The Boise Police Department on Tuesday evening released some edited body camera footage of officers shooting and injuring a man who rammed a stolen U-Haul van into a patrol vehicle, nearly a year after the incident.
The department also announced the two officers who shot 26-year-old Ezra Smith were cleared of wrongdoing by outside investigators.
The officers, David Skube and Robert Denney, were “justified in their actions” after they shot a total of 10 bullets at Smith, according to a news release from the Boise Police Department. Smith on Tuesday was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison and 15 that he could spend in prison, on parole or both.
Denney is no longer with the department, spokesperson Haley Williams previously told the Idaho Statesman.
Valley County Prosecutor Brian D. Naugle, the prosecutor assigned to investigate the incident, cleared the then-eight-year veteran police officers, and determined that “the actions taken by the officers were reasonable and the use of deadly force was justifiable,” the release said.
The officers were cleared by the Critical Incident Task Force in December. The CITF uses investigators from uninvolved Ada County police agencies and a prosecutor from outside the county to review police shootings. The Meridian Police Department led the CITF investigation.
“The CITF report was completed by the task force and officers were cleared by an outside prosecutor in December,” Williams told the Statesman by text in late May. “At the time a criminal case was still pending against Mr. Smith and additional details were not released.”
Boise officers use 2 PIT techniques, despite risks
Video footage released by Boise police gave a better timeline of Smith’s July 11 arrest and the events leading up to it. In less than 30 minutes from the initial report, the three officers found, apprehended and shot Smith.
At 7:01 p.m. the officers received a report that Smith’s U-Haul van was “swerving and driving recklessly.” By 7:14 p.m., officers found Smith “slumped over” in the vehicle, in the parking lot of Lowe’s Home Improvement store off of West Overland Road, according to the video.
Initial body camera footage, taken from either Skube or Denney’s perspective, showed the pair pulling up in their patrol car behind the van and began to approach the vehicle. Johnson was already there, as his patrol car was parked toward the front of the van.
As Skube and Denney approached in their vehicle, one officer could be seen unholstering a weapon as the van began to pull away. The pair then rushed back into their patrol car and began pursuing Smith, along the back side of the Walmart parking lot.
At that point, the camera didn’t show a clear shot of the road.
The next 40 seconds showed one officer twisting and turning his steering wheel as he tried to catch up to Smith until one of the officers said he’ll “see if I can PIT him.” A PIT, or pursuit intervention technique, is used to force a vehicle sideways and stop it.
BPD’s Policy and Procedure Manual states that officers should evaluate multiple possible hazards before they execute a PIT maneuver, including the likelihood that a vehicle — like a van — might roll over due to a high center of gravity. Williams told the Statesman by email that the officers “followed the policy for PIT maneuvers.”
The officers attempted the first PIT maneuver behind Walmart, but it was unsuccessful. The pursuit then continued down South Vinnell Street to Overland Road.
During Smith’s Tuesday sentencing his public defender, Craig Michael Cannon, said that the officers’ decision to use a PIT maneuver on the van was a use of deadly force.
“PIT-ing a U-Haul — something that tall — was deadly force from the get-go,” Cannon said. “That was their first contact with him, was an attempt to potentially end his life.”
The officers then attempted a second PIT, but again, it was unsuccessful. The second PIT was attempted on Overland Road in front of the Taco Bell.
At 7:17 p.m. Officer No. 1 can be heard saying, “He is all over the road, driving extremely unsafe” on the radio. Smith was driving 80 mph on Overland Road, authorities said.
Just seconds later, the supervising officer told the officers to “discontinue the pursuit.” The video ended before officers pulled over.
According to a timeline provided by Boise police, by 7:22 p.m. the officers were stopped and had identified Smith. The officers then began to search the area.
Officers fire 10 rounds at Smith; six hit him
Just two minutes later, at 7:24 p.m., Johnson found Smith on West Riley Court in a neighborhood. The video — which started in the middle of the incident — showed Johnson driving and then abruptly stopping. He immediately drew his gun and can be heard saying: “He just rammed me, he just rammed me, he’s going to take off again.”
Johnson then pursued Smith down the road and said that Smith is headed straight for him.
“I’ll f-----g shoot you,” Johnson said as he pointed his firearm at the window and drove with one hand.
The report released by Boise’s Office of Police Accountability criticized Johnson’s “risky decision” to draw a gun during the pursuit.
Boise police allows officers to fire at or from a moving vehicle if “the subject poses a continuing threat of death or serious bodily injury to officer(s) or others” and has no other “reasonable” alternative, according to the department’s policy and procedures manual.
The vehicles then collided and Johnson continued to say, “I’ll shoot you, stop,” and “I will shoot you motherf—.”
Both Johnson’s patrol car and Smith’s van continue to collide and Johnson repeatedly tells Smith to put his hands up.
According to the Office of Police Accountability report, Skube and Denney, once on the scene, attempted another PIT maneuver as Johnson rammed his front bumper against the van’s front bumper, pinning the U-Haul against a truck in a nearby driveway.
Once the U-Haul was pinned, the footage switched to Skube and Denney’s body cameras, which showed each officer moving to each side of the vehicle and then firing their guns. One officer fired his gun four times, while the other fired his gun six times.
Smith was hit with six of the bullets, Cannon said during Tuesday’s sentencing.
In a tort claim obtained by the Statesman, Smith said that he suffered multiple face and body fractures and permanent nerve damage, which resulted in loss of sensation in the right side of his face and neck. He also has post-traumatic stress disorder, night terrors and anxiety, he said.
Smith filed the claim against multiple city agencies for “excessive force and police malpractice” earlier this year. It’s unclear what the current status of Smith’s claim is. The Statesman has reached to the city for clarification.