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Investigation finds police justified in shooting that left Pocatello man paralyzed

Jake Sheeler in a hospital bed at Portneuf Medical Center following an officer-involved shooting on Sept. 25, 2020. | Courtesy photo
POCATELLO — An investigation into a September 2020 incident found that three officers who shot a burglar were justified in their actions.
Around 8:30 p.m., on Sept. 25, 2020, numerous officers from the Pocatello Police Department and Idaho State Police converged on Jake Sheeler — the suspect in an armed burglary. During the incident, three officers fired a total of 15 rounds from varying distances. Five of those shots hit Sheeler, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
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According to a lawsuit filed July 22, Sheeler was attempting to follow officers’ commands and surrender into their custody at the time of the shooting. The lawsuit alleges that Sheeler’s rights protecting him from excessive force were violated.
However, in an investigative report obtained by, Franklin County Prosecutor Vic Pearson found that the officers’ actions were justified.
Officers Bridget McArthur, Marisa Saldana and Cpl. Jeffrey Eldridge are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Police chief Roger Schei and the city of Pocatello are also named in the suit.
Pearson filed his nine-page report on Jan. 15, 2021, after a complete review of the investigation conducted by the East Idaho Critical Incident Task Force. The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office led the investigation and Pearson was asked to handle its examination by Bannock County Prosecutor Steven Herzog in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest.
In his report, Pearson lays out a timeline of the events. In some cases, the details of the investigation are the same as the claims made in the lawsuit. In others cases though, the two documents conflict.
The lawsuit describes how officers were told to search for a suspect who had stolen two firearms from an area home. They were given multiple descriptions of the suspect. Some officers were told to look for a man wearing a green hooded sweatshirt, while others were told to be on the lookout for a man in a maroon sweatshirt.
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Pearson’s report agrees with those details and expands upon them. It says Sheeler, who eventually pleaded guilty to the burglary and aggravated assault, was wearing a green hoodie. It also says video surveillance uncovered by officers during their search found that Sheeler changed into a maroon hoodie leading to a differing description.
Officers believed Sheeler stole the maroon sweatshirt during the search.
The lawsuit claims that officers were told by multiple witnesses that Sheeler was no longer armed. “As of 8:27 p.m., PPD officers knew or should have known the suspect was no longer in possession of a gun,” the lawsuit claims.
However, in his report, Pearson says that some video provided by police showed that Sheeler was carrying one of the guns involved in the burglary — a Taurus Judge handgun. This led them to believe he was armed.
Pearson’s report also disagrees with the lawsuit’s claim that Sheeler was attempting to follow commands given to him by multiple officers. Both documents provided the same details regarding those commands — for Sheeler to raise his hands, not move and to get on the ground.
The report, though, does not indicate whether those commands came at the same time contradicting each other and creating confusion, as the lawsuit says.
Officers did not identify themselves as police, the report says in agreement with the lawsuit. However, Pearson says in the report that the officers involved wore their navy blue Pocatello Police Department uniforms and should have been easily recognizable as police.
Finally, the lawsuit says that before he was shot, Sheeler was attempting to comply with the officer’s commands. His hands were raised, and he was slowly walking backward toward the officers, it says.
According to the report, though, Sheeler held one hand behind his back at waist level and told officers he was armed in the moments before the shots were fired.
“(Officer) McArthur, Cpl. Eldridge and (officer) Saldana’s fear of great bodily harm or death by Sheeler was reasonable,” the report says in summation.
“(Officer) McArthur, Cpl. Eldridge and (officer) Saldana were attempting to effect a lawful arrest of Sheeler and had probable cause to believe that Sheeler had committed several felony crimes, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. … Moreover, officers had probable cause to believe that Sheeler was armed with a firearm when they contacted him.”
As the lawsuit says, officers at the scene later discovered that Sheeler was, in fact, not armed after he was shot five times — once in the neck, once in the thigh, once below the left armpit and twice in the back. One of the bullets that hit Sheeler in the back left him paralyzed from the chest down, according to the lawsuit.
According to the report, the information provided by officers involved claimed that Sheeler was shot in the chest, not the back. One of the claims the lawsuit alleges is that details regarding the incident and provided to medical personnel and the task force by the defendants were a “misrepresentation” of the facts.
The lawsuit has requested just over $13.3 million in damages.
Sheeler reached a plea agreement regarding the burglary.
Per the agreement, he pleaded guilty to felony charges of aggravated assault, burglary and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In exchange, four other felonies and a persistent violator enhancement were dismissed.
He was sentenced to seven years probation, with a prison term of five to 10 years suspended, and $1,756.50 in fees and fines.
The post Investigation finds police justified in shooting that left Pocatello man paralyzed appeared first on East Idaho News.

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