Judge moves Bingham Sheriff’s case to district court after preliminary hearing

BLACKFOOT — Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland has been remanded in district court on the felony charges of aggravated assault and aggravated assault.

Fremont County Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins made the decision following a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, which lasted about three hours.

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Rowland was charged after an incident outside his home in November when Rowland allegedly pointed a handgun at a religious group of seven girls and their adult leader.

The group would visit community members and place “grateful turkeys” on the doors. The prosecution alleges that after seeing the turkey, a piece of paper cut out in the shape of a turkey with a handwritten note, Rowland threatened the woman and the girls, even pointing a gun at the woman’s head.

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During a preliminary hearing, the defense and the prosecution are allowed to present evidence and arguments. At the end of the hearing, a judge determines whether the prosecution has probable cause to warrant a jury trial.

After the testimony of three witnesses, one of whom was twice called to the witness stand, and closing arguments, Eddins ruled that there was enough evidence to warrant a trial.

During closing arguments, Idaho Deputy Attorney General Jeff Nye explained why he believes felony charges of aggravated assault and aggravated assault are necessary.

Merely showing a deadly weapon, a semi-automatic handgun in this case, during a physical altercation constitutes aggravated battery, he said. And pointing that gun at the victim, who testified he did, while verbally threatening to shoot, satisfied the aggravated assault charge, he added.

According to Nye, by grabbing the victim by the hair and then holding a gun to his head at close range, Rowland created an eminent violent threat.

Nye also addressed what he thinks is Olesen’s defence.

The prosecutor said that, based on Olesen’s line of questioning, he believes it was Olesen’s intent to say that Rowland was acting in self-defense, or in defense of his community, when he pointed a gun at the victim’s head. However, he said, Rowland, acting as a law enforcement officer, did not do so “in good faith”.

In Ring doorbell footage obtained by Nye’s office, Rowland is seen and heard exiting his front door after the turkey has been placed. He looks at the turkey and says, “Thanks, those are **** bulls. Take my gun,” apparently addressing his wife, for whom the turkey was intended.

“There’s nothing that happened that night that was fair,” Nye concluded.

With his closing arguments, Olesen pointed to the fact that the girls came to Rowland’s front door twice in what the victim remembered being about 10 minutes away. They also ran, apparently trying to be sneaky, and in the first incident they fled in what Rowland identified as a “strange”, “battered” car.

The “underhanded” actions and damaged vehicle, along with Rowland’s position as a law enforcement officer and the constantly heightened state of consciousness that comes with it, led to his response, Olesen said.

Olesen said Rowland took the usual safety precautions as the incident approached, which he said could have been dangerous.

It was dark outside, Olesen said, and in this particular neighborhood it was especially dark due to the lack of street lighting.

So when Rowland approached the vehicle from the front, driver’s side, there would have been no way to see inside. And when the driver exited the vehicle, Rowland positioned himself slightly behind the driver’s side door, which Olesen said is the safest position and where officers are trained to stand – which again would have limited his ability to see inside the car.

Oleson said the victim leaning into the center console to move the car into park feared he had grabbed a weapon. Because Rowland couldn’t see her hands when she came out, he grabbed her by the hair and threatened to shoot her, Oleson said.

Once she identified herself, Rowland told the victim, who grew up on this street around Rowland, to leave.

“Don’t ever do that to me again,” he told her according to her testimony. “Get the f*** out of here.”

Olesen also claimed that by approaching the Rowlands’ home uninvited, the girls are trespassing. Also, he said that by opening the exterior front door to tape the turkey inside the door, they could be charged with unlawful entry.

The victim was the first witness called by Nye and the prosecution team.

After describing the incident, she was questioned by Olesen, who asked her if she was aware of Rowland’s visiting policy. As Olesen explained, Rowland is open about not wanting visitors when his porch light is off, which was when the girls approached the house for the second time.

Olesen argued that Rowland was concerned that his neighborhood was being sidelined by would-be criminals and that criminal activity may have taken place. Rowland, he said, had more than a right as a US citizen to protect his home, but also an obligation to protect the community as a law enforcement officer.

Nicholas Edwards, lead investigator for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, was also called to the stand to present the Ring footage.

This sequence is divided into three segments. The first shows the children approaching the house, then running away before reaching the door. Rowland was seen leaving the house and looking in the direction of the car.

The second segment shows the girls approaching the house, opening the door, and tying the turkey inside the outer door. Rowland is seen exiting the door, momentarily re-entering the house, then exiting with his gun.

The third shows Rowland returning home after the incident. He can be heard telling his wife that she was in front of the house.

Blackfoot Police Chief Scott Gay was also called in to discuss his department’s involvement in the investigation, which he said was very limited due to potential conflicts of interest.

Gay was also asked about a conversation he had with the Rowland the next day.

According to Gay, Rowland came to his office to ask questions about the investigation. After being told the Blackfoot Department had turned the investigation over to state police, Gay said Rowland told him he — Rowland — screwed up.

“He felt like he wasn’t in his right mind,” Gay said, Rowland told him. He said Rowland admitted he didn’t know what he was thinking.

After about two and a half hours of testimony and argument, Eddins deliberated for about 10 minutes before announcing his decision that a jury trial was warranted in this case.

Due to scheduling conflicts, no arraignment date was set at the hearing.

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