Boise police officer files tort claim alleging Chief Ryan Lee broke his neck, investigation ongoing

Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee
Posted at 3:33 PM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 18:12:34-04

BOISE, Idaho — Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee is still under investigation by the Idaho State Police and a North Idaho county after allegations he assaulted an officer in a 2021 briefing.

ISP initially opened its investigation into Lee soon after he allegedly broke Sgt. Kirk Rush’s neck during a daily department briefing last October, according to a tort claim first reported by the Idaho Press. The investigation was later sent to Clearwater County, located east of Lewiston, after ISP’s investigation was forwarded to the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, the Idaho Press reported. Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Emily Lowe told BoiseDev this was due to a conflict of interest in their office with the investigation into Lee.

The claim says Rush needed surgery at the end of January to repair his neck injuries, which entailed harvesting bone from Rush’s sternum to graft onto injured discs in his neck.

It’s unknown when the investigations will close and if charges will be filed.

Lee’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment May 4. After the Rush filed his tort claim in April, Lee’s attorney Chuck Peterson told the Idaho Statesman the claim was “completely untrue.”

This claim isn’t a lawsuit, but it can precede one. Notice of tort claims are a written demand to recover monetary damages from a governmental entity, its employees or its representatives alleging misconduct. State law requires the agency involved must respond within three months. If the agency does not respond to or rejects the claim, then the person may sue the agency.

“The City of Boise received this tort claim, just as it receives hundreds of tort claims annually,” City of Boise spokesperson Justin Corr told Idaho News 6 in an email. “It will be reviewed and processed in accordance with standard City process and procedure.”

What’s in the tort claim?

Rush claims Lee showed “willful and/or unprovoked aggression” toward him at a patrol briefing on October 12, 2021.

As watch commander, Rush was presiding over the daily briefing where Lee and newly hired Deputy Chief Tammany Brooks were in attendance. Expecting Lee to introduce Brooks to the officers, Rush turned the meeting over to the chief and took his seat in the briefing room. The claim says Lee then started discussing a recent situation where an officer used the lateral vascular neck restraint to control a suspect the previous week.

The lateral vascular neck restraint is banned "indefinitely" by Boise Police except when deadly force is allowed, according to BPD spokesperson Haley Williams.

The claim says Lee started addressing the officers about national best practices around the hold, which restricts blood flow to the suspect while still allowing them to breathe. Rush says in the claim he also told the briefing room about an incident where another supervising officer in the Portland Police Bureau once remarked to Lee that he used force more than any other supervisor in the department.

Idaho News 6 filed a records request for use of force complaints against Lee while employed with the Portland Police Department, but PPD has not responded as of May 4.

Then, the claim alleges Lee said “Hey Rush, get up here,” which Rush interpreted as an order to the front of the room. Rush says Lee did not ask for volunteers and he did not volunteer to demonstrate any techniques.

Rush then alleges Lee, without warning, grabbed him by the back of the neck, forced him to the ground and dragged him around the room by the neck. The claim says Lee asked him to “try to stand up” and Rush had to tell the room he could not because of how Lee was holding his neck.

The claim says when Lee released Rush and he stood up, he was then asked to face away from the chief. Rush said after he turned around Lee struck him in the forehead and simultaneously once again forced him to the ground, pushing his neck to hyperextend backwards with an audible crack.

“Sgt. Rush knew Chief Lee had injured him as soon as he heard and felt the snack in his neck,” the claim said.

After he sat down, Rush’s claim alleges Lee asked if he would be filling out paperwork claiming an on-the-job injury in a “condescending and mocking” tone. Rush claims Lee singled him out due to his concerns over Lee’s suggestion to change BPD’s K-9 policy from a “bite and hold” to a “bark and hold” strategy. The claim alleges Lee’s attack was “retaliatory in nature” and intended to “humiliate and injure” Rush in front of his peers and officers he supervises.

Allegations of suppressed internal investigation

In his claim, Rush says the City of Boise treated Lee differently than other officers accused of misconduct.

After news broke of the investigation in January, the City of Boise announced it would not be taking action against Lee and he has remained on activity duty since the investigation opened.

“We see no reason to take any action,” Corr told the Idaho Statesman in January. “Chief Lee continues to protect and serve the people of Boise with dignity and honor.”

The claim says a member of the command staff alerted Boise’s Human Resources Department to the incident on October 18 and it was assigned to Sarah Martin to investigate. The claim said Boise Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn temporarily changed the command structure so Rush would report to Brooks, not Lee, by the end of October. An interview with Rush was initially scheduled for November 2.

Rush alleges the interview with HR was abruptly canceled the day-of on November 1 without any reasons given. The claim alleges Rush’s attorney received an email on November 3 from another city HR employee saying the claim was based on “conflicting information” and that the city had identified “the correct path” for the complaint, but the claim said the city has not shared what that “correct path” is.

By November 10, Rush’s attorney received an email from Boise’s legal department saying there was no pending HR inquiry into any incident involving Lee, according to the claim. A few months later in early January the claim said Rush’s attorney received an email from Boise HR department noting there was no investigation into Lee because Rush declined to interview with the city HR department.

The claim says Rush later complained about difficult working conditions after Lee and his allies “made false and/or inaccurate statements to the press, and presumably as part of the Idaho State Police investigation.” From there he was told the city is ready to hear complaints of a hostile work environment from employees.

The claim alleges the city continued to decline to investigate the incident and continued to maintain there had been no complaint filed with HR. Instead, a city staffer told Rush’s attorney on February 25 the matter would need to be investigated by BPD’s internal affairs department after ISP concludes its investigation.

Read the full claim here: