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Sheriff’s first court appearance postponed one week

Crime Watch

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BLACKFOOT — The first court appearance for Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland was supposed to happen Wednesday morning but it will now occur next week.

Rowland was set for a court hearing Wednesday at 9 a.m. via Zoom after he was charged with aggravated battery, aggravated assault and misdemeanor unlawful exhibition of a gun. The charges stem from a November incident where a church youth group left a thank you note at Rowland’s door before he allegedly assaulted them.

The sheriff did not appear at the hearing Wednesday but his defense attorney Justin Oleson asked for proceedings to be continued, citing media coverage of the case and an Idaho Supreme Court order that allows in-person hearings.

Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins approved the request and rescheduled the hearing for Dec. 29 at 10 a.m. at the Bingham County Courthouse. Eddins also issued a no-contact order between Rowland and the alleged victims as requested by Idaho Deputy Attorney General Jeff Nye.

When the Idaho Attorney General’s Office charged Rowland on Dec. 14, the sheriff was issued a summons and was not arrested. Rowland has continued to work as Sheriff after taking a two-week leave of absence as the investigation unfolded.

The Nov. 9 incident involved seven girls ages 12 to 16 writing thank you notes shaped like turkeys and leaving them on the doors of neighbors. Most of the night proved uneventful until they left a note for Rowland and his wife.

In an interview with investigators, Rowland said he heard a knock that night, and fearing someone was trying to break into his house, he had his wife bring him his gun. The sheriff then allegedly went outside, confronted the youth group and pulled their adult leader out of a vehicle by her hair.

Rowland told investigators he pointed the gun at the woman’s head. The woman later identified herself as a neighbor and family friend for over three decades. Rowland said he did not recognize her. He continued yelling profanities at the woman and girls and pointed his weapon at the woman. Eventually, Rowland said he went back to his home and let the youth group leave.

Rowland told investigators he had had a single alcoholic drink that night but said he was “clear as a freakin’ bell.” Rowland told investigators about a handful of threats made against him and his wife that caused concerns about people at their home.

“I have been doing this job for 36 years,” Rowland told investigators, according to court documents. “I have had drunk Indians drive down my cul-de-sac. I’ve had drunk Indians come to my door. I live just off the reservation, we have a lot of reservation people around us that are not good people.”

The incident and comment about members of the local tribal community drew backlash from multiple officials and organizations. Since the incident, the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Blackfoot Mayor Marc Carrol, Blackfoot Police Department, Bingham County Prosecutors Paul Rogers and the Snake River Fraternal Order of Police lodge had called for his resignation.

Rowland has declined to comment but his attorney Justin Oleson criticized the publication of the comment about the reservation. Oleson said the comment was taken out of context by the attorney general in court documents as well as the media.

“It appears that occurred so that Sherriff (sic) Rowland’s name could be further slandered and his reputation tarnished by the media in an attempt to sway the jury of public opinion,” Oleson said. “Sherriff (sic) Rowland has had a good working relationship with the Shoshone Bannock Tribes and Tribal Members and has the utmost respect for his law-abiding neighbors on the reservation.”

Rowland has not yet entered a plea on the charges against him.

If convicted of the felony charges, a judge could sentence Rowland up to spend up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors also said they will seek a deadly weapon sentencing enhancement that would add an additional 30 years to the term.