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Boise's Office of Police Accountability director fired, Jara's attorney cites forthcoming lawsuit

The only 'no' vote that was cast was from Luci Willits, a Boise City Council member.

BOISE, Idaho — Boise's Office of Police Accountability (OPA) Director Jesus Jara was fired Friday after a 5-1 vote by the Boise City Council to remove him from office, effective immediately. 

In a press release by Boise Mayor McLean's office sent after the removal of Jara, McLean states that Jara was "exploiting his access" by randomly viewing over 8,000 police videos and that it was an invasion of privacy of the citizens in the videos. 

"This is a serious violation of the privacy of our residents and a worrisome erosion of the trust we intended to build with the OPA model of oversight,” she said.

McLean said in the release that Jara was viewing these videos without cause. Council President Pro-Tem Holli Woodings also said in the release that Jara's review of body cam footage was not authorized by city policy.

However, according to Boise's OPA ordinance, "The Office of Police Accountability is to be given full, unrestricted, and complete access to all information, files, evidence, or other material, except as otherwise provided by law, which the Director shall deem necessary in the performance of the duties specified and responsibilities set forth."

The only council member to vote against this move was Luci Willits. Willits said that the OPA was not set up for success originally, and that she doesn't believe removing Jara was the right thing to do. She stated that there needed to be more conversation between the city.

"Let's take the time to get it right," Willits said. If she had to re-write the ordinance of OPA today, she said that she would likely change the reporting structure regarding who and how people can file complaints to OPA.

"For me that was not a tipping point or fireable offense," Willits said.

When asked if the city did any type of investigation into Jara before firing him, Willits said she could not speak to that. A city spokesperson also said that they do not have any details about it at the moment and that it is a "personnel" issue.

Jara's attorney, Grady Hepworth, released a statement on behalf of Jara, saying he is dismayed by the "blatant act of retaliation" in violation of Idaho's whistleblower laws. Jesus has previously filed a grievance with the city, but his attorney cannot speak to its contents. KTVB has requested the grievance through a records request.

Hepworth's statement also says there will be forthcoming litigation in the future.

"Mr. Jara wishes to express his extreme gratitude for the trust placed in him by the members of the Boise Police Department," the statement said. "(Jara) remains steadfast in his belief that integrity, accountability and diligence will ultimately prevail over deceit, incompetence and shortsighted political convenience."

Jara recommended to the mayor and her staff in a memo April 5 that former Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee be placed on paid leave pending nine employee complaints against him. Lee was never placed on leave by the mayor until he was asked to resign in September when the complaints were made public.

McLean said in a previous interview with the Idaho Statesman that the OPA was "unauthorized" in making that recommendation.

Willits told reporters Friday, "The entire (Lee) situation was brought to light" and that if it was never made public, Lee would likely still be the chief.

"It was the right call to remove him," Willits said.

Jara was originally placed on paid administrative leave Dec. 2 as announced by McLean's office through a press release, citing "concerns" about the judgement of the OPA.

Right before the city announced Jara was being placed on leave, the Boise Police union sent out emails to their members saying they were told by McLean's Chief of Staff, Courtney Washburn, that Jara was live-streaming body camera footage.

Shortly after, the mayor's press release was sent out.

In further emails afterward, the union then backtracks what they were told by the city -- saying they were confirming with the body camera company, Axon, whether or not the statements were true.

"Axon just confirmed that the department did not purchase the ability to view in real time, confirming the second email," the email said. 

A Nov. 22 meeting with city council showed that McLean inquired if Jara was watching body camera footage live. Jara is noted as responding they cannot watch body camera footage live -- the only data they have access to is the ability to watch dispatch calls live.

Jara says, according to the meeting notes, that OPA cannot watch body camera footage live because they don’t have the access to that feature. The notes state there was a trial allowing command staff to use the feature, but it was "short and over."

"Where the ordinance is silent is where we can get into trouble," McLean responds in the Nov. 22 meeting. "We need to be clear on what the office can and cannot do."  

Jara has led the OPA since the summer of 2021. What happens to OPA now? Willits says, there will be a transition plan in place.

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This story will be updated.

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