The Idaho State Police, or ISP for short, have a problem on their hands. The problem is what kind of problem they have on their hands: is the problem process versus justice; or process as justice; or process before justice? On October 18, 2011 county deputy Scott Sloan was responding to a 911 call – that would be an emergency although it is not clear what the emergency was – and heading down U.S. 30 near New Plymouth, Idaho. That means he was driving fast, up to 115 mph on a 55 mph road, with lights flashing and siren blaring. Up ahead Barry Johnson was puddling along in his 83 Jeep at 24 mph and as the county deputy approached from behind, Barry Johnson turned left, into traffic in other words, and despite slamming on the brakes, deputy Sloan slammed into Johnson’s Jeep still doing 85 mph. Johnson died and an ISP reconstruction – done by state troopers trained and dedicated to the task of accident reconstruction – found that Barry Johnson had been drinking. His blood level was somewhere between 0.053 and 0.1271. The legal limit is 0.08, so by law Johnson was likely drunk and likely got scared and confused by the approaching squad car and turned right into Sloan’s oncoming vehicle.

What followed was an in-house quarrel between primary crash reconstructionist Trooper Quinn Carmack and primary investigator Trooper Justin Klitch, as well as higher ups in the ISP like Col. Ralph Powell and Capt. Sheldon Kelley. Sgt. Rice of the ISP was also tainted by the process. It centers around Carmack’s refusal to include information on Johnson’s alcohol blood level as Carmack felt he could not determine that Barry Johnson’s alcohol level caused or even contributed to the accident. Safe to say that many within the ISP disagreed strongly with Carmack. And it got heated fairly fast, seeing that Deputy Sloan could face serious consequences due to being accused of making an “unsafe pass” and “operating an emergency vehicle in an unsafe manner.” One can read Cynthia Sewell’s detailed account in the Idaho Statesman of how the process itself spun out of control with prosecutors and defense attorney’s playing every questionable move by ISP officers for all it was worth. The charges against Sloan by prosecuting attorney Richard Linville for felony vehicular manslaughter were dropped, however, as the result of two conflicting crash reports: one with the blood alcohol information in it as a result of senior ISP officers pressuring the investigators, and the other original one without it. Prosecuting attorney Linville said the conflicting reports undermined his ability to prosecute the case and so he dropped the charges.

By any reasoned view, how Carmack could decide that alcohol was not a factor in the crash is astounding. But reading Sewell’s article gives one a sense of how far any inquiry – whether judicial or quasi-judicial or otherwise – is nowadays mired in detailed quibbling over process. Detailed quibbling with vested interests at stake. Barry Johnson died, and that is tragic. But ask yourself this: when you need police help in a hurry, do you want your state trooper to drive 55 in case a drunk is gliding down the county road at less than 30 mph? If some prosecutors and some ISP Troopers had their way, the answer would be yes.