, Howell asked to stand because he could not comfortably sit for long durations. Howell testified that these health problems started after he was shot.

Two deputies who responded with Howell said they were responding to a report of someone shooting from of a car. The reporting party followed the car to the Firth house. The license plate of the car matched one Bonneville County Sheriff's Office had issued an attempt to locate on in relation to the reported robberies.

Law enforcement set up a perimeter and ordered the residents to come out with their hands up. Douglas Long and Cori Williams, Denise Williams' mother, exited the house. Denise Williams exited about 15 minutes later and told the deputies no one else was inside.

Juan Santos-Quintero

Bingham County Deputy Brock Katseanes offers up testimony during the bench trial for Juan Santos-Quintero trial at Bingham County District Court in Blackfoot on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. 

Bingham County Deputy Brock Katseanes testified that he did not believe Denise Williams because the reporting party had seen another man enter and saw no one leave.

Long and Cori Williams both testified that Denise Williams entered the house alone, then went to the back door. Neither of them reported seeing Santos-Quintero in the house.

Deputy Jacob Van Orden said he then saw someone near the back door and ordered them to come out. He heard gunshots shortly after and was unsure if someone was shooting at him or his colleagues. He said he saw smoke near the door that he believed came from the barrel of a gun.

"It scared me," Van Orden said. "It startled me. I hadn't expected for gunshots to be fired."

Van Orden and Katseanes said they heard Howell grunt and assumed he had been shot. All three officers fired at the house, but were unsure if the shooter had been killed or injured.

Van Orden went to help Howell get to a safe location. A second round of shots were fired from the house.

More officers arrived with negotiators who made contact with Santos-Quintero. Santos-Quintero agreed to exit the house and surrender. Several officers reported he came out holding a bottle of alcohol and was not obeying commands. The deputies handcuffed him and took him into custody.

Murdoch asked the deputies during cross-examination if they saw who was shooting from the house. Both them said they could not see the shooter's face during the shooting, but identified Santos-Quintero as the man who surrendered.

Murdoch questioned the deputies about who was watching the front door of the house. Katseanes testified that he had a view of the front door from a distance, but the door wasn't covered until a Shelley Police Department officer arrived to assist with the perimeter. None of the law enforcement officers or witnesses reported seeing anyone enter after law enforcement arrived on the scene.

After Santos-Quintero was arrested, law enforcement searched the house and found no one else inside. Much of Murdoch's cross-examination focused on a crawl space near the garage.

Blackfoot Police Officer Randy Wiersma testified that he searched the crawl space and found it empty. He said there were several personal items in the space.

Murdoch asked Wiersma if he searched through the items and Wiersma answered no. He said he did crawl over several items in order to search the entire crawl space.

After Denise Williams refused to testify, Rogers called Bonneville County Sheriff's Office Detective Elena Medrano to testify about her interviews with Santos-Quintero's girlfriend.

Murdoch objected, saying her testimony was hearsay. Rogers argued that because Denise Williams was considered an unavailable witness, an exception should be made. Simpson agreed to hear the evidence and said he would rule later in the trial on whether he should consider it in his ruling.

Medrano said she interviewed Williams three times over two days after the standoff. She said Williams told her Santos-Quintero came to the house with her, and that he had stolen a gun from a car in the Ammon Walmart's parking lot. Long reported he kept three more guns in the house Santos-Quintero was in.

Santos-Quintero is facing three charges of assault or battery upon certain personnel, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and grand theft. The charges include enhancements for use of a deadly weapon and being a persistent violator, meaning Santos-Quintero is facing up to life in prison.

Because Santos-Quintero agreed to a bench trial, the ruling of the trial will be made by Simpson rather than a jury. The trial is expected to take the rest of the week. 

Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746.

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