By Mike Weland
Custer County Prosecutor Justin Oleson told a Challis Messenger reporter earlier this month that the initial investigation of an August 1 shooting death involving Bonners Ferry Police Chief Brian Zimmerman was improperly conducted.
The investigation, Oleson said, should not have been conducted as an officer-involved shooting.
“You have to look at it from a different standard,” Oleson told reporter Hunter Diehl of the investigation into the death of Russell Liddell, 74, Eagle, Idaho, shot by Zimmerman after confronting the group multiple times over taking “his” camping spot and after he’d fired a shot that shattered the watch Zimmerman was wearing.
Saying Zimmerman was off-duty and out of his jurisdiction at the time of the shooting at the Tin Cup Campground, where Zimmerman, his wife and several friends, 17 in all, had stopped during an eight-day vacation trip, and Zimmerman never identified himself as a peace officer or informed Liddell that he was armed.
“When the average person shoots someone, Oleson said the question becomes whether it was self-defense,” Diehl wrote. “However, when an officer shoots someone, investigators need to go through a different list of criteria to see if the homicide was justifiable.”
In an officer-involved shooting, the prosecutor said, investigators needed to ask if the officer in question was performing their legal duty or whether the officer believed resistance would result in loss of life or limb.
The Eastern Idaho Officer Involved Shooting Report, released October 21, appeared to confirm that Zimmerman acted in self-defense and that his quick action saved the lives of many of those Zimmerman was with.
Investigators found that Liddell had, without warning, fired two shots at the group shortly after 10:15 p.m. August 1, 2020, one hitting Zimmerman, before Zimmerman returned fire, ending the threat.
The Kootenai Valley Times article on that report can be read here.
Because of the large amount of evidence and the slow return of reports, Diehl wrote in the February 17 article, “it will be a while before he (Oleson) comes to a decision on whether to charge Zimmerman.”