CHALLIS — The Custer County Sheriff’s Office says an off-duty north Idaho police chief shot and killed a man after a verbal altercation at a rural campground.
Sheriff Stu Lumpkin says 73-year-old Russell Van Liddell of Boise died as a result of being shot by Bonners Ferry Police Chief Brian Zimmerman. The announcement came after a public record request from EastIdahoNews.com. Initially, authorities were not releasing information about the case.
The Bonners Ferry Police Department had no comment Thursday, however, the city of Bonners Ferry released a statement saying the shooting was in self-defense. They also said that Zimmerman is not on administrative leave, because the incident was not related to his employment with the city. Bonners Ferry is a community of about 2,500 people in Boundary County.
The shooting happened Aug. 1 around 10 p.m. at the Tin Cup campground in Custer County. Lumpkin says in a news release that Liddell confronted a group of 16 to 18 campers after wandering into their campsite. The campers did not know Liddell and a verbal altercation followed.
The exact details of the altercation have not been released, but the city of Bonners Ferry said Liddell was armed and fired upon Zimmerman and the people he was traveling with. Zimmerman is said to have returned fire.
Several shots hit and killed Liddell, Lumpkin said.
Custer Couty has not confirmed that Liddell fired a weapon. Detectives working the case were told life-saving measures were performed by those in the group, Lumpkin says.
The campers then went to an area with cell service and called 911.
As soon as Custer County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the campsite, they called in the Eastern Idaho Critical Incident Task Force, a multi-agency police force that investigates officer-involved shootings. The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation with help from the Fremont and Bingham County Sheriff’s offices, the Idaho Falls Police Department and Idaho State Police.
The task force is continuing to interview witnesses and collect evidence from the shooting. Liddell’s autopsy results are also pending.
Liddell’s obituary says he served several years in the U.S. Air Force including during the Vietnam War. His funeral is scheduled to happen on Saturday at Cloverdale United Reformed Church in Boise.
“Russ always said his place in the world was Idaho, and he made that a priority in his life,” his obituary reads. “He loved being outdoors, working with his horses, travel, and adventure, but nothing compared to Russ’s love and devotion to his family and his personal walk with Jesus Christ.”
Custer County Prosecutor Justin Oleson tells EastIdahoNews.com he has not yet received the incident report, and as such cannot determine if charges will be filed at this time.
“I know they are wanting to do a very thorough investigation,” Oleson says.
The Idaho Statesman reports Zimmerman spent over 25 years with Idaho State Police, retiring as captain in 2012. He also helped create the Middleton Police Department and served as its chief until 2017, stepping down over disputes with the mayor, before taking the Bonner's Ferry Police Chief job.
Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bryan Lovell said it will be several weeks before investigators have everything completed.