A Bingham County deputy was in stable condition Friday night after being shot by a suspect in a string of drive-by shootings and armed robberies that occurred during the past week in Bonneville County, according to authorities.
Juan Santos-Quintero, 22, of Idaho Falls, allegedly shot Bingham County Deputy Todd Howell, triggering a standoff with police at a Firth home.
Howell and two other Bingham County deputies reportedly responded to a residence in Firth in the 700 North 600 East area at about 7 p.m. Friday. Officials said they’d received a call of a person driving down the road while shooting a gun out of the car window.
The three deputies were calling for the occupants of the home to come out when Quintero shot Howell, according to a press release from Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland. Howell was hit on the left side, and the bullet penetrated his body armor, police said.
Howell and the other two deputies returned fire, and established a police perimeter around the home. The Bonneville County Special Weapons and Tactics and Special Tactics and Rescue teams were called to the location.
After negotiation, Quintero, who had holed up inside the house, gave himself up at about 9:30 p.m. and was taken into custody. He is currently being held at the Bonneville County jail, and the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office and prosecutor’s office are preparing charges against him.
Quintero was wanted by Bonneville County in connection with the armed robbery of a Common Cents store in Idaho Falls on Thursday night. Earlier Friday, Bonneville County issued a press release alerting the public to Quintero and describing him as armed and dangerous.
Howell was transported to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and underwent surgery, but he is now in stable condition.
The Bingham County Sheriff’s Office requested a Critical Incident Team —which is headed by Idaho State Police, with assistance from several other regional agencies — to investigate the scene.
According to Idaho State Police Captain Eric Dayley, any time a law enforcement officer is shot, surrounding agencies are debriefed, and the incident is thoroughly examined to see if anything can be done differently to improve officer safety.
However, an officer being shot in the line of duty is an incredibly rare occurrence in East Idaho. Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said in his 40 years in law enforcement, he couldn’t remember an officer being shot in East Idaho.
“This certainly puts an era of being more alert as you go to calls,” Nielsen said. “All of us, there for the grace of God, it could be us doing nothing more than what we’ve been called out to do. And it’s sobering.”
Nielsen said after an incident such as this, he would like to consider extra precautions, but limited resources make that difficult.
“Would I love to be able to have two-man cars? Absolutely,” he said. “But I don’t have the resources to be able to do that. In a perfect world, you bet I would do some other things.”
There has been a shortage of law enforcement officers in Idaho lately. The Pocatello-based Idaho State Police District 5 recently reported being down a detective and eight troopers.
Dayley said he isn’t sure if an incident such as this could further affect the lack of people applying for police jobs.
Nielsen, however, has concerns about staffing ramifications.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘We haven’t had an officer shot in so long, and now it’s, ‘Yeah, we had one yesterday,’” Nielsen said. “For wives and families, that’s going to take a big hit. And we need to unite together as law enforcement around our family.”
Dayley agrees the incident may serve as a reminder to potential recruits about the perils of this career.
“Law enforcement is a dangerous job,” Dayley said. “We have been blessed in Southeast Idaho to have the support of our citizenry, and typically we don’t see these types of things happen. But they still could happen. And I think people have to realize that before they hire on to be a police officer.”
But despite the dangerous situation, Nielsen said it also served to highlight one positive.
“The thing that I feel is our biggest strength is that we all work together,” he said. “There were multiple agencies out there, and there wasn’t a big turf issue here. If somebody is hurt, we’re going to help them.”