Internal investigation reveals factors into death of Deputy Wyatt Maser
IDAHO FALLS —- Some of the findings of an internal investigation into the death of Bonneville County Sheriff’s Deputy Wyatt Maser were briefly published in judicial court records this week.
The information includes factors identified by the sheriff’s office at play in Maser’s death. The findings also make recommendations for policy or procedural changes at the sheriff’s office to prevent future incidents.
Over the past few months, the sheriff’s office internal investigation has been at the center of a legal battle in the Jenna Holm case. Bonneville County prosecutors say Holm is responsible for Maser’s May 2020 death.
The morning Maser died, deputies found a distraught Holm on a rural road with a machete. During the incident, Maser was hit and killed by Sgt. Randy Flagel, who was also responding to the scene in his patrol vehicle. Prosecutors claim Holm committed several unlawful acts, which indirectly resulted in Maser’s death.
Holm has been charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault.
Holm’s defense attorneys, Rocky Wixom and Jordan Crane, appear to be trying to turn responsibility for the death to Bonneville County Sheriff deputies Flagel, Ben Bottcher and Maser. The men were at the scene on May 18.
As part of that effort, defense attorneys filed a motion to compel Bonneville County to hand over its internal investigation of the incident.
“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 a 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.”
Bonneville County civil attorneys, representing the sheriff’s office, took issue with Wixom’s request and filed an objection. They argued the internal investigation is exempt from disclosure to the attorneys under the Idaho Public Records Act. They also claimed that parts of the investigation items were protected under attorney-client privilege.
District Judge Dane H. Watkins resolved the issue in a ruling filed Monday. He wrote that the internal investigation report does contain confidential attorney-client privileged information when Bonneville County civil attorney Scott Hall provided legal opinions and conclusions. However, Watkins deemed the findings and the facts of the report releasable and can help Holm’s defense.
“Because the recommendations made in the report are meant to be implemented into sheriff department policies and procedures, they were arguably never intended to be confidential,” Watkins wrote in part of his opinion.
As the full internal investigation contains communication between the sheriff’s office and its attorney, the document itself was not provided to the defense. Instead, Watkins released findings and recommendations in his own judicial filing. That filing was briefly available to the public Monday, and obtained by EastIdahoNews.com, before being sealed by Watkins on Tuesday.
Internal investigation findings and recommendations
Listed below are the factors contained in the judicial documents. They pertain to actions taken by deputies, Bottcher and Maser in the apprehension of Holm and possibly led to Maser’s death.
- Deputy Bottcher did not activate his emergency red and blues (vehicle lights).
- Deputy Bottcher never deploy(ed) his flashlight.
- Deputy Bottcher gave the wrong location and wrong direction of travel throughout the call.
- Deputy Maser stopped his vehicle in the lane of traffic with only scene lights turned on with no red or blue emergency lights to the rear.
- Deputy Maser only used his weapon-mounted flashlight.
- Deputy Maser, while giving lethal cover to Dep. Bottcher in the Taser deployment, stepped up into the roadway in front of Sgt. Flegel’s vehicle
- (The vehicle of a witness in the case) was positioned to the right side of his lane with bright lights shining into oncoming traffic.
Following the internal investigation, recommendations for the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office including the creation and implementation of roadside safety training, “specifically for new recruits.” The training would include lighting at scenes, how to use lights on patrol vehicles and recognizing potential hazards. Additionally, supervisors should review compliance of safety at scenes and discipline if necessary, according to court documents.
When asked for a response on the recommendations, Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bryan Lovell said he was unable to comment on personnel issues or this specific case because it is ongoing. He did say the sheriff’s office has always reviewed its procedures, policies and training to be safer and better at their job.
“That’s a practice we’ve been doing for decades, and that will continue,” Lovell said.
Holm is scheduled for multiple pre-trial motion hearings over the coming weeks in preparation for her jury trial set to begin on Aug. 30 at the Bonneville County Courthouse.