Woman pleads not guilty to causing death of deputy, attorneys argue over internal investigation
IDAHO FALLS — A local woman has pleaded not guilty after prosecutors say her actions caused the death of a Bonneville County Sheriff deputy in 2020.
Jenna Holm, 35, appeared from the Bonneville County Jail via Zoom for her arraignment in front of District Judge Dane H. Watkins Jr. During the Wednesday hearing, Holm entered the plea and a jury trial was scheduled for Aug. 30.
Prosecutors have charged Holm with felony involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Additionally, there is a sentencing enhancement that would add 15 years to Holm’s sentence if convicted, meaning she could spend up to 30 years behind bars.
The charges stem from a May 18 incident where deputies found a distraught Holm on a rural road with a machete. During the incident, Deputy Wyatt Maser was hit and killed by another deputy responding to the scene. Prosecutors allege Holm committed several unlawful acts that put deputies at the scene and ultimately resulting in Maser’s death.
Under Idaho law, someone can be charged with involuntary manslaughter when a person dies while you are involved “in the perpetration of, or attempting to perpetrate any unlawful act.” Bonneville County prosecutors used this section of the statute to charge Holm.
Defense attorneys Rocky Wixom and Jordan Crane appear to be trying to turn the case against Bonneville County Sheriff deputies Randy Flagel, Ben Bottcher and Maser. The men were at the scene on May 18 and Flagel was the deputy who struck Maser with his patrol SUV.
During the initial discovery in the case, Holm’s defense team requested information from a Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office internal investigation into the incident. The documents included personnel records. After not receiving what they wanted, the defense filed a motion to compel in February, asking Watkins to order that information be handed over.
“One of the primary lines of defense for Ms. Holm lies in the conduct of Sgt. Randy Flagel, Deputy Ben Bottcher and Deputy Wyatt Maser,” Wixom wrote in one document supporting his request. “Any conduct part of the officers individually or collectively is a substantial factor for the jury to consider when asked by the prosecutor to assign blame to Ms. Holm for the tragic death of officer Maser.”
Civil attorneys from the prosecutor’s office representing Bonneville County and the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office filed their own objection to Wixom’s requests. They argued the internal investigation is exempt from disclosure to the attorneys under the Idaho Public Records Act. They also claimed such items were protected under attorney-client privilege.
The civil attorneys wrote in their objection that protecting the records ensures compliance with Sheriff Office policy and they want to protect the techniques used to conduct internal investigations.
Weston Davis, a civil attorney with the prosecutor’s office, said during a March 17 hearing that the Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office has two separate obligations: they must prosecute alleged criminals and act as the defense to any legal matters raised against the county.
“For that reason, you have a criminal department and you have a civil department,” Davis said. “It can not be presumed to say that because the criminal department knows what’s going on that the civil department also knows what’s going on.”
The internal investigation was conducted separately from the criminal investigation against Holm, Davis explained. He said the internal investigation weighed the risk of the situation to the county and establish safeguards. He explained the facts of the case have been disclosed to the defense attorneys and the internal investigation does not come into play in prosecuting Holm.
It’s expected that the prosecutor’s office and Holms’s defense attorneys will bring up the issue at a hearing on April 19. Watkins will then decide if the internal investigation is protected under attorney-client privilege or if it needs to be handed over to the defense.
“This is a very important issue to the parties,” Watkins said in March. “I can feel it in the arguments … I want to preserve the integrity of this.”