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BOCC seeks counsel for unauthorized recordings

Staff Writer | November 19, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — At a special meeting Thursday, Bonner County commissioners approved seeking counsel for the unauthorized recording that took place during multiple executive sessions.

In the commissioners’ executive session Nov. 7, it was discovered that the deputy present during the meeting, Lieutenant Tony Riffle, was recording the meeting with his body camera. Riffle has been assigned to sit in on the meetings due to a civil protection order Commissioner Asia Williams filed against Commissioner Steve Bradshaw. However, it was not known that the deputy was recording executive sessions — as well as the commissioners’ offices — until that date.

During the meeting Thursday, Commissioner Luke Omodt said he was unsure how Sheriff Daryl Wheeler was allowed to authorize these recordings, but that Wheeler claimed he did it “for the benefit of Bonner County.”

“I appreciate that, but I thought executive sessions were a vehicle and an instrument for the board of county commissioners,” he said.

The commissioner said he has submitted an expansive records request for those recordings and a log of who has access to the recordings. The deputy who has been instructed to sit in on the meetings makes roughly $100,000 a year, Omodt said, and he said he wondered if having him record executive sessions is the best use of those tax dollars.

Omodt then asked if it would be appropriate to walk into the sheriff’s office and record Wheeler as he performs his work duties.

The chairman stepped down to make a motion to seek counsel regarding these recordings.

However, Williams claimed that the sheriff’s office policy is each deputy must have their body camera recording at all times while they’re on shift. When Bradshaw decided to continue attending in-person meetings, she said, it was not the sheriff’s office’s job to change their policies to accommodate for this deputy’s job assignment — sitting in on the entirety of the commissioners’ meetings.

“To say that there’s wrongdoing or illegal or to say there’s something nefarious is not a genuine response,” she said.

The real question, Williams said, is — does the board have the right to dictate what the sheriff’s office procedure is in this case? The District 2 commissioner said there has been nothing secret about Lt. Riffle’s recordings if one knows the sheriff’s office policies. 

“I’m tired of all of this anti-law enforcement [talk] that comes from this board,” she said.

To that, Bradshaw quipped that he was most likely the most pro-law enforcement person in the room. Additionally, Omodt said a few weeks ago when he attended a fair board meeting, he spoke to three deputies who were also present. When he requested their body camera footage of the meeting, they told him their body cameras were not on. 

“I believe that with most cameras … there’s an on and off switch,” he said. “Executive sessions cover some very delicate issues and the sheriff has no right to some of the personnel issues that take place. It is the board of county commissioners’ executive sessions; it is not the executive session of the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office.”

Again, Williams claimed that the problem at hand did not lie with the sheriff’s office; it was with Bradshaw. What this is, she said, is a civil order of protection. The best solution the county could come up with given that Bradshaw still wanted to attend the meetings in person, Williams claimed, was having the deputy in the room.

Williams said the issue could be fixed instantly if Bradshaw would relinquish his position to attend the meetings in person. This way, Omodt’s dislike of the body camera disappears and Bradshaw can still be a part of the meetings, albeit from another location.

“You [Bradshaw] caused the problem that we have,” she told Bradshaw. “This board is working to say everybody else must adjust because you made a decision.”

The District 2 commissioner said she is tired of hearing county staff talk about her civil order almost daily. If the other two commissioners don’t like the body camera being turned on in meetings, she told them it was their job to adjust — not the rest of the county’s.

“You screwed up, this is the consequence,” she told Bradshaw.

After a bit more back and forth, Omodt stepped down from the chair and restated his motion regarding receiving counsel from the prosecutor’s office for how to proceed with these unauthorized recordings.

Much to the surprise of almost everyone in the room, the motion passed unanimously.