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AG: No charges for deputies who killed Council rancher Jack Yantis

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden made the decision after completing his review of  the shooting death of 62-year-old Jack Yantis.


BOISE -- The Idaho Attorney General's Office announced Friday morning that no criminal charges will be filed against two Adams County deputies who shot and killed a Council rancher last year.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden made the decision after completing his review of the shooting death of 62-year-old Jack Yantis.

Yantis was killed Nov.1 after dispatchers asked him to put down one of his bulls that had been hit by a car after wandering onto U.S. 95. After Yantis arrived at the highway below his home with a rifle to kill the animal, he was shot by deputies Cody Roland and Brian Wood.

Wood and Roland have been on paid administrative leave since the shooting.

Wasden said that after reviewing more than 5,000 pages of reports, lab results, witness statements and other materials, the evidence was "insufficient to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt," according to a press release.

MORE: Family of slain rancher: Adams County deputies 'shot to kill'

Wasden said in a news conference that he understood the decision would be upsetting to many people in Adams County.

"This is a tragic event," he said. "This is catastrophic to a community. I wish there was a different outcome, but I don't have the ability to do that. But my duty, my obligation, my responsibility is to make certain that justice was done."

Wasden said he will make the contents of the investigative file available to the public.

According to new details released by the AG's office, Wood called dispatch at 7:10 p.m., telling a dispatcher the bull was "injured and not very happy." Twelve minutes later, at 7:22 p.m., he asked the dispatcher to call Yantis because the animal was becoming increasingly agitated.

Wood had already shot the bull several times by the time the rancher arrived. When Yantis got to the highway, both deputies say they became concerned about the safety of others due to the direction Yantis was aiming his gun toward the bull.

According to the deputies, Yantis was pointing his rifle south, towards the bull but also toward the crash scene, where emergency responders were still working to get two injured people out of the wrecked car. Yantis' family members told investigators the gun was pointed toward the ditch, not the accident scene, Wasden said.

MORE: Jack Yantis supporters want answers, rally in Boise

Both deputies say after they intervened, Yantis pointed his rifle toward Roland and fired one round.

The deputies both fired toward the rancher, who was hit 12 times. The fatal wound, determined to be a bullet wound to the chest, came from Wood's .223 Remington rifle.

At 7:27 p.m., Roland called dispatch, saying "shots fired, owner has been shot." Wood also told dispatchers "we need all units now, owner has been shot."

The nearly nine-month investigation focused on what happened in the five minutes between the calls to dispatch, Wasden said. The four witnesses - Wood, Roland, Yantis' wife Donna Yantis and nephew Rowdy Paradis - gave conflicting accounts of what transpired.

Donna Yantis, who was standing near the four-wheeler parked with its headlights shining on the bull, said Wood grabbed her husband's arm and jerked him backward as Roland opened fire at him with a handgun. Later, she named Roland as the deputy who grabbed Yantis. She also said she heard Roland say "I'm hit, I'm hit," but did not see Yantis point a gun at either man.

Paradis told investigators Yantis was preparing to fire at the bull and had his finger on the trigger when Roland grabbed him by his vest, pulling him forward before pushing him away, at which point both officers opened fire. Paradis also said the last shot was fired at Yantis as he lay unmoving on the ground, and that deputies shared a "smug, celebratory moment" after the shooting, according to the AG' s office.

Roland and Wood both say they tried to stop Yantis from firing in the direction of the crash and first responders by saying "no, no, no," "whoa, whoa, stop, hang on," and "we're not doing this."

READ: Yantis investigation: ISP 'eager for its conclusion'

Wood said he stepped toward Yantis as the rancher prepared to fire, reaching out toward him with his left hand. He told investigators Yantis stepped back, swinging the muzzle of his rifle across Wood's stomach. Wood said he twice told Yantis to point the gun down. He said he may have heard Roland say something, at which point Yantis stepped toward Roland and shoved the rifle toward the other deputy's chest.

Wood said he then heard a gunshot, which he believed came from Yantis' gun, and opened fire. He told investigators he believed in that moment that Roland had been shot, or was about to be.

Wasden said Wood is the only one of the four witnesses who does not recall a physical altercation or touching between Yantis and the deputies before the shooting.

Roland said that after Wood reached for or grabbed Yantis' gun, Yantis shoved the deputy sideways, causing him to hop to the side on his right foot. Because Wood had lost control of Yantis' gun, Roland said, he moved to unholster his own pistol.

At the same time, Roland said, Yantis pulled up his rifle and fired from the hip towards him. Roland also fired. The deputy told investigators he believed Yantis fired first, but the shot from his handgun and Yantis' rifle may have been simultaneous.

In addition to the 20 spent shell casings from the deputies' guns, a .20 caliber bullet was found at the scene in the middle of the road, and Yantis .204 rifle had an empty shell casing in the chamber.

The FBI ballistics expert who tested the .20 round was unable to conclusively determine whether it came from Yantis .204.

"There is no solid explanation as to how the bullet, if fired from Yantis' gun, came to rest in the middle of the scene," AG Prosecutions Section Chief Jason Slade Spillman wrote in a letter to the Adams County Prosecutor.

Blood on the bullet was tested and found to be that of Yantis.

No dashcam or body camera footage was captured of the event. Wood's body camera was full, investigators determined, and Roland did not turn his on.

READ: ISP gives Yantis shooting report to Idaho AG

Yantis' blood alcohol level was measured at .104, according to the investigation. Neither deputy was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Wasden said he has been criticized for how long it took to release the results of the investigation. But he said the final pieces of evidence, including ballistics testing and a final interview with one of the deputies, was not received by his office until June 7 and June 8, less than two months before he released his decision.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Idaho also said no criminal civil rights charges will be filed against the deputies.

"Mr. Yantis' death is tragic, is a tremendous loss to his family and has had a substantial effect on the Adams County community," the U.S. Attorney's Office wrote in a press release. "However, the evidence does not meet the substantial evidentiary requirements imposed by the criminal law."

U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson also referenced the conflicting reports from the four witnesses.

"All four eyewitnesses to the shooting were consistent on certain facts: that Mr. Yantis possessed a rifle with which he was preparing to shoot or euthanize his injured bull; that Roland and Wood also were nearby; that Mr. Yantis aimed his rifle at the bull's head to shoot it; that there was some sort of exchange, whether verbal or physical, between one or more of the deputies and Mr. Yantis, during which Mr. Yantis moved away from the bull; and that the deputies fired at Mr. Yantis at that point," the press release reads. "Although the witnesses did not agree on whether Mr. Yantis' rifle discharged, investigators determined through forensic evidence that it did."

PREVIOUS: Adams County rancher shot and killed by deputies

Yantis' family filed a $500,000 tort claim against the county, the Adams County Sheriff's Office and the two deputies in April, alleging wrongful death. The family has said through their lawyer that Yantis was attacked without provocation, and that deputies did nothing to help him as he bled to death on the highway.

Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman told KTVB there is no timeline for Wood and Roland to return to work. Both men must complete a psychological evaluation before returning, he said.

Zollman declined to comment on Wasden's decision, citing the tort claim.

"Attorney General Wasden has now made his decision and I would like to comment, but because the Yantis family has hired legal counsel and filed a tort claim against the county, I have been advised by the County’s legal counsel that I should not comment, but rather let the tort claim process run its course," he said in the statement. "I will respond at an appropriate time in the future. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Yantis family as well as the deputies and their families, who have all been affected by this tragedy."

Wasden said that despite his decision not to file charges, he wishes the evening had unfolded differently.

"He's at dinner, he drives down to the end of his driveway and five minutes later - less than that actually - he's shot dead," he said. "That's a tragic and terrible outcome. I wish there would have been some other outcome. The outcome should have been, he goes back to dinner."

Watch the full news conference:

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