An Idaho Attorney General’s Office investigation released to the public last week alleges misconduct by an Idaho County jailer, and the sheriff’s office providing a fraudulent agency document to state investigators -- claims that Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings says are not the case, and, in fact, are politically motivated.
Of these claims, one part is certain: Idaho Count Deputy Jailer Cliff Jones faces state recommended review of matters raised in the AG report before the Idaho POST (Police Officers Standards and Training) Council where, depending on its findings, his professional certification may be revoked.
No criminal charges are recommended for Jones in the seven-page AG report, authored by deputy attorney general and criminal law division chief Colleen Zahn. The state investigation was initiated in November 2019 by Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk MacGregor, at the request of the Idaho County Commission.
According to an April 30 county commission press release, this action resulted from the commissions’ concern about inconsistencies in Giddings’ office investigating claims of inappropriate actions by Jones in his professional capacity.
In the AG’s findings report to MacGregor, dated April 24, it states Jones engaged in improper conduct during two different traffic interactions – in 2019 and 2017 -- in violation of Idaho Code 18-711 (unlawful exercise of the functions of a peace officer). The report stated the investigation found multiple additional instances where Jones acted beyond the scope of his professional certification. The AG’s office stated it would not pursue felony criminal charges concerning the two incidents, as due to the circumstances of the interactions they are not warranted.
The incidents in question are traffic stops, one conducted on July 11, 2019, and the second in February or March of 2017. The first was a 4 a.m. stop of Ethan Puderbaugh by an unmarked ICSO truck with emergency lights activated as one of Puderbaugh’s headlights was out. Puderbaugh was not asked for any documentation, nor was he cited. The second stop was of Richard Ketola, who while entering an intersection, had a mishap with his foot and instead accelerated, nearly striking an oncoming marked ICSO truck. Jones inquired of Ketola’s welfare, asked whether he had been drinking before stating he was free to leave, according to the report.
On these, and references to past unrelated incidents raised within the report, the AG office stated – while it declines to charge Jones with any felonies – he repeatedly acted outside of his POST certification and concluded “a referral to POST regarding Deputy Jones’ conduct is appropriate.”
“They say he turned his lights on and stopped them, and I say he did not, in either case, and that’s what my investigation found,” Giddings said.
In the first instance, Giddings said he has video and audio recordings of his deputy questioning Puderbaugh, saying he stopped on his own on seeing the ICSO truck and knowing he had a headlight out. With Ketola, the driver pulled over and stopped, and Jones pulled behind him and turned his lights on, “which would be appropriate,” Giddings said, as a safety procedure for officers on public roadways.
“So, my findings and my determination were the same as theirs; this did not rise to the level of criminal activity, in both cases,” Giddings said, of his completed investigation last fall in comparison with the AG’s subsequent inquiry. “He did not in any way threaten motorists, he did not ask for any ID, he didn’t cite them.”
In the commissions’ statement, “We believe that the Attorney General’s Office conducted a thorough, objective investigation with only one goal in mind – to ascertain whether the allegations against detention deputy Jones were founded. In the course of that investigation, numerous other issues came to light, including the potentially falsified department document.”
Involved in the Puderbaugh stop was the question of the identity of the ICSO truck driver; Puderbaugh identified a person in an ICSO uniform in a description distinctive to Jones, yet in the AG report, Jones stated he denied stopping Puderbaugh. The AG investigation was provided a jail schedule by Giddings showing Jones was not working that July 11; however, the CAD log showed Jones checking into service at approximately 3:30 a.m. that day, CCTV cameras showed Jones walking into the jail at approximately 4:13 a.m., and jail commander Matthew Bybee provided AG investigators the master jail schedule showing Jones was scheduled to work July 11.
“We are significantly concerned about the apparent alteration or destruction of evidence by someone employed in the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Giddings’ lack of concern regarding the same,” stated the AG report, stating it was unclear whether the sheriff understood he was not providing the master schedule, and “it is unclear who appears to have falsified the jail schedule the sheriff provided.”
“While sufficient evidence demonstrates that someone with access to the master jail schedule committed a felony violation of Idaho Code 18-2603 [destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence],” the report continued, there is not sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, who committed the violation.”
“There’s significant concern about the apparent alteration or destruction of evidence, of which we did neither,” Giddings said.
The jail schedule Giddings provided to AG investigators, he said, was provided to him, in turn by Deputy Scott Paulsen, who got this from the jail. On whether someone created a false jail schedule, “That is a possibility. Did it appear that they did it? That’s a stretch.” He stated no one altered the document, but that it was printed outside of the master schedule.
“They change schedules whenever they need to,” Giddings continued. “Prior to that, they can print out one for every officer and then can change it.” Apart from Paulsen providing this, Giddings said he does not know when the copy was printed, by whom, or if it was on purpose. “It doesn’t appear to be falsified at all, until they’ve looked at the master schedule, which they hadn’t looked at yet…. So, they’re accusing me – and that’s really offensive – they’re accusing me and they have no clue about if I did or didn’t, and ‘it is unclear who appears to have falsified the jail schedule the sheriff provided,’ but they’re making accusations that it was somehow clear to them.”
Giddings said, “We have video that can tell you every day when someone comes in and what time they go home. And we do have a master schedule, which should be correct. They knew the answer, they knew he was there, and they think they got him to lie about it.”
“Therefore,” he continued, “investigators could not determine who created the falsified schedule or when it was created, So, what does that mean? Was it Cliff, was it me? It means, they couldn’t determine anything.”
In addressing these and other issues in the AG report, Giddings said this started once Doug Ulmer announced his campaign for sheriff last year. Prior to this, for 11 years, he hadn’t one debate or issue with the commission, “but as soon as Doug Ulmer decided to run for sheriff, and I said I was thinking of running, that’s when all hell broke loose, and it’s gotten worse getting closer to deadline for voting.”
This was referenced in the AG report with Giddings claiming ICSO Sergeant Craig Hoodman was lying in investigations involving these incidents, and suggested Hoodman colluded with Puderbaugh’s mother, Dena, to attack Jones for political reasons.
“These assertions are particularly troubling,” stated the AG report, “as Sheriff Giddings also acknowledged during this investigation that he is aware that Deputy Jones engages in inappropriate conduct he is not authorized to perform as a jail deputy.”
The AG report raised the potential for civil liabilities for the sheriff and Idaho County, for Jones continuing to act as a peace officer when not certified to do so, with further liabilities possible with Giddings being aware of Jones’ conduct and taking no action to prevent his exceeding his legal authority.
In its statement, the county commission said, “Contrary to what many people may think, the Board of county Commissioners is not the authority over other elected officials. Idaho statutes give the commissioners general supervisory responsibility, but give no mechanism for effectively executing that responsibility. As such, the expectation is that all elected officials will provide the supervision and oversight needed in the departments that fall under their statutory responsibilities.”
As far as Jones, Giddings said that he has been on paid administrative leave for about five months, and that there has been pressure from the commission to fire him.
“I’m not going to fire him right now. I don’t think it justifies firing him. He has to have due process, like any other human being, like you should get if someone accuses you of something,” said Giddings. The report will be referred to the POST Council, which will determine on decertifying Jones, a process, he said that could be anywhere from two to three months and up to a year, depending on the meeting cycle. Giddings said he would go down, voluntarily, and speak to the council in this matter.
“This is just too bad,” Giddings said, of the politics involved in this issue and how he has lost friends on the commission and in ICSO employees now working against him, all of this to support Ulmer in the GOP primary election. “I don’t mean to be their enemy, but I am definitely not going to stand there and let them politically shaft him [Jones].”