POCATELLO — A police squad car videotape of Pocatello police arresting James Rutherford at the Omni Building, 275 S. Fifth, on July 10 shows Detective Steven Westfall raising his elbow and smashing it down on the left side of Rutherford's head and face as an attempt to search the suspect took place on E. Bonneville Street outside the building.
Rutherford, 30, of Pocatello, was handcuffed and leaning over the front of a squad car with two officers restraining him when the blow by Westfall was delivered.
The Journal received a copy of the Pocatello PD squad car video after filing a request with the Bannock County Prosecutor Steve Herzog.
Rutherford can be heard swearing and telling officers he didn't do anything as he was pressed onto the hood of the squad car. Westfall kept his elbow and arm on Rutherford's face for several minutes before switching to his hand to keep the suspect's head on the hood of the car.
Westfall is facing a misdemeanor criminal charge of unnecessary assault by a police officer and administrative review by the police department following the July 10 incident. A veteran of the police force since 2006, Westfall has been placed on paid administrative leave.
In addition to the police video, the Journal obtained full reports of the criminal investigation into the incident conducted by the Idaho State Police.
That investigation included ISP interviews with Pocatello police officers Sydney Seamons, Shannon Bloxham, Forrest Peck, Nathan Diekemper, Kevin Nielsen and Westfall, as well as the suspect, Rutherford.
Rutherford was arrested for trespass and resisting arrest following the July 10 incident at the Omni Building. Those charges still stand.
Officers Seamons and Peck said they saw Westfall strike Rutherford in the head with his elbow. Bloxham said she heard a thump when “Detective Westfall gave Rutherford an elbow strike.” ISP investigators reported that Bloxham thought at the time that the strike from Detective Westfall had hit Rutherford's back rather than his face.
In his statement to state police, Westfall said he thought the suspect had tried to head-butt Officer Seamons. He said he used his elbow to on the left side of Rutherford's shoulders, head and neck, but he doesn't remember using what appears to be an elbow strike twice to Rutherford's head as captured on video.
After being loaded into a squad car for transport to the Bannock County Jail, Rutherford can be heard and seen on videotape telling the police they were in trouble.
“I even heard one of you guys say, 'What did you do that for?,'” Rutherford states about the blow to his head.
Once the transporting officer gets behind the wheel, Rutherford asks for immediate medical attention and says, “I've been assaulted. I'm going to have somebody's badge over this and that's for sure.”
Rutherford asks for medical attention several times during his ride to the jail. Shortly after arriving at the county facility on South Fifth Avenue, Rutherford was transported to Portneuf Medical Center, but he refused treatment there and was returned to the jail.
The entire incident began when city police were called to the IRS office inside the Omini Building for a reported disturbance involving Rutherford and a security guard. The guard told Idaho State Police investigators that Rutherford had something in his pocket and the guard asked to search him. The guard said he was worried Rutherford might have a concealed knife.
Rutherford failed to comply to a search and the guard said Rutherford called him a “rent-a-pig” and said, “I am in a public place and don't have to follow your little rules.”
That's when the security guard called the police.
Westfall's defense attorney James Ruchti said people need to maintain perspective as they view the entire videotape of Rutherford's arrest and the actions of his client.
“These officers have to use force to get some people to comply,” Ruchti said. “Are we going to prosecute officers when they make a mistake? Are we gong to terminate a career and prosecute over one event?”
Ruchti added that injuries to Rutherford were minor and the fact he refused medical treatment at the jail and PMC prove it.
“These things don't happen in a vacuum,” Ruchti said. “People have to take in everything that is happening at the time.”
Prosecutor Herzog said the videotape captures actions that exceed what a police officer should do.
“I looked at the video and to me it was inappropriate,” Herzog said. “The guy's in handcuffs and there are a number of options to restrain him and keep him from taking flight.”
Herzog said the charge against Westfall will likely go to a misdemeanor trial in front of six jurors.
“Westfall is innocent until proven guilty,” Herzog said. “That's a community issue ultimately. I don't know what those six jurors will come up with, but he's entitled to a jury trial and an opportunity to explain what happened.”
In his statement to the state police investigators, Rutherford admitted that he refused to leave the IRS office after city officers arrived, maintaining it was a public building and he had a right to be there. Rutherford said when he tried to use his cell phone to begin recording the confrontation, police officers grabbed him by the wrists and escorted him out of the Omni Building.
Rutherford has a brief history of battery and disturbing the peace in Bannock County. He was found guilty of battery in 2013, disturbing the peace in 2012, and disorderly conduct in 2009 after it was reduced from a battery charge.