BLACKFOOT — A local sheriff faces serious felony charges for allegedly threatening a youth group with a gun in November.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office charged Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland on Tuesday with felony aggravated battery, felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor exhibition of a gun.
Referring to the incident on Nov. 9, Rowland told Blackfoot Police Chief Scott Gay that he had “really screwed up,” according to an affidavit of probable cause
Court documents written by AG’s office investigators detail the events of the night through interviews with those involved.
On the evening of Nov. 9, a Latter-day Saint youth group was placing “thankful turkeys” on the doors of members of their congregation. The activity involved several girls ages 12 to 16 writing notes of thanks shaped like turkeys, taping them on doors, ringing doorbells and running away before they could get caught by the occupants.
That night a group of seven young women and their adult leader visited Rowland’s neighborhood. Most of the night proved uneventful until they tried to leave a note for Rowland and his wife.
Around 8 p.m., Rowland told investigators, he went to let his Yorkie out to relieve itself. Rowland said he saw two people outside of his home and they ran down the road from the house. Rowland made sure no one had broken into his patrol vehicle and he went back inside.
Minutes later, Rowland said he heard his front screen door open and a knock at his door. Fearing someone was trying to break into his house, Rowland had his wife bring him his gun. Dressed in his long johns, socks and a T-shirt, the sheriff went outside again.
In Ring doorbell footage, Rowland is shown looking at the turkey and can be heard saying, “Thank you,” and “That’s frickin bulls***.”
Rowland said he saw a vehicle driving down the road, which he stopped. Rowland said the car did not look familiar and the driver of the car stopped and opened the driver’s side door.
“I reach in and pull the driver out by the hair,” Rowland told investigators, according to court documents. “I say, ‘Who the f*** are you?’ And I do have a gun in my hand, but I still have my finger on the slide.”
Rowland told investigators he pointed the gun at the woman’s head. The woman later identified herself as a neighbor and family friend for over three decades.
Rowland said he did not recognize her. He continued yelling profanities at the woman and girls and pointed his weapon at the woman. Eventually, Rowland said he went back to his home and let the youth group leave.
Rowland told investigators that he had had a single alcoholic drink that night, but he was clear-headed. He told investigators about several threats that had been made against him and his wife in recent months that caused them to be concerned about people at their home.
“I have been doing this job for 36 years,” Rowland said. “I have had drunk Indians drive down my cul-de-sac. I’ve had drunk Indians come to my door. I live just off the reservation, we have a lot of reservation people around us that are not good people.”
Investigators interviewed all of the girls in the vehicle and their adult leader. Their recounting of events is similar to Rowland’s with a few differences.
The woman said when Rowland pulled her out of the car, he reportedly lifted his gun then pointed it inches from her forehead, according to court documents. The woman said Rowland told her to never do this again, that he could shoot her, and that she needed to “get the f*** out of here.”
The girls who were in the car described Rowland getting upset, having a gun and saying the “f-bomb” multiple times. Several of them recall Rowland pointing the gun at the leader’s head and saying “I will f***ing shoot you.”
“It has been a very difficult experience for our child to go through, especially the confusion caused whenever the behavior of trusted adults seems harmful and unpredictable,” a parent of one of the girls said in a statement. “Throughout the entire ordeal, the Blackfoot Police Department and the representatives from the Attorney General’s Office have been absolutely professional and thorough. We are grateful for the way they have handled this situation.”
The parent expressed disappointment in statements given to media from local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint communication officials Dan Cravens and Ray Matsuura, who said this situation was “most likely a misunderstanding.”
“Knowing that the Attorney General’s Office was conducting an active investigation, that the sheriff had been placed on leave and that the victims included multiple children in our community should have given any responsible adult pause,” the parent said.
Rowland was not arrested Tuesday but issued a summons to appear in court on Dec. 22 for an initial appearance.
Although Rowland is accused of a crime it does not necessarily mean he committed it. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
While Rowland faces the felony charges, he still retains his elected office as Bingham County sheriff. When news of the investigation broke, he agreed to take a brief leave of absence while the investigation was ongoing. Once it was completed, he returned to work, according to Bingham County Prosecutor Paul Rogers.