Rowland’s attorney wants to call 47 sheriffs as witnesses; trial date changed
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BLACKFOOT — During Thursday’s Zoom pre-trial conference, District Judge Stephen Dunn addressed a motion to reschedule the trial against Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland.
Dunn also addressed another motion he expects to be filed about doorbell video footage and questioned the defense’s intention to call 47 sheriffs to testify.
Rowland has been charged with felonies for aggravated assault and aggravated battery, as well as a misdemeanor for the exhibition of a weapon, following an incident on Nov. 9. He has pleaded not guilty.
Around 7:30 p.m. that evening, a youth group from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left a “thankful turkey” on Rowland’s front door. He is accused of responding by pointing a gun at a car carrying the seven girls and their youth group leader. He allegedly pulled the woman’s hair and held a gun to her head.
Scheduling the trial
A motion was filed by Rowland’s attorney, Justin Olesen, to reschedule the trial which was originally set for July 18. According to Olesen, his busy schedule as a defense attorney and as the Custer County Prosecuting Attorney has rendered him unable to have his case prepared by the planned date.
While Dunn, Olesen and prosecuting attorney Jeff Nye discussed the possibility of rescheduling, the judge made one thing very clear regarding the juvenile victims.
“I will not push this into the school year. I won’t do it,” Dunn said. “I’m not going to put these minors in a position of having their school disrupted for this trial.”
The request made by Olesen was to start the trial one week later on July 25. But according to Nye, two of the prosecution’s witnesses, one of them a victim, will be out of town for a planned trip during that time.
Furthermore, Nye said the week of July 18 is the only week between now and Sept. 19 in which all victims are available.
Dunn told Olesen that his normal inclination is to demand attorneys work their schedules around that of victims and witnesses.
Olesen responded by saying that while he normally would do so in this case, it is not possible. He then threatened to withdraw from the case should the trial not be rescheduled.
Withdrawal by a defense attorney would force a case to be reset with the new attorney.
Dunn gave Nye until 4:30 p.m. to work out the victim’s schedules so they could appear the week of July 25.
The day’s first hearing adjourned around 2:30 p.m. And after a two-hours break, the three parties reconvened and set the trial for July 25, at 1:30 p.m.
The decision came after Nye informed Dunn the victim and witness has planned local family trips, but that both would find a way to be present if the trial as moved. After providing those details, Nye stated that he still believed the court should not reschedule, “we stand on our objection,” he said.
Dunn followed Nye, saying that because both would be local he would reschedule, adding that he had been “leaning the other way.”
“I will not move it again,” he added.
Ring video and witnesses
The parties also discussed another motion Olesen intends to file, which would disqualify the use of Ring camera footage as evidence.
Dunn told Olesen he is unaware of any law or precedent that could be used to make such a motion but gave the attorney until July 15 to file the necessary paperwork for the motion.
Both Dunn and Nye questioned Olesen’s intention to call 47 sheriffs to testify — the active sheriff from each of the state’s 44 counties and three retired sheriffs.
Olesen claimed that each sheriff can offer testimony as to their training, constant state of readiness, and the natural reaction of using force when placed in Rowland’s position.
That conversation led to a discussion, which has been raised at numerous hearings, about whether or not the judge will consider Rowland acting as sheriff when the incident occurred.
Nye contended that because Rowland is a sheriff — an elected position — he is always acting as the sheriff. Additionally, Nye said that because Rowland used a service-issued firearm during the incident, he was acting in his duty.
But it is Dunn’s opinion that Rowland was acting not as the sheriff but as a homeowner investigating suspicious activity and potential trespassing.
“I’m not going to refer to him as Sheriff Rowland during this trial. I’m not going to do that,” Dunn added.
Finally, Dunn discussed his plans for creating a jury pool.
Because the suggested new trial dates would fall on the week of Pioneer Day, when many local families have planned vacations, Dunn plans to call a large pool from which a jury will be selected.
The three sides decided on a pool of 80 prospective jurors.
As far as providing the final jury with instructions for the case, Dunn said he has finished that preparation.
“I could try this, probably, in two days if I need to,” he said.
If a jury finds Rowland guilty, he could face up to 15 years in prison for aggravated assault, five years for aggravated battery and six months for exhibition of a weapon.