“I will fucking shoot you!”

They were little paper turkeys, “thankful turkeys” they were called. You know the type of kids’ craft: turkeys cut and colored from outlines of human hands. The happy little hand-made paper turkeys were a thank-you-themed youth group project from a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregation in Blackfoot, Idaho. Seven giggling girls piled into a car along with their female adult chaperone and set out to spread some gratitude with their little homemade gifts.

You’d think a handful of girls delivering cheerful paper thankful turkeys would be easily distinguishable from thugs, felons or other people with criminal intent. Or at least you’d think the top law enforcement officer in the county would be intelligent enough or adequately trained to discern the difference.

Not in Bingham County, Idaho.

On Nov. 9, the carload of seven exuberant LDS girls, ages 12 to 16, set off to deliver their thankful turkeys with their hand-written notes to members of their congregation. Because the turkeys were supposed to be delivered anonymously, the girls would tape the colorful turkey-shaped papers to front doors, ring the bells or knock, then run back to the car before they were seen.

About 8 p.m., Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland let his small dog out just as two girls ran from his door. Suspicious, the sheriff checked his patrol car then returned to his house. The girls had turned to disappear when Rowland opened his door so they were unable to leave the intended thankful turkey.

The girls left another turkey on a nearby house then returned to Rowland’s house to make a second attempt at leaving their gift. This time, Rowland said he heard his screen door creak open followed by a knock on the door. Afraid or angry or some high-strung combination, Rowland grabbed his service weapon and exited the house wearing his long underwear and t-shirt.

Digital footage from Rowland’s Ring doorbell device picks up the next bit of the story. The video was viewed as part of the ensuing investigation.

On the video, Rowland looks down at the thankful turkey and reads the words “thank you,” printed on the cheery paper. Evidently threatened or insulted by the small offering, the sheriff says aloud, “That’s frickin’ bullshit.”

Classy, huh?

Unaware they’re being pursued by an angry man with a firearm, the giggling girls have returned to the car. As the chaperone starts to drive to the next house, Rowland steps in front of the car, motioning her to stop.

According to a probable cause affidavit released by the Idaho Attorney General’s office, the chaperone stopped, opening the car door which lit the interior of the vehicle and revealed the seven girls. The group leader told Rowland they had just left something for Rowland’s wife.

“Get the fuck out of the car!” screamed the sheriff, pointing his service weapon first at the chaperone, then at the two terrified young girls in the front seat.

The chaperone attempted to shift the car into park, a delay that further enraged Rowland. Grabbing a fistful of the youth leader’s hair, Rowland wrenched her violently from the car, holding his gun just inches from her face.

“I will fucking shoot you!” screamed the sheriff, demanding to know the woman’s identity. In his blind rage, the sheriff did not recognize the chaperone, who’d grown up next door to Rowland and had considered him a family friend for more than 30 years. “That’s when I really got scared,” the chaperone stated in the affidavit. “Because the gun was still at my head and he didn‘t know who I was.”

A moment later, the top law enforcement officer in Bingham County told the carload of LDS girls and their leader to, “get the fuck out of here.” Boy, if that’s how Rowland talks to young church girls, I’d hate to see how he addresses hardened felons.

On Tuesday, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office charged Rowland with felony aggravated battery, felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor exhibition of a gun. The attorney general is prosecuting the case to avoid a conflict of interest with the Bingham County District Attorney. Because Rowland is the elected sheriff, he retains his position but he voluntarily took leave for the length of the investigation. He is back at work now.

According to the affidavit, Rowland later told Blackfoot Police Chief Scott Gay that he had “really screwed up” regarding his actions the night of Nov. 9.

Rowland has admitted to most of his deplorable behavior. He claims he drank one alcoholic beverage that night, but he was clear-headed. He told investigators about threats made against him and he said the end of Daylight Savings Time “really messed me up.” Seriously?

Then Rowland made it even worse.

“I have been doing this job for 36 years,” declared Rowland. “I have had drunk Indians drive down my cul-de-sac. I’ve had drunk Indians come to my door. I live just off the [Fort Hall] reservation, we have a lot of reservation people around us that are not good people.”

On top of his lack of observation, judgment, self-control and maturity, Sheriff Craig Rowland is an unapologetic racist. I do not use that word lightly. You’d think the guy would be embarrassed and contrite but, no, he tries to blame Native Americans. What a colossal moron.

I know law enforcement is a thankless and exhausting job. But guys like Rowland are the ones who are actively and aggressively disgracing the profession.

I believe we needed to hear the startling and controversial 2020 demands to “defund the police.” Obviously, anyone with a level head knew we could never abolish law enforcement — without it we’d have chaos and anarchy. But those words got our attention and made people start considering some critical changes.

I want to emphasize I am absolutely not anti-police — my father wears a badge. But it’s long past time to take out the trash, the officers like Rowland who spit on the honor of law enforcement with their dull-witted racism, their out-of-control rage, their utter inappropriateness to carry the power of life and death over the public.

In recent times, I have discussed police reform as a crucial need — a realistic, workable set of reforms that will take policing to a new level. One of the key components of this reform is a robust screening that will weed out the dullards and racists — people who have no business in law enforcement.

Another component is categorizing the law enforcement profession by itself. This also means elevating the profession: raising the bar for candidates, revamping and adding training, increasing pay, maintaining transparency and accountability. (You can read more about proposed reform here.)

Law enforcement is as close to a no-fail mission as a public servant gets. Unlike other professions, a mistake in law enforcement can have lethal or life-changing consequences. Life-changing mistakes in law enforcement often don’t warrant second chances. In this case, seven young girls were traumatized to witness their sheriff rip their youth leader out of the car by her hair, assault her, threaten to execute her, all the while screaming vile obscenities.

For church girls handing out paper turkeys.

This is supposed to be one of the good guys.

Aggravated battery can earn a 15-year prison term. Aggravated assault is good for five. Rowland also faces a misdemeanor charge of unlawful exhibition or use of a deadly weapon.

Idaho law limits actions against an elected sheriff accused of a crime. Rowland can only be removed if convicted of a felony or an offense violating the oath of office.

Rowland is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 22.

If at one time Rowland was an honorable cop, he clearly isn’t now. He has disgraced his badge, his department and his profession. His own racist words clearly establish a bias that, by itself, renders him unfit to serve.

It’s too late for Rowland to salvage anything like a legacy. But in a final act of dignity, he could quietly surrender his badge and leave law enforcement forever. The absolute kindest way to frame this is that Rowland is no longer competent to wear a badge or carry a gun — let alone lead a law enforcement organization.

Sorry, Sheriff Rowland. Law enforcement is a unique line of work. You don’t always get second chances as you do in other professions. Sometimes, your “mistakes” are deal-breakers.

It’s time to take out the trash.



Photocomposite © Bingham County Sheriff

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