Another Whistleblower Case Goes to Trial. This One Is Against Idaho State Police

A Boise judge Wednesday cleared the way for a jury to hear accusations the Idaho State Police retaliated against an employee who claimed the agency improperly meddled in the investigation of a fatal crash involving a sheriff’s deputy.

Crash investigator Brandon Eller, who still works for ISP, expressed concerns about other unethical and possibly illegal activities related to crash-reconstruction work in his January 2015 whistleblower claim. He said the retaliation includes reassigning him to night and weekend patrol duty and denying him pay increases.

A previous judge earlier denied an ISP motion to dismiss the lawsuit. On Wednesday, 4th District Judge Nancy Baskin ruled Eller’s case qualified to proceed under the state law protecting government employees from retaliation for reporting waste or legal violations.

The trial is set for Aug. 14 at the Ada County Courthouse before Judge Nancy Baskin in Boise.

ISP officials declined this week to comment on the case.

Eller’s is one of three lawsuits to claim ISP tried to cover up its investigation of a 2011 collision between a Payette County sheriff’s deputy and the driver of a Jeep. The deputy, driving a Ford Crown Victoria, was speeding; the Jeep’s driver was killed.

So far, ISP has largely prevailed in court.

Former ISP crash investigator Fred Rice sued in 2014, alleging the agency retaliated against him and forced him to retire early. The agency denied his claims, and District Judge Cheri Copsey rejected them in October 2015, ruling that no “genuine issue of material fact” existed for a jury to hear.

Jackie Raymond is the daughter of Barry Johnson, the man killed in the crash. She sued Payette County for wrongful death. She also sued ISP in February 2015 for “tortious interference,” saying the agency’s “cover-up and interference” and “evidence tampering” made it more difficult for the family to prove liability and defeated her wrongful-death case.

In January of this year, a judge dismissed Raymond’s claims against ISP but allowed her claims against Payette County to go forward. The trial had been scheduled for July 24, 2017, but it has been moved to April 23, 2018, before 3rd District Judge Christopher Nye in Payette.

A third crash investigator who made similar allegations, Quinn Carmack, filed a tort claim but did not follow through with a lawsuit. Carmack is still employed with ISP.

Barring a sudden settlement, Eller’s lawsuit would be the second notable government whistleblower case to go to trial in Ada County this year.

On March 14, a jury found in favor of former Ada County employee Rich Wright, who claimed the county fired him in part for ordering an investigation into allegations that a manager with the county commissioners’ office was harassing employees. The jury awarded him $1.7 million. The judge also awarded him $664,527 in legal fees.

Both Wright and Eller sued under the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act, commonly referred to as the “Whistleblower Act.” That law protects “the integrity of government by providing a legal cause of action for public employees who experience the adverse action from their employer because of reporting waste and violations of law, rule or regulation.”