Kootenai Sheriff Department Above the Law
by Shari Dovale
March 13, 2020 was a red letter day in the history of Idaho. That was the day that Governor Brad Little declared a State of Emergency for the Coronavirus Pandemic.
He further gave state agencies and licensing departments enforcement authority to implement temporary rules in response to this emergency.
Later, Little authorized several “stages” for businesses to reopen to the public. Stage One did not go into effect until May 1st, and each stage was expected to last at least 2 weeks.
Some businesses were hit especially hard, as they were labeled “Non-Essential” and would not be allowed to reopen for months, or so it was expected.
The Barber, Hairstyling and Cosmetology industry was devastated as many of those workers were considered independent contractors and not qualified for much of the paycheck relief offered by the government. Many of these independent contractors are single parents, with no other income to supplement the necessities for their families.
They were not offered options. They were not considered “essential”. They were not allowed to earn a living.
But there were exceptions.
The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department (KCSO) determined that their deputies required haircuts and these haircuts were essential to the deputies being able to do their jobs.
Though every other resident was denied these services, and the deputies were actively contacting select businesses to ensure their compliance to the Governor’s orders, they were also planning how to violate the orders for themselves.
Redoubt News heard about these haircuts and requested, through the Freedom of Information Act, copies of documents related to hairdressing services for the deputies. We were stalled by the Sheriff’s Department saying it would cost $838.44 to complete this request.
However, we were not the only people interested in these documents.
It took a lawsuit for the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department to be forthright about their actions. An email chain was provided to a litigant to settle a lawsuit over this very issue.
Within this email chain, it is learned that these haircuts took place at the Marine building in the boat bay. Additionally, the haircuts began during the month of April 2020, before the state had even gotten to the first stage of the Governor’s reopening plan.
The Marine building is county property, considered a part of the KCSO Campus, and the county taxpayers pay for its useage.
The deputies, with the Sheriff and Undersheriff’s approval, paid for the haircuts through the Kootenai County Deputy Sheriffs Association (KCDSA). They provided $500 for 2 barbers, and encouraged tips to be given to the barbers.
When the female employees requested a hairstylist, instead of a barber, it turned out that a director at the Kootenai County Jail was a licensed hairstylist. She provided the haircuts for those that scheduled with her, to be performed (again) on the KCSO campus, the Marine building.
It was set up to be done while the majority of employees were on the clock, so that was an additional cost to the county taxpayers.
It did appear that some of the employees were concerned with legalities and how they were able to get away with this when the general public was forbidden these same rights, because questions arose directly to that issue:
But, as you can see, Sheriff Wolfinger was completely on board with these violations. His email does suggest that his initial reaction was to comply with the laws that he enforces, however, it also seems that it did not take much for him to change his position and break those same laws.
These haircuts were exclusive for the employees of the KCSO and not their families, though they certainly tried to have them included:
So, it seems that the Kootenai County Sheriff, Ben Wolfinger, and his Undersheriff, Dan Mattos, and all of the employees at the KCSO, are allowed to violate the very laws that they enforce on the general public.
Stay tuned to Redoubt News as more of this story develops.
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