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Idaho Trooper Says State Patrol Retaliated

BOISE (CN) - The Idaho State Patrol retaliated against one of its own for refusing to lie about a trooper-involved car collision that killed a civilian, a corporal claims in court.

Master Cpl. Brandon Eller joined the Idaho State Patrol in 1997 and transferred to the District 3 Crash Reconstruction Unit in 2004, where he says he built a solid reputation for his expertise in crash reconstruction.

But he says his career took a turn for the worse in October 2011 after a fatal crash involving a state trooper.

Barry Johnson was killed when his SUV was struck by a police vehicle driven by Payette County Deputy Sheriff Scott Sloan, who was responding to a 911 call on U.S. Highway 30 in Payette County, according to Eller's Jan. 6 lawsuit against the state police in Ada County Court.

Eller says he was called to interview Sloan about the accident about a month later.

"For unknown reasons, Sloan was not interviewed within a few days after the accident as is the standard ISP practice," according to Eller's complaint. "Cpl. Eller's interview of Sloan was the first by an investigator since the accident."

Another month went by before Eller was summoned to a meeting, where he claims he was grilled about the late driver's blood alcohol content.

"Cpl. Eller was called to a meeting with Captain Steve Richardson and Lieutenant Sheldon Kelly, who began aggressively questioning Cpl. Eller," according to the complaint. "Cpl. Eller stated his opinion ... that, based on what he knew, ISP would not be able to prove that alcohol was the cause of the accident."

Eller claims that his superiors then "aggressively pressured him to change his opinion," which he refused to do.

The Gem County Prosecuting Attorney's Office eventually brought charges against Sloan. Eller says he testified at an April 2012 preliminary hearing that Sloan was "driving in a reckless manner."

Eller claims that a message declaring that he and another testifying officer "have laid us out" was immediately sent to headquarters, prompting a meeting between several high ranking state patrol officers who considered taking him off the reconstruction team, or firing him.

Eller says he was labeled a "disgruntled employee" and suffered significant retaliation, including bogus negative performance evaluations, denial of pay raises and was switched from day shifts to night shifts.

He says he was removed as interim statewide program manager in January 2014, prompting him to request removal from any further reconstruction work because of his concern about the department's actions and directives.

Eller says claims the state patrol also took steps to try to prevent evidence from any future controversial or damaging issues from ever reaching the light of day.

"In July of 2013, Cpl. Eller and others were instructed that 'effective immediately CRU members will not keep draft copies of their reports in the official case file," the complaint states. "As is current practice within ISP, those reports should be destroyed."

Eller seeks back pay, an injunction, costs and fees, reinstatement as statewide program manager, and damages for retaliation under Idaho's Protection of Public Employees Act.

He is represented by Erika Birch, with Strindberg & Scholnick.

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