Boise City Council fires police oversight director, citing ‘judgment’ problems

The Boise City Council fired the city’s police oversight director on Friday, after concerns surfaced about his use of police body camera footage to observe law enforcement activity.

Director Jesus Jara’s termination comes as policing in Boise receives heightened scrutiny from city leaders, following revelations of racist views from a retired veteran captain who served with the department over two decades and the resignation of the Boise Police Chief earlier this year.

Jara, who led the Office of Police Accountability, was dismissed in a 5-1 vote during a special meeting of the council . Council Member Luci Willits voted no.

Jesus Jara
Jesus Jara

During the meeting, Mayor Lauren McLean said the city had “lost confidence in Mr. Jara’s ability to lead.”

”In early November, my office learned that Jesus Jara was conducting unauthorized surveillance of community members,” McLean said in a news release after the meeting. “I believe he was effectively exploiting his access for audits to the system by randomly viewing over 8,000 videos, almost exclusively without cause. This is a serious violation of the privacy of our residents and a worrisome erosion of the trust we intended to build with the OPA model of oversight.”

McLean placed Jara on administrative leave on Dec. 2.

Before Jara’s dismissal, the council was in executive session, which is private, for about 15 minutes to discuss the “personnel matter,” according to the agenda. Under Idaho law, employee discipline or termination can be discussed in executive session, but “final action,” like a firing, must be done in public.

In an interview before the meeting, Council Member Patrick Bageant told the Idaho Statesman that “the mayor and council learned the scope of what (Jara) was doing a few weeks ago, and that is something we’ve been paying attention to.”

After the vote, Willits explained her disagreement with the rest of the council and the mayor.

“I do not feel like this office was set up for success,” she said. “I could not in good conscience fire the director.”

She added that Jara had refused to resign, thus bringing his termination to council.

An attorney for Jara, Grady Hepworth, confirmed that Jara had declined to resign told the Statesman that Jara would likely sue in the coming days.

“Mr. Jara is dismayed by today’s bold and blatant act of retaliation in violation of Idaho’s whistleblower laws, which threatens the foundations upon which the Office of Police Accountability was built,” Hepworth said in a news release.

“Mr. Jara has at all times acted in accordance with the duties and authority bestowed upon him by city ordinance and regulation, and stands by every difficult decision he was responsible for making as director of the Office of Police Accountability,” the statement said. “Mr. Jara is inspired by the courage exhibited by the members of BPD who risked their careers in order to speak truth to power, and remains steadfast in his belief that integrity, accountability, and diligence will ultimately prevail over deceit, incompetence, and shortsighted political convenience.”

Lead-up to firing

At a meeting between Jara and the Police Department’s deputy chief, Tammany Brooks, and newly promoted Capt. Jeff Niiya, in October or November, Jara mentioned that he had been watching body camera footage of the goings-on of police activity in Boise, McLean’s spokesperson, Maria Weeg, told the Statesman by phone.

The meeting’s purpose was to introduce Jara to Niiya, as Niiya had recently been promoted to oversee the Professional Standards Division, which includes the Office of Internal Affairs.

Jara reviewed over 8,000 random body camera videos since fall 2021, according to a Nov. 22 memo obtained by the Statesman through the city and first reported by KTVB and BoiseDev.

Under the accountability’s offices ordinance, the director is authorized to investigate “critical incidents,” which include use of deadly force and other serious incidents that result from police behavior. The director may also “provide on-scene monitoring of critical incidents” and audit any internal or external investigations of such incidents.

Either Brooks or Niiya, or both, told the mayor they had concerns about how Jara was reviewing body camera footage, Weeg said. This led the city to restrict Jara’s access to review body camera footage randomly.

McLean recommended Jara to be the full-time director of the Office of Police Accountability on Aug. 26, 2021, and the council confirmed him five days later. He began as the interim director on June 1, 2021.

Comments from council members

Five council members voted to remove Jara.

“I do not have confidence in Director Jara’s ability to continue as the director of Police Accountability,” Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton told the Statesman in a text.

Hallyburton is one of three council members, along with Council President Elaine Clegg and Council Member Holli Woodings, who serve as oversight of the accountability office. The office used to be overseen just by Clegg, but the other two members were added to the oversight committee in November.

“It is important to me that community members still have a place to go to report any concerns, and I have confidence that they can still reach out to the remaining members of the office of police accountability to voice those concerns,” Hallyburton said.

In the city news release, Clegg said that she had lost confidence in Jara “based not on one but multiple actions.”

“An office founded on the idea of transparency and intended to build trust between our police department and our community cannot, itself, veer into unauthorized activity,” she said.

In the same release, Woodings said that Jara’s review of body cameras “is not authorized by city policy” and “is a gross violation of privacy for our residents, often in their worst moments. This behavior has completely eroded my confidence in Mr. Jara to lead an office that is intended to serve our community.”

Council Member Lisa Sánchez said in the release that the city needs to take steps to “ensure that our staff and members of the public are protected from unauthorized surveillance activities.” She declined to comment further to the Statesman.