BOISE, Idaho — An email sent by the Boise Police Union leadership to its members on Dec. 2 said the BPD Union received a phone call from Boise Mayor Lauren McLean's Chief of Staff, Courtney Washburn, alleging that Office of Police Accountability (OPA) Director Jesus Jara was watching live body camera footage of police officers.
KTVB received these emails from multiple anonymous sources close to the police union. The union told KTVB that they reserve comment, "until the facts come out so we can make a legitimate conclusion."
Later that evening, after the emails were sent out, Jara was placed on leave by McLean and three council members due to his "professional judgement" and concerns within the office.
"We must have confidence in this office and trust the judgement of its director," Mayor McLean and council leadership said in a news release. "This step is necessary to protect the interests of our police officers and the public."
In another email sent to union members on Dec. 2, union leadership states, "we need to correct misinformation that occurred earlier in regards to our previous email as we were given inaccurate information."
The email goes on to say the union has since learned the city, department and OPA do not have the ability to watch video live-streaming of body camera footage.
"This information is being confirmed by Axon," the email says. In another email sent to the union members, it states, "Axon just confirmed that the department did not purchase the ability to view in real time, confirming the second email." Axon is the brand of body camera that Boise uses.
A former meeting
A meeting was held with OPA staff on Nov. 22 in which the mayor, her chief of staff, council president, council president pro-tem and another council member were present.
Boise City Council Members Clegg, Woodings and Hallyburton now serve as oversight to OPA.
According to paraphrased notes KTVB obtained through a public records request, Jara was noted as saying "we monitor the (Computer Aided Dispatch) and can see the action live."
Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) allows for the tracking of police service calls and their responses.
The notes from the meeting show Jara said OPA watches those calls at random to see how relevant certain policing trends are, and that the BPD officers are doing a good job.
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean inquired if Jara could watch body camera footage live.
He responds, according to the 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."
Jara again states they can only see dispatch calls live.
Jara also states in the meeting that the city ordinance is silent on what can trigger the office to review recorded body camera footage.
McLean then responds, "Where the ordinance is silent is where we can get into trouble. We need to be clear on what the office can and cannot do."
The OPA ordinance in regards to access to information 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, which the Director shall deem necessary in the performance of the duties specified and responsibilities set forth."
OPA watches recorded videos at random which are available the next day, according to the meeting notes. Jara asked if the office was to stop watching recorded video if there were no complaints tied to them.
Washburn is noted as replying they have to meet with interim Chief Ron Winegar and come up with a policy. McLean also responded that they need to work with city legal to "make sure (OPA) has the power to do those things so that it is in the ordinance."
An executive meeting with council is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 9 at 11 a.m. for "personnel" reasons, listed as an "action item."
According to a handout from the Nov. 22 meeting, Jara wrote that an audit showed since the fall of 2021, OPA has reviewed over 8,000 random recorded police body camera videos as part of their auditing.
Jara's handout lists conduct unbecoming, truthfulness, muting of microphones, performance of duty, demeanor and rudeness, criminal conduct and use of force below the audit update, but it is unclear if that is what the OPA found or if those are the reasons they chose to review the videos themselves.
Law office confirms prior grievance was filed
The City of Boise cannot speak to anything regarding Jara's suspension, but a city spokesperson said in an email that "The city is currently reviewing the Office of Police Accountability’s practices and policies around monitoring body camera footage."
Dec. 2, Hepworth Law Offices announced it was hired to represent Jara and issued a response. The office cited a breach of contract by the City of Boise, retaliation concerns and "violations of law."
Hepworth, in the statement, called this a "calculated political stunt" and "defamatory."
It also says that Jara has filed a prior grievance with the city which KTVB has requested.
"Mr. Jara maintains he has acted with utmost diligence and integrity, and at all times has sought to restore public confidence in the City of Boise's institutions," the Hepworth Law Offices release said. "Mr. Jara looks forward to defending his honor and reputation when not bound by city policies regarding confidentiality."
Jara previously recommended to McLean in a memo from April the former BPD Chief Ryan Lee be placed on leave pending nine BPD staff complaints against him, but the city refrained until Lee was asked to resign in September. McLean told the Idaho Statesman at the time that Jara was "unauthorized" and out of scope regarding his recommendation to the mayor.
In the Nov. 22 meeting, an OPA investigator is noted as saying, "we always make recommendations if we see something that we think could be done better."
An ordinance that created the OPA in 2021 states, in regards to the scope of the office, "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 and responsibilities set forth in this chapter. Any findings, recommendations, or requests made by the Office of Police Accountability shall reflect the views of the Office of Police Accountability alone."
Watch more Local News:
See the latest news from around the Treasure Valley and the Gem State in our YouTube playlist: