Posted by Jennifer McFarland, Latah County Sheriff’s Office
I have received many emails off line and have read several rebukes of the Sheriff’s Office on line regarding the Sitler case. Before explaining some of the facts of his case in general, I will explain how we deal with reports of sex abuse insofar as our release to the media and to the public is concerned.
When we receive a report about sex abuse of a minor (most of the codes defined in Title 18 Section 15 of the Idaho Criminal Code) it is placed on the call log under the appropriate heading, “Lewd Conduct,” “Sex Abuse,” etc. The name(s) of the reporting parties and the victims are blacked out on the press/public view log (the printed copy that is faxed to news agencies, etc.). The investigator (or deputy assigned to the case) also flags the case noting something along the lines of “Do not release, under investigation.” There are a number of reasons for this but primarily because we do not want to tip the suspect off that we are on to him/her before we can assemble a strategic plan, so to speak, about how we are going to best investigate the case. It bears mentioning as well that we attempt to keep details about cases as close to our chest as possible before a judgment is made in these cases to protect victims from the press and from an aggressive public. The next day the press reads the log and calls our office and asks what we can say about the Sex Abuse case reported the previous day. We tell them (essentially): “Not much. We received a report of sex abuse of a 6 year-old in Potlatch. The case is under investigation but look to the court records to see when an affidavit is filed.” Affidavits are court records and are open to view.
Part of the reason we do this is because I do not have the time or the resources to follow-up for the media about stories. I also am not in the loop once a case has been handed over to the PA for a charging decision (indeed, the investigator is often not in the loop, either, unless follow-up investigation is needed or unless the case goes to trial).
I was instated as the PIO at LCSO in mid-January, 2005, shortly after Sheriff Rausch took office. Prior to my taking the position, press releases about any subject or arrest were rarely circulated out of the Sheriff’s Office. I published the first Hot Sheet in February. Since I started doing the sheets, I have always only published detailed items about the arrests our agency makes (as well as little safety tips or items of interest). The press releases regarding crimes have generally gone out after an arrest has been made or after a warrant has been issued (i.e. Rossignol).
Speaking specifically of the Sitler case let me offer this time-line based off the reports from the investigators:
- 3/10/2005 The victim’s family learned of the abuse and immediately confronted Sitler, their attorney, and their pastor (the pastor is never mentioned by name in the report). The attorney and the pastor both advise the family to report the crime to law enforcement and offer to help the family make the report.
- 3/11/2005 The victim’s father along with his attorney come into the Sheriff’s Office to make the report. The investigator is assured that the victims are no longer in danger (suspect no longer has access to the children) and that they are being adequately protected by their family, thus no exigency is assigned to the case based on this and other facts, so an interview date is set for 3/15/2005, when a sex-abuse interviewer is available.
- 3/15/2005 First set of victims are interviewed by a forensic interviewer. Other alleged victims are identified and calls are made to those family(ies).
- 3/15/2005 LCSO is first aware that Sitler has retained an attorney.
- 3/16/2005 Colville authorities are notified about the case and are made aware of Sitler’s presence in their community.
- 3/15/2005 to 5/17/2005 Attempts to interview additional victims go without fruition.
- 5/18/2005 Case is reviewed and submitted for prosecution on 18-1508 and 18-1506.
- 6/28/2005 An affidavit is filed requesting a warrant on one charge of 18-1508.
No other case information exists in the LCSO case file regarding any action in the case after 6/28/2005, except that he was brought into our jail on 9/26/2005, meaning that by that point the case was under the PA’s office’s prevue and that (as highlighted in red above) the case was already being discussed at the attorney level as opposed to at the investigatory level.
No indication was made anywhere in the case file that anyone did not report things in a timely manner in accordance with law. There are also no indications of obstruction in the case file.
I will continue to issue the Hot Sheet indicating arrests made by our deputies in our county. The press will continue to be told to look for affidavits filed with the court. I will continue to aid the investigators’ plight to adequately investigate cases without interference that is prohibitive to them solving their cases.
PIO Jennifer L. McFarland
Latah County Sheriff’s Office
Public Information Officer
PO Box 8068
Moscow, Idaho 83843
Fax (208) 883-2281
Truth is the summit of being; justice is the application of it to affairs.
***Ralph Waldo Emerson