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Internal complaints and early retirements: What we know about the investigation into Boise’s police chief

More details into former Chief Lee investigation, including witness statements from an Idaho State Police report.

BOISE, Idaho — Editors note — BPD Chief Ryan Lee was later requested to resign by Boise Mayor Lauren McLean.

Former Boise Police Department Capt. Matt Bryngelson has worked for nearly seven police chiefs over the course of his career. Under Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee, he said it became too much to handle – so he spent $125,000 to retire early.

Nine officers filed complaints against Lee in the spring of 2022, which threw an investigation from the Office of Police Accountability into action. 

And, according to Bryngelson, five other officers retired around the same time he did, some for the same reasons -- nearly wiping out an entire command staff.

The memo

According to a memo dated April 5, obtained by KTVB and written by OPA Director Jesus Jara — it stated that Lee should be suspended on paid leave pending a further investigation into the complaints, so that “it will create an environment where a fair and thorough investigation can be completed.” The memo was never posted publicly. But, the investigation report was a binder full, according to the memo. 

It also stated that the investigation should continue with a third-party firm that specializes in “employment law and potentially hostile work environments.”

Credit: OPA

According to a city spokesperson, Lee was never suspended with pay, in his previous criminal investigation, or during this investigation. 

The city did do its own investigation, according to Boise Chief of Staff, Courtney Washburn. 

She told KTVB in a statement that she reviewed the information and asked for a third-party review of the OPA investigation report. 

“That independent investigation determined that there was no violation of city or BPD policy or procedure that would support the action of Administrative Leave in regards to the Chief of Police. The investigation also indicated that several complaints were already under investigation by other agencies and/or the Office of Internal Affairs,” she said in the statement.

She elaborated to say the findings showed they did, however, need to create more procedures to ensure clarity for BPD employees.

In an email dated May 9 from the OPA Director Jara, it said that the Mayor's office had an outside counsel review the investigation and determined there were no violations of policy. 

"The OPA office does not plan on investigating this further, as it has turned into a personnel matter," the email said.

In an exclusive interview with KTVB on Friday, Mayor Lauren McLean said that her office did not pursue further action into Lee because there was no violation of policy.

"I directed a third party review," she said. "The reports that OPA had collected and that third party legal review found no cause for administrative leave."

KTVB asked if McLean could elaborate on why other officers can be suspended with pay, and why Lee never was, even for a criminal investigation that led to no charges.

There was no violation of HR policy, she reiterated. 

"We did, however, address management expectations at every point in the conversations we've had with the department and the chief," McLean said.

McLean said its important that the department has management that is held accountable, but that they need a management who also supports change.

McLean also said that as they've grown as a city, they've also asked for that change with officers.

"I'm committed to getting to the bottom of this, many questions have been asked. It's my job to ensure that all of our department directors are creating environments that allow their employees to follow the mission of the organization and provide service to the City of Boise," McLean said. She will continue to discuss further actions with the police union and the chief.

Bryngelson, along with his colleague, former Capt. Tom Fleming, said that they were never interviewed again in regards to the third party investigation, and he is concerned that there was even a thorough one conducted. Fleming retired early from BPD as well.

Bryngelson and Fleming both collectively have over 50 years of law enforcement experience -- and tell KTVB they were devastated to have to retire, as they feel like they were "pushed out" by Lee amid their complaints into their chief about the alleged hostile work environment.

The complaints

Emails from this year by an internal BPD source that could not be disclosed due to potential retaliation were obtained by KTVB, accusing Lee of "conduct unbecoming."

These emails allege that Lee called his employees names like, "a--hat" and "idiot," as well as "hucklebuck," a derogatory term meaning a "hillbilly" and eye-rolling others in meetings.

They also say Lee's alleged behavior resulted in a woman crying at work and "that she tries not to cry at work and saves it for when she gets home because she does not want to give (Chief Lee) the satisfaction," it said.

Fleming, as the IA captain, would routinely have employees come into his office to air their grievances -- and it seemed very bad, he said, morale was extremely low.

"I had guys who've been there for a couple years or less, all the way up to 25- year officers, to sergeants, lieutenants, other command members, and professional staff members, civilian employees... of our department that would come in and literally sit in my office and cry about things that were going on," Fleming said.

The emails go on to say that people are scared of retaliation from Lee and have already experienced some of it, with Lee allegedly opening an investigation into an employee for something that isn't always cause for an investigation, according to the emails.

The emails allege that some officers were put "on a list" by one of Lee's colleagues when they objected to certain suggestions about police practices and were scared of further retaliation for coming forward to complain.

They also allege that Lee opposed being part of any Critical Incident Task Force Investigations, which occur when an officer-involved shooting takes place and another department investigates.

It also said in the emails that Lee allegedly caused Bryngelson to break down and seek mental health counseling.

Bryngelson said that there was also rampant favoritism in the department from Lee -- and the emails allege this as well.

Bryngelson and Fleming both recall being shot down for their ideas, but officers from Portland, where Lee is from, were always given special treatment.

"If it was somebody from the outside, it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I had a situation where I was trying to fix a staffing problem...and I presented (a study to fix the problem) it at the meeting, and Lee said, 'Well that study is no good. This is terrible,' Basically kicked it back. So, I gave it to someone who was from Portland, and said, 'What do you think of this?' He says, 'Well, that's the same exact research I came up with,'" Bryngelson said. 

"So, put the Portland name at the bottom. And then the chief thought it was the greatest idea ever. And we implemented it."

Retirements

Bryngelson said that it was impossible to function under Lee. Everything any of the officers who did not follow Lee from Portland did was always wrong, he said, and eventually Lee and his deputy chief allegedly pushed him to retire after badgering him about it.

"I got to a point where I had to reach out and get professional mental health counseling. And when I came back, I was being asked regularly, 'Hey, how much longer are you gonna stay? When are you going to quit?' It was clear that I wasn't wanted anymore," Bryngelson said.

"I was torn because I was so dedicated to the city and the community and the 110 or so officers that I was the captain over. But I just couldn't physically do it anymore. It was ruining my life."

Five other officers retired early, Bryngelson said. Three of them were captains, nearly wiping out an entire command staff.

Fleming also said he was pushed to retirement after disagreeing with Lee. A few months before he left, he disagreed with something Lee wanted to do, so Fleming said Lee told him, "If this gets to be too much for you, you can go to PERSI and look at your retirement options."

Later, Fleming said, Lee had him write a list up to speak about changing the department's hiring practices. Fleming said that Lee came into his office, picked up the paper without looking at it, and that is when Fleming told him what options he had to discuss based on the list.

Fleming said that's when Lee told him, "Or I could just do whatever the hell I want. You can always go to PERSI and look at retirement."

Fleming did just that -- he retired in June of 2022. Bryngelson later retired in September 2022.

KTVB asked if they had an axe to grind with an ever-changing department. Bryngelson said no. 

"That's absolutely not true. I mean, like I said, I've worked for seven different chiefs. This is a very, very important job. I understand the politics of it, I understand that the climate at the time, that 2020 was a very different climate, obviously. It was incumbent upon me to embrace change. And that's what I did at the beginning. I said, 'Okay, let's let's do this', I helped the then patrol captain deliver the message that we weren't going to use the carotid neck restraint anymore, which is a difficult thing," he said. "You know, that was something that I'd used my whole career, but I was there, I was delivering that message. When I went to training, I was constantly pushing out national best practices. And this is what I would expect for training and things like that -- I embraced it. It had nothing to do with our personality, the chief is not there to be my friend."

The process

The officers who filed complaints against Lee originally went to Human Resources.

The emails, which include correspondence with HR that lay out an employee's concerns, says the employee spent four hours total speaking to HR about the allegations earlier this year.

The emails go on to say that HR informed the source earlier this year that upon a review of BPD policy, "the Office of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating alleged violations of BPD policy and general city policy when there is overlap."

"If Boise City Human Resources, at the direction of City Legal, is notifying me that HR will not investigate any of the allegations and that the next course of action is to send it to BPD Internal Affairs, then I feel compelled to request that the investigation continues with them, as opposed to doing nothing at all," the email said. It also said the employee believed someone notified Lee of the complaints in HR, what the employee said seemed to be a lack of objective investigation.

Fleming and Bryngelson confirm that officers were sent to Internal Affairs -- however, Lee oversees Internal Affairs. 

"Why would I want to voice concerns about my chief when he can oversee them?" Bryngelson said.

Many officers had serious reservations about going to IA. So, that is when they went to the OPA office, as stated in the memo from the OPA director. That is when the investigation was pushed to a third-party, and quashed by the review that said there was no inherent policy violations.

"I think it was because they didn't want to admit they made a mistake hiring the chief," Bryngelson said. "From the beginning, I was worried our concerns would be ignored... They just wanted us to go away and used the fact that the (OPA director) only makes 'recommendations' as their justification for not pursuing it further."

Lee was previously under criminal investigation for allegedly breaking an officer's neck in a briefing in 2021. The Clearwater County Prosecutor's office decided to refrain from pursuing any action against him, although they admitted it was a "truly close call" in a letter to Ada County from prosecutor Clayne Tyler. Tyler admitted in the letter that Lee had done other things to indicate "aggressiveness." 

Credit: Boise City

A 72-page Idaho State Police report detailed the alleged incident of the injury to Sgt. Kirk Rush's neck. The "incidental type" of the report was listed as "battery, aggravated, simple, intimidation." Rush said in the previous tort claim filed in April that he heard a "snap" in his neck when Lee placed his hands on him without consent.

The report gathered Lee allegedly called Rush "a p-ssy" and mocked him after the alleged incident. Witnesses corroborated Rush's statements from the tort claim, indicating that Rush was told to go to the front of the room for a demonstration of a neck-hold and was suddenly grabbed by the neck and forehead by Lee and shoved down.

A witness in the report said that "neither of the movements were something she had been trained on" while at BPD and that the demonstration seemed "unquestionably out of line," according to the report, and that Lee continued to "belittle" Rush afterward. Rush was later removed from Lee's line of command.

Credit: ISP

The witness also said in the report that Lee's reactions to the matter were inappropriate, especially because "he talked about caring about them while the department head was discussing the specifics of an ongoing, active Internal Affairs investigation."

Multiple reports with HR were also filed after the alleged incident, the report says.

ISP spoke with Lee for the investigation, who said in the report that he had told Rush what he was going to do before placing his hands around his neck and "demonstrated" that you could "grab a person's head for control."

Lee was never put on leave during his criminal investigation into this matter.

This is extremely unusual, according to Fleming.

"Anyone who is under criminal investigation was always suspended with pay until that investigation was resolved. Then you go forward with whatever internal process would be. So when this happened, and he was not suspended, that really blew up the amount of people coming to my office and complaining," Fleming said.

"They want to know why, I want to know why we had a particular employee who had allegedly done something he was suspended for. But why is the chief not? And, I only think I could tell them as when this first started, is the explanation was given to me from city legal: It was that the chief has a different boss than the rest of you."

According to previous reporting from the Idaho Press, there was also an investigation into Lee from Portland. 

Reporter Alexandra Duggan filed a records request for excessive force reports back in April. The city of Portland denied the request under the “personnel discipline” exemption in the Oregon state code. These records are exempt due to, “a personnel discipline action, or materials or documents supporting that action.” 

Moving forward

Bryngelson and Fleming both feel badly about leaving their fellow officers behind, they said.

Fleming feels guilty.

"I felt like I was leaving some of these guys behind in those in that condition, to basically fight on their own, so to speak. And so there's a lot of angst in that decision," Fleming said.

Bryngelson said he was devastated to have to leave a job he loves so much. Before 2021, you had to fight to get officers out the door to retire, he said. Now, they're doing everything they can to leave early. He loved his job, Bryngelson said.

"I had the dream job. I had a fantastic career," he said. "It should have been the best time of my career. I was in the most what I consider to be the most important job a police officer is going to have -- I was the patrol commander. I deeply cared about every one of the officers that worked for me, my canine units, my civilians that worked for me, I deeply cared, and I met with them regularly."

KTVB has reached out to the City of Boise for another response and also reached out to the Boise Police Department, who referred back to the City of Boise. 

This story will be updated.

Alexandra Duggan is the crime / courts / investigative reporter for KTVB. Follow her on Twitter @dugganreports.

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