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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

News

AG office called to investigate Algiers assault

Sheriff also may request coronerís inquest


By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer

The complex investigation into a May 16 aggravated battery near River Run Lodge has been turned over to the Idaho Attorney Generalís Office. A related police shooting is under investigation by a task force of Southern Idaho law enforcement officers.

At the scene of a fatal shooting, colored flags stuck in the ground Tuesday mark the movements of police and Tom Algiers prior to his death May 16. Algiers was shot twice by Blaine County Deputy Curtis Miller in the dense woods south of the River Run Lodge parking lot. Express photo by Greg Stahl

The Idaho Attorney Generalís Office last week took over the investigation of an aggravated battery charge against a Wyoming man who said he was attacked by a Ketchum resident who was later slain by police in an early morning standoff on May 16. The events unfolded at and near a campsite south of River Run Lodge.

Tom Algiers, 46, was killed shortly before 3 a.m. May 16 after police responded to a 911 call made by Daniel Hunt, 44, from the River Run Lodge at about 2 a.m. Hunt told police he allegedly had been attacked by Algiers and had defended himself with a machete. Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said when Algiers was found in the dense woods along the Big Wood River, he refused to drop a knife he was carrying. Femling said Algiers cornered two county deputies. Deputy Curtis Miller shot Algiers twice.

Hunt, formerly of Jackson, Wyo., was arraigned Thursday in 5th District Magistrate Court in Hailey. He was arrested Wednesday, May 19, by Ketchum police officers on felony aggravated battery charges. He had been free since the May 16 incident. Hunt, who carries a Wyoming driverís license, had been living in a campsite near the Big Wood River for several weeks, said Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas.

A preliminary hearing for Hunt, initially scheduled for Wednesday, May 26, was postponed until June 10 to give Deputy Attorney General Jay Rosenthal time to review evidence in the case. Bail was set at $50,000 and Hunt is incarcerated at the Blaine County Jail.

During Huntís arraignment hearing last week in 5th District Magistrate Court, Hunt made several outbursts. At one point he said, "He was killing me." Later he added, "I was sacred to death."

The Attorney General Officeís inquest into the aggravated battery charge will be an independent investigation, Rosenthal said. The Attorney General Office began looking into the matter this week at Thomasí request because his staff wants to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, Rosenthal said.

"I have been assigned to do the investigation," Rosenthal said. "We utilize efforts of local investigators up until the point we enter into the case. I have an investigator with me who arrived (Tuesday)."

Rosenthal said his office will not be involved in the investigation of the police shooting, but overlapping evidence will be reviewed. He said investigators are still waiting for toxicological reports from the autopsy performed on Algiers.

Although Femling said May 17 he had noticed three machete blows to Algiersí head as his body was being packaged for the morgue, there were actually 14 head wounds, according to initial reports from the forensic pathologist at the Ada County Coronerís office in Boise.

Blaine County Coroner Russ Mikel said he is still waiting for the final reports from the forensic pathologist before he finishes his report in the case. However, he said, the machete wounds "could have been severe enough to have proven fatal."

Ketchum police also are assisting in the investigation of the alleged aggravated battery of Algiers by Hunt.

Consistent with department policy, Femling bowed out of the police shooting investigation May 16.

"I asked separate agencies to investigate because my people were involved in a shooting of someone who was killed," Femling said. "I want citizens to have confidence that the investigation is not controlled by me."

The police shooting and the aggravated assault are being investigated separately, but they are intertwined, Femling said.

Reports from both police investigations will be submitted to Femling upon completion.

Meanwhile, investigators returned Tuesday to the campsite on the banks of the Big Wood River, south of River Run Lodge and west of Ketchum, to review events that resulted in Algiersí death early Sunday morning on May 16.

"Members of the (Magic Valley Critical Incident Task Force) were putting together loose ends," Femling said. "They are looking at every single angle."

Blaine County deputies, including Dale Stocking, who witnessed the shooting, helped investigators from the Magic Valley Critical Incident Task Force reconstruct how Algiers was shot. Ketchum police, including Assistant Chief Mike McNeil, were also present to assist with the review. Color-coded markers stuck in the ground at the scene of the shooting tell a story of the events leading to Algiersí death.

If the task force investigation shows that authorities used deadly force when it was unwarranted, the Blaine County prosecutor said he would probably seek external review of the case by a 5th District Court prosecuting attorney. Thomas said he, too, needs to avoid any conflict of interest in both the review of the shooting investigation and any possible prosecution.

If warranted, Femling said he might ask Mikel to hold a coronerís inquest. Idaho law requires a county coroner to make an independent report of the cause of death in any death unattended by a physician. An inquest must be considered until such time as evidence rules out the need for it, according to the law.

"I would ask the coroner to do an inquest if thereís some feeling out there (after the investigation is completed) that (the police shooting) is still not justified," Femling said.

Idaho code permits the use of deadly force by a police officer if an individual carrying a weapon within 21 feet of a police officer refuses police orders to drop the weapon.

Femling said he would run the reports by the prosecuting attorney, the attorney general, and the coroner.

"If I ask the coroner to investigate, (the shooting) will be judged by the citizens of this county," the sheriff said. In the event of a coroner inquest, the coroner chooses a six-member jury to review the case.

"Iíve got to get to first base ... letís get the initial report," Femling added.

The colored flags placed at the crime scene show the position of each person present leading up to Algiersí death.

Algiersí flags are pink, Stockingís are yellow and Millerís are blue. The positions of physical evidence are marked with red flags. Numbered to show movement in time, the flags indicate that after officers found Algiers in the brush they backed up as he came toward them.

There are notes on many of the markers. For example, a marker for Stocking states "Dale moves back closer to Miller when shots are fired."

Algiersí final location is in a small vale about 30 feet from the campsite where Hunt said he was initially attacked.

Femling said a Ketchum police officer was with Hunt and near the scene at the time of the shooting. Their statements are also part of the ongoing investigation into how the shooting occurred.


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