Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Algiers family may file civil suit

FBI opens investigation into police shooting case


By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer

Siblings of Thomas P. Algiers, 46, who was slain by police May 16 at a campsite near the River Run Lodge in Ketchum, are in Idaho this week seeking answers to lingering questions about the death of their brother.

The family has filed a tort notice with the Blaine County recorder to reserve the right to file a civil suit. The claim on behalf of Algiers' heirs claims the right to seek damages in excess of $500,000.

If the county does not reply to the notice or seek a settlement, the Algiers family has two years to file a civil suit. The notice is addressed to the Blaine County Commissioners, the City of Ketchum and the City of Sun Valley. The filing has been turned over to ICRIMP, the county's insurance carrier.

The FBI also has begun an investigation into the case, said Kelly Kleinbachter, a Salt Lake City-based special agent handling media questions about the case.

Agent Andy Ramos, who specializes in civil rights and legal issues, will report to Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Olsen in Boise when he completes his review of the facts and police reports in the case.

The Algiers case began with a 911 call from Daniel D. Hunt, 45, in the early morning hours of May 16. Hunt, from Wyoming, told police that he had defended himself against Algiers with a machete after being attacked by him at a campsite in the woods along the Big Wood River near the ski lodge. Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said when Algiers was found in the woods he refused to drop a knife that he was carrying. Femling said Algiers cornered two county deputies. Deputy Curtis Miller shot Algiers twice. Autopsy reports show that Algiers had been struck numerous times with a machete before he was shot.

Three days after the shooting, Hunt was arrested and held in the Blaine County jail awaiting a preliminary hearing on aggravated assault charges.

Two parallel investigations emerged from the events of May 16, one looking into the police shooting, and a second looking into Hunt's assault charges. Idaho Deputy Attorney General Jay Rosenthal led a coroner's inquest into the police shooting and also prosecuted Hunt.

Hunt was held for three months in the Blaine County jail before he was scheduled to stand trial for aggravated battery against Algiers. On Sept. 30 Hunt's defense attorney, Stephen Thompson reached an agreement with Rosenthal and entered a guilty plea on Hunt's behalf for misdemeanor assault. Hunt entered a guilty plea and was released.

The two-day coroner's inquest held in Hailey at the beginning of September reinforced a finding by the Magic Valley Critical Incident Task Force, an external multi-county team put together to investigate the shooting. Both bodies found that the shooting was justifiable homicide.

Rosenthal orchestrated the inquest, the first such hearing to be held in Blaine County. The inquest was intended to give the public an opportunity to see all the facts in the case, said Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg, who took over the coroner's investigation from Blaine County Coroner Russ Mikel due to a perceived conflict of interest for Mikel.

Two of Algiers' brothers, Peter and Charles Algiers, came to Idaho this week because they said they do not believe all the facts in the case were presented at the inquest. That belief is based largely on review of hundreds of pages of interviews, photographs, videotape and recorded interviews released this month by the Attorney General's office. The family is still awaiting receipt of some items from the investigations that have not been disclosed. Physical evidence is being kept by the Attorney General's Office.

Because Hunt never went to trial, a civil suit is the only remaining legal stage for the Algiers family to achieve their quest for full disclosure of the facts. Although the suit lists remunerative damages, money is not what the family is seeking, said Peter Algiers. Last month he began to post information related to the case on the Web site tomalgiers.net. The site includes links to autopsy photos of Algiers' body that were not presented at the inquest.

Peter Algiers said the family was particularly puzzled that an incident in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 2003 in Hunt's criminal record was not brought out during the inquest. He said Hunt made similar claims of self-defense after he was arrested for aggravated assault and battery.

"The records that we have been able to obtain present a far different scenario from the one that was presented by the Idaho Attorney General's Deputy Jay Rosenthal," Algiers said Monday in an interview in Hailey. "We want five things: the truth about the events that occurred May 16, justice for Tom, an apology from those who have slandered him, that this incident will be used to educate law enforcement in what not to do with someone who has obviously been attacked and a permanent memorial in this area."

Peter and Charles Algiers sat for an interview with "Perspective" talk show host Gene Dallago Tuesday to talk about their concerns. Rosenthal was invited to come to the interview, but his office declined the invitation at the request of Blaine County, said Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Attorney General. The Blaine County Prosecutor's office did not return calls requesting comment on the tort filing.

Hunt's whereabouts are currently unknown.




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