Editor's notes: This story and following video contains violence, gunshots, blood and profanity. The story has been updated to clarify further what an officer's on-body video captures.
An undercover operation, involving several law enforcement officers at a trailhead in the Payette National Forest ended with a man being shot multiple times. On Friday, May 19, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), state and local officers were attempting to arrest Judy Roberts and her sons Timber and Brooks for unlawfully living on public lands. Officers shot Brooks, leaving him paralyzed. Now, his attorneys have filed a tort claim against the agencies.
"Brooks is an Idahoan who was with his family and one of the casualties of COVID in 2022," Brooks' attorney Ritchie Eppink said. "And by casualties, I mean, there was a job lost and then the family was evicted from their home in Emmett. And they ended up trying to survive in what they had left, which was their vehicles."
The family members were each charged with multiple misdemeanors under the code of federal regulations. The family had been involved in several run-ins with BLM and the USFS. On May 19, two plainclothes officers knocked on the door of the Roberts' trailer, asking for a jumpstart to their car, according to court documents. The goal of the undercover operation was to arrest them.
Another USFS officer was in the backseat of the officers' car; her body camera video, obtained by KTVB, shows Timber, Brooks' brother, went out to give the officers a jump. As he gets out of the car, the body camera captures officers briefly speaking with Timber and then arresting him.
An officer can be heard saying, "I got some bad news for ya man, you're under arrest." In the video, Timber can be seen and heard screaming for help. In the female USFS officer's on-body video from the backseat of the car, it is not clear whether the other two officers announced to Timber that they were law enforcement.
Hearing Timber's calls for help, Brooks exits the trailer in his wheelchair to help. The tort claim states he had previously injured himself working at Walmart.
According to Brooks' attorney, the plainclothes officers did not announce themselves as law enforcement to Brooks, however, and Brooks did not know they were law enforcement until after he had been shot.
"And so, they opened fire, fired multiple shots into his body. He was shot repeatedly even after he was defenseless in the mud," Eppink said. "He got shot in the back by these officers and through some miracle, he has survived that. And is is in a very long recovery now [...] He was paralyzed, will no longer, we're told, have any feeling below his waist as a result of of the shooting,"
Eppink said Brooks was shot so many times, doctors are not even disclosing the exact amount because it is not clear. Prior to the shooting, Brooks still had feeling below his waist and could have children.
"His prognosis is guarded. He likely will never recover the use of his lower body. He cannot control his bowels and requires a diaper. His recovery will be slow and difficult," the tort claim states.
The body camera footage records at least 11 gunshots.
Immediately following the shooting, while Brooks is still laying on the ground waiting for medical treatment, he apologizes to officers and said he did not know they were law enforcement.
"I'm sorry," Brooks said. "I did what he said, put the gun down... he just took his shot. I didn't know you guys were cops."
The Roberts Family:
After the family was evicted from their Emmett home during the pandemic, they moved around in their camping vehicles. They first went to the Boise National Forest and then moved to BLM land in the desert, south of Boise.
According to Eppink the family had a rough time. In the winter of 2022, Judy got frostbite and had both her legs amputated below the knee.
"They ended up trying to survive in what they had left, which was their vehicles," Eppink said. "Had Brooks and his family had any other choice but to be where they were, they would have been there."
Officials warned them multiple times they were violating the 14-day camping limit in each spot between 2020 and 2022. They were eventually given tickets and ordered to leave. The family told officers they had nowhere else to go, that all of the homeless shelters were filled.
According to the tort claim filed by Eppink on Aug. 23, the BLM connected the family with a homeless services agency in Ada County, CATCH, which put them on a waiting list for permanent supportive housing. In the meantime, CATCH gave the family food, propane and water.
"The approach that would have worked, could have worked here, was to allow this family to work with services to find a place to live," Eppink said.
However, federal court filings show that during encounters with law enforcement and the public over those years, Timber, specifically, grew more hostile and aggressive. According to those documents, he repeatedly threatened violence; for instance, he stated that he would booby trap their site and claimed his family owned the public land they lived on.
"Leave me the (expletive) alone or something's going to happen fast," Timber said multiple times to the public and law enforcement, according to court documents. "Touch our stuff and someone's going to go down bad. There will be booby traps around camp."
He told law enforcement on several occasions he was not going to follow the laws and cussed at members of the public, demanding they stay away from the area the family was living.
After being forced off BLM land in the fall of 2022, the family headed up to the popular West Face Trailhead parking lot in the Payette National Forest.
Randy Hickman, who lives in McCall, said he often frequents the site and it's very peaceful and special to him and his family. However, on April 19, that peace was ruined when he pulled into the lot to catch up on work. That was where he met Timber.
"I was parked in this pickup," Hickman said. "I see a guy standing outside my vehicle. He wants something, I don't know what it is. So, I open the door, get out and say what do you need?"
Hickman said an irrational, agitated Timber cussed at him, told him not to touch their stuff, and demanded he leave.
"He walked back over to a Chevy pickup [...] and picked up a knife off the tailgate," Hickman said. "He shook the knife and started back toward me. That made it pretty easy for me to see I needed not to be here."
Hickman said he also realized Timber was not alone, so he left and called police.
"I wanted to make sure that I did everything to clear my conscience - that there's nothing more I could do," Hickman told KTVB.
Brooks was not involved in the altercation with Hickman.
"My client hasn't been alleged to have made threats to anyone," Eppink said.
Hickman's report to law enforcement wasn't the only one local and federal agencies received; federal court filings show multiple people complained about the family living at the trailhead and reported intimidating interactions with them in early 2023.
Two months before Hickman's interaction, the U.S. attorneys Office had filed multiple misdemeanor charges against the family for living on BLM and Forest Service lands.
Brooks was initially charged with: Camping on BLM public lands for longer than allowed, improperly disposing of garbage on BLM public lands, leaving property on BLM lands after being ordered to remove it, camping on forest service lands for a period longer than allowed, using forest service lands for residential purposes and occupying a developed recreation site for other than recreation purposes.
Timber was initially charged with: Camping on BLM public lands for longer than allowed, improperly disposing of garbage on BLM public lands, leaving property on BLM lands after being ordered to remove it, camping on forest service lands for a period longer than allowed, using forest service lands for residential purposes, occupying a developed recreation site for other than recreation purposes and threatening, intimidating and/or interfering with a forest officer.
Judy was charged with: Camping on forest service lands for a period longer than allowed, using forest service lands for residential purposes and occupying a developed recreation site for other than recreation purposes.
A judge ordered them to leave the land, but they did not.
Court records show the USFS knew the Roberts owned guns and claimed the family's threatening and intimidating actions had grown more dangerous and posed an "immediate danger to the community and law enforcement."
The department lodged more charges against the family - including a disorderly conduct charge against Timber for his alleged threat against Hickman - and planned the undercover arrests on May 19.
"All of them had attorneys that the court had appointed for them," Eppink said. "But without any notice to us or to the family, the federal government got arrest warrants for each member of the family."
The FBI is investigating the shooting and Brooks' attorneys filed a $50 million tort claim notice against the USFS, BLM and the Department of Agriculture. A tort claim is the first step toward filing a lawsuit; in it, Brooks' attorneys said the agencies "needlessly and recklessly" shot Brooks as part of a "pointless and wildly dangerous ruse operation."
His attorneys also accuse law enforcement of illegally targeting Brooks because he was homeless. "It was a reckless, indiscriminate shooting of our client.," Eppink said. "The government response to this was counterproductive throughout all of those years, and certainly way out of proportion for a family trying to survive poverty and homelessness."
Brooks is now out of the hospital. His attorneys filed new documents in his criminal case last week. They are leaning on the Martin vs. City of Boise case in their defense, a previous case where a judge found criminalizing homelessness violates people's Eighth Amendment rights. Meaning, when people have no other place to go, telling them their alternative is jail is unconstitutional.
"The solution to the problem of poverty and homelessness, we know from the Martin versus City of Boise case can't be criminalization," Eppink said.
Judy and Brooks go to trial for their criminal charges November 6. Timber is currently in jail after pleading guilty to camping on public lands longer than allowed, threatening, intimidating or interfering with a forest officer and assaulting a federal officer. According to federal court filings, the criminal charge of assaulting an officer came about when Timber was in custody on May 19.
KTVB reached out to the Forest Service but they were unable to comment on the case. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho, Josh Hurwit, said:
"Pursuant to a plea agreement, Timber Roberts has pleaded guilty in his case and is set for sentencing. The criminal cases involving Judy and Brooks Roberts, however, are set for trial, so we are not at liberty to comment on those cases outside of the court record."
**Viewer Content Warning**: The following video is graphic and contains blood, violence, gunshots, screaming and profanity.
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