BOISE, Idaho – Two Idaho sheriff's deputies will not face criminal charges for shooting and killing an armed rancher in a confrontation about putting down a bull that was injured in a car crash and threatened emergency officials, state and federal officials said Friday.
The Nov. 1 shooting divided the tiny town of Council in western Idaho and put a focus on the interaction between ranchers and police in the state's rural areas, where it is common for vehicles to strike livestock and for the animals' owners to come with guns to euthanize them.
Jack Yantis, 62, had arrived with a rifle as Adams County deputies decided to shoot the injured 2,500-pound bull because it was charging at emergency crews working to get the driver and a passenger out of the car. Authorities have said there was an altercation, and Yantis and two deputies all fired their weapons.
Yantis' family has said the shooting was not justified and filed a legal notice of their intent to sue the county earlier this year. The notice is a precursor to a wrongful-death lawsuit seeking $500,000.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who acted as a special prosecutor, wrapped up a four-month investigation and said there "is no other way to describe what happened that day as anything but tragic and unfortunate for the Yantis family and the entire community."
Wasden reviewed more than 5,000 pages of reports, lab results, witness statements and other materials.
His decision came the same day U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson announced that her office would not pursue federal charges. Olson said Yantis' death was a tragedy, but the evidence did not show the deputies intended to break the law.
The night of the shooting, Yantis' relatives say he was having dinner with his nephew and a friend when he received a call that his bull had been hit along a highway. The group grabbed a .204 bolt action rifle to put down the animal and headed out.
Family members who say they were at the scene believe a deputy grabbed Yantis' shoulder from behind and turned him around, which may have caused the gun to go off accidentally before deputies opened fire.
"The law set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court requires consideration of the fact that law enforcement officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving," Olson said in a statement.
Authorities say no video or audio recordings exist, though Deputies Cody Rolland and Brian Wood were wearing body cameras.
Rolland, 38, has been a full-time deputy since July 2015, and Wood, 31, was hired in June 2013.
"I'm glad to have this part of the process behind us, but we are a long ways from having this over," Sheriff Ryan Zollman said. "This is one step closer to healing our community."
Zollman told The Associated Press that he had been advised by attorneys not to comment further because of ongoing litigation.