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Former Office of Police Accountability director files a lawsuit alleging city interfered with former BPD chief investigation

Jesus Jara took in complaints against the former BPD chief, Ryan Lee. In a new lawsuit, Jara is alleging the city retaliated against him after his recommendation.

BOISE, Idaho — The former Office of Police Accountability Director, Jesus Jara, filed a lawsuit Dec. 12 alleging the city interfered with the investigation into former Boise Police chief Ryan Lee and then retaliated against Jara for recommending Lee be placed on leave.

The lawsuit, filed by Jara's attorney Grady Hepworth in district court, states that the City of Boise engaged in retaliation, wrongful termination, and illegal implementation of policies and procedures in violation of Idaho’s Whistleblower Act.

A city spokesperson told KTVB they cannot comment on pending litigation, as is standard for lawsuits.

BPD Chief complaints

The lawsuit outlines a timeline of events during and after Jara's office did an intake of nine BPD staff complaints against former police chief Lee.

It says that some of the complaints against Lee involved use of force problems and criminal behavior, which Jara in the lawsuit said was "severe" when reporting to Lee's supervisor, Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn.

According to the suit, it says that Washburn told Jara the complaints were most likely the same officers who had “already reached out to her office and others in the City” and “were always making noise" so Jara requested the complaints be interviewed further. The suit says Washburn then instructed Jara that all communications about the investigation into Lee should be going through her. 

Jara then provided the binder of complaints on April 5 to Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and Washburn, with a memo attached recommending Lee be placed on leave while a further investigation is conducted. Jara said the Office of Police Accountability could continue the investigation if needed, the lawsuit said.

For more information on the complaints, click here.

On May 6, the suit says, Washburn emailed Jara to tell him that there was no violation of policy by Lee. Jara was told a third party had investigated the complaints, but that he "was never provided with a copy of any findings or summaries provided by such entity, and it is unknown whether any formal investigation was actually conducted."

The city sent KTVB the contract with a third party attorney, Ryan Henson, dated in February, which they said they used for the Lee investigation -- but Henson has not responded to KTVB's inquiries. 

"Given the serious nature of the allegations raised by the complaining officers, it’s unclear how the City of Boise could have concluded no violations of law or policy occurred without further investigation," the lawsuit said.

Once the investigation into Lee was over, Jara said in the suit that the city began implementing procedures that restricted BPD employee's ability to report violations of rules and laws regarding their command staff.

On June 21, the suit says Jara received an email from Washburn ordering OPA to “not accept or investigate complaints from City employees including BPD officers regarding workplace conditions.” The lawsuit claims this is a violation of the city ordinance, which states, "No person shall attempt to unduly influence or undermine the independence of the Director or any employee of the Office of Police Accountability in the performance of the duties..."

When KTVB published details of the Lee complaints, the former chief was later requested to resign by McLean on Sept. 23. McLean said that she was working with Lee on management style already, but that because the complaints were made public it would be difficult for Lee to work in that environment subject to public scrutiny. Following this, Jara said in the lawsuit he began to be "isolated" by city officials.

The suit says in October, Jara received another email from Washburn, this time telling him to suspend any BPD complaints and send them to Human Resources. KTVB previously reported that the BPD staff which filed complaints against Lee were turned away from HR and could not go to Internal Affairs, as the chief was the one overseeing it.

Jara, in the suit, was also concerned about the failure of Internal Affairs -- which Lee oversaw at the time -- to investigate an officer who the lawsuit says has been the subject of nine use of force investigations, nine citizen complaints and three BPD investigations.

Alleged retaliation

The city then established a committee to oversee OPA that Jara learned of on Nov. 1. The committee included the mayor, her chief of staff and three city council members that would meet twice a month. A memo was then sent out to Jara, the lawsuit says, accusing the OPA of exceeding its legislative authority and that the office failed to follow through with certain responsibilities.

"Mr. Jara’s meetings with City leadership became increasingly hostile, and Mr. Jara became concerned with what he believed to be efforts to 'censor' the OPA’s investigations and undermine the independence of the City’s Office of Police Accountability," the lawsuit says.

Jara then filed a grievance with the city on Nov. 21 alleging hostility and interference with OPA investigations. A day later, the suit said, the office's access to evidence databases from BPD were revoked, preventing the ability for OPA to investigate or do any other duties assigned to them.

According to obtained emails by the Boise Police union leadership, dated Dec. 2, the city was accusing Jara of watching body camera footage live, which he previously told city leadership in a prior meeting that he could not do. However, he did acknowledge that he could randomly audit recorded video, which the lawsuit confirms.

Then, later that evening, McLean's office sent out a release stating Jara was placed on administrative leave for "concerns" about the "judgment" of Jara overseeing the OPA. The suit says this is retaliation after the filing of his grievance.

On Dec. 9, the Boise City Council voted 5-1 to fire Jara from the OPA. 

McLean sent out a press release that day explaining she had lost confidence in the office after finding out Jara and his team had randomly audited 8,000 police body camera videos, saying that it violated Boiseans privacy and it was "without cause."

"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,” McLean said in the statement.

The OPA ordinance, cited in the lawsuit, states, "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."

The lawsuit claims McLeans press release statements accusing him of undermining the office and surveilling Boiseans were libelous and meant to damage Jara's reputation. Jara and Hepworth asked the city for a retraction.

Jara and his attorneys are requesting a jury trial and compensation for lost fees and wages.

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