The prosecutor for the same county that has been given the go-ahead by a federal appeals court to try an FBI sniper on manslaughter charges is himself under investigation for alleged felony conduct.
Brett Benton, prosecutor for Boundary County, Idaho, is under investigation by county commissioners for allegedly committing two counts of felony activity, including forgery and falsifying documents, according to a report in a local newspaper.
The charges were confirmed to WorldNetDaily by Mike Weland, the county’s resource planner and public relations director.
“Our civil counsel, John Topp, brought the charges,” Weland said. “The original information that something might be amiss came from Mr. Benton’s private secretary.”
Commissioners signed a petition earlier last week to appoint “Deputy Attorney General Michael Henderson as special prosecuting attorney to act in Benton’s position regarding this case only,” said the Boundary County News.
Otherwise, the paper said, Benton “is still the county’s acting prosecutor in all other matters,” which would include a case against FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, who shot and killed the wife of a rural Idaho man during a standoff in northern Idaho in 1992, if the state chooses to prosecute the agent.
Randy Weaver, accused of being a white supremacist and suspected of illegal gun trafficking by federal officials, was under surveillance by U.S. deputy marshals when a firefight broke out, leaving Weaver’s 14-year-old son and one marshal dead.
On the second day of the ensuing standoff, Horiuchi, a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, fired two shots at Kevin Harris, a friend of the Weaver family, as he tried to run into the Weavers’ cabin.
One shot wounded Harris, but another killed Vicki Weaver, 42, wife of Randy Weaver, as she stood behind the front door holding the family’s infant daughter.
Denise Woodbury, former prosecutor for Boundary County who was ousted from office by Benton, had tried unsuccessfully a number of times to bring state charges against Horiuchi for manslaughter. However, federal courts have routinely backed Horiuchi’s actions, even though he was operating under admittedly dubious federal rules of engagement, which said FBI agents could fire at any armed adult during the standoff.
Last fall, the federal government settled a series of civil suits brought by Weaver and Harris, but without actually admitting guilt.
Last week, on a vote of 6-5, an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted to permit Idaho to reinstate charges against Horiuchi, whose past legal bills have all been paid for by the Department of Justice.
But because of Benton’s alleged criminal behavior, some analysts have wondered if he is fit to try the case or if he may be open to threats of intimidation to drop the case.
Benton is “definitely vulnerable to being compromised,” said David Codrea, a gun-rights legal analyst. “The people from the beltway have the resources, the know-how and the historical predisposition to do just that.”
Reports said if there is a trial, it would probably be in Bonners Ferry, a town of fewer than 3,000 people about 30 miles from the Canadian border.
The Ruby Ridge case is being viewed by legal scholars as a test case over whether a state has the right to hold federal law enforcement agents accountable for criminal violations of state laws. The federal government declined to prosecute Horiuchi, despite acknowledging that the rules of engagement during the standoff nearly 10 years ago were likely negligent.
Writing for the court’s majority, Judge Alex Kozinski said: “When federal officers violate the Constitution, either through malice or excessive zeal, they can be held accountable for violating the state’s criminal laws.”
The court agreed with Idaho’s contention that immunity cannot be granted until there is a hearing to determine whether Horiuchi acted unlawfully. If a judge rules that the FBI sniper broke state law, he could be hauled before a jury.
Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general under President Johnson who argued the case for Boundary County, Idaho, called the ruling “courageous” and said it showed that law enforcement would be held accountable for violence.