There have been many fatal encounters between African American citizens and law enforcement that have grabbed headlines — and sparked riots — in the past 18 months. Names like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray aren’t just a part of a national conversation about police violence. They’re part of history.
Jack Yantis, an Idaho rancher killed by two sheriff’s deputies under unclear circumstances on Nov. 1, is not. Or, at least, not yet. On Thursday, the FBI announced that it is investigating Yantis’s shooting.
“ISP [Idaho State Police] will be thorough, the FBI will be thorough,” U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said, as the Idaho Statesman reported. “The attorney general’s office will carefully review the evidence, we’ll carefully review the evidence, and decisions will be made. … That does take a period of time to do and get right.”
Yantis did not look much like Brown and other young black men felled by police. He was white. He was 62. He lived in Council — population 805.
He was, however, no stranger to police. Idaho criminal records show Yantis was found guilty of “resisting or obstructing officers,” a misdemeanor, in 1997. In 2002, he was found guilty of driving under the influence. But whatever his criminal record may have included, according to his family, he was killed by overzealous lawmen.
“Law enforcement should be trained to de-escalate situations,” said Rowdy Paradis, Yantis’s nephew. “In this case, I stood 10 feet away and watched two deputies escalate the situation and needlessly kill a man.”
At around 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 1, Yantis was eating dinner at his home off of U.S. 95. Then, he got a phone call from an Adams County sheriff dispatcher — and was faced with a uniquely rural problem. Keiford, his 2,500-pound black Gelbvieh bull, had been hit by a car on the interstate, one of its rear legs “shattered by the collision with a Subaru station wagon,” as the Statesman reported. The injured bull was reportedly down, but not out, and was charging those who sought to help it.
There was but one solution to this problem: Yantis had to find the bull and put it down, a task he had taken on before. He took off in an ATV to the animal, which had struggled its way to the bottom of the Yantis’s driveway. Two sheriff’s deputies were already on the scene. As Yantis was on the way, Paradis said, the deputies opened fire on Keiford.
“They opened up with their pistols and their M16s … before Jack got there,” Paradis said. “That’s an inhumane deal. … This is a 2-ton Angus bull that’s pissed off, he’s hurt and psychotic. … It was blazing down there and it sounded like World War III on this bull, because they got him charging at everyone again.”
It was unclear, however, if Keiford was dead. Yantis’s wife Donna brought him a .204-caliber rifle to finish the job. Yantis prepared to fire. Just another day on the open range.
Then, things went tragically wrong. Though how the altercation began isn’t clear, one of the deputies grabbed the scope of Yantis’s rifle and pushed him. The rifle may have gone off. That’s when the deputies opened fire on Yantis, who died at the scene.
“And then they threatened me and my nephew … threw us on the middle of Highway 95, searched us and handcuffed us, and wouldn’t let us go take care of Jack,” Donna Yantis said. She had a heart attack at the scene and was hospitalized, according to the Spokesman-Review.
The Idaho Statesman offered this illustration of the incident:
In a statement posted to Facebook, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office said “it is believed that two deputies and Mr. Yantis all fired their weapons.”
“Our thoughts are with our community and especially all those involved in this incident,” said Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman. “The Adams County Sheriff’s Office takes matters involving any use of force very seriously and we have requested detectives with the Idaho State Police to conduct the investigation into this incident.” The two officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave.
At a town meeting in Council about the shooting earlier this week, officials were met with some of the same questions asked after other officer-involved shootings. The deputies had dashcams and body cameras — why weren’t they on? (The footage was in the hands of the Idaho State Police, residents were told.) Why hadn’t the names of the deputies been released? How had this all happened?
After the meeting — even before the FBI had stepped in — Yantis’s son-in-law said the truth would come out.
“I think when it’s all settled and everything comes out, we’ll get answers,” Mike Armistead told KTVB. “I have confidence in the investigation.”