Idaho State Police has persistently refused to release the name of the trooper who shot Jesse Quinton. This refusal undermines public confidence in the incident investigation and deprives the public of their right to know about the actions of their government.
According to ISP’s news release, the trooper pulled over Quinton, a man with no serious criminal history, near the intersection of Northgate Mile and Lomax on Nov. 2. Quinton fled on foot and officers chased him. A physical altercation ensued and a trooper shot Quinton, who was later pronounced dead.
The public has a right to know what happened that night, and who shot Quinton.
ISP has cited an exemption to Idaho public records law protecting investigative records as its justification for not releasing the trooper’s name. But that explanation doesn’t make sense. The investigation is being undertaken by the Eastern Idaho Critical Incident Task Force, not ISP. And it’s hard to imagine how releasing the name of the trooper involved in the shooting, something other departments do routinely, would compromise the investigation. If special circumstances exist, ISP has failed to state what they are.
When the only people who can investigate the facts behind a police shooting are other police and the prosecutors with whom they work regularly, the public will have little confidence in the investigation. Even if such fears are unwarranted, they will wonder whether the outcome of the investigation was influenced by professional courtesy, undue sympathy or other improper factors.
In cases like this, sunlight isn’t just the best disinfectant, it’s the only one.
The Idaho Falls Police Department, since the appointment of Chief Bryce Johnson, has made admirable, significant and sustained improvements in its transparency.
Under past leadership, the accidental discharge of a high-powered rifle in a dense urban neighborhood during a standoff was neither investigated nor announced to the public. When neighbors learned of the incident months later, many were shocked and angered.
But when IFPD officers were forced to shoot a suspect in January, the department released the names of the officers involved three days later, long before the investigation into the incident concluded. After review by a prosecutor in Twin Falls, the shooting was determined to be justified. There was no outcry from the public.
Public confidence in the department has risen markedly as a result of greater transparency, and Johnson should be commended for it.
But ISP hasn’t shown the same transparency in the Quinton shooting. It would do well to follow Johnson’s example.
Police are agents of the government. When an officer uses deadly force, the government has used deadly force. That is why police shootings demand independent, public oversight. If the votes of government bodies must be made publicly, a bedrock principle of our system of government, then when a government agent takes the life of a citizen, that too must be open to public scrutiny.
ISP should change its policy of refusing to promptly release the names of troopers involved in a shooting. And if ISP won’t, lawmakers should consider enacting a law to force the basic details of a shooting to be released within 72 hours.