BOISE — The Ada County Commissioners interviewed the three Ada County sheriff nominees Wednesday and all were asked to explain how law enforcement should operate locally, during a time of increased scrutiny.
The nominees are Matt Clifford, Doug Traubel and Mike Chilton. The three were selected by the Ada County Republican Central Committee to fill the vacancy created by former Sheriff Steve Bartlett’s resignation on May 31. Bartlett was less than six months into his second four-year term.
The questioning of nominee Doug Traubel, a former sheriff's office employee who also was an investigator at the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney's Office for 16 years until 2019, brought several alarming statements to light. Traubel was asked to defend some of his previous writings in which he blamed Jews for Soviet violence and said that half of all rape reports are "false."
The interviews could continue over the next two days, depending on if the commissioners need more information, Chairman Rod Beck said.
In the first interview, which was lively and at-times combative, all three commissioners expressed concerns with Traubel for his beliefs and social media presence.
Traubel blamed Jews for Soviet violence in Russia and said that while Jews were one of the victim classes in Germany, they were the “villain class” in Russia.
In response, Beck asked him if the "pogroms" were myths. Traubel said no, but added while he didn’t justify it, Adolf Hitler had been suspicious of the Jews due to the “red terror.”
Pogrom is a Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently,” according to the United States Holocaust Museum website. "Historically, the term refers to violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian Empire and in other countries."
Around 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust in Germany. In the Soviet Union, Jews were targeted, arrested and executed, according to a 2002 article in the Journal of Cold War Studies.
Earlier, Beck had asked Traubel if he wanted to change or retract anything he had previously written. Traubel said he did not, but there had been times he might have written things more carefully.
Other commissioners challenged Traubel on his beliefs.
“You just mentioned the importance of building confidence, and with the public the trust is fragile,” Commissioner Kendra Kenyon said, before reading excerpts of his writing.
She read an excerpt saying decades of abuse of criminal law had led men to their own form of social justice — not marrying, which led to women having children outside of wedlock.
“Since single mothers are not an economically viable unit and must require state support to survive, these actions further the original objective of the neo-Marxist ideologues to destroy families and marriages, and thereby our republic,” she read from Traubel's writings.
“As a single mom, raising two kids, I personally took offense,” Kenyon said.
Kenyon also asked Traubel about a statistic he cited in one of his writings, that at least 50% of rape allegations are false. Traubel said he could not source the number off the top of his head.
For his part, Traubel said his words had been taken out of context and he was defined by the past 30 years of accolades and evaluations in his career.
“Notwithstanding men’s simple nature, we are not all the same,” he read from his book. “We should treat one another as equally precious and under the law, even though it is undeniable that we do not all contribute the same to society.”
The three nominees were asked as well about the event that has brought scrutiny to law enforcement in the past year: The murder of George Floyd.
Traubel said his death was avoidable, but the neck restraint should be available to police as a tactic to control suspects.
Matt Clifford, a lieutenant with the Ada County Sheriff's Office and the police chief in Eagle through a partnership with the sheriff's office, said the procedure with the Ada County Sheriff’s office is to use the neck restraint correctly.
“It’s a knee-jerk reaction,” he said of efforts to ban its use in all instances.
In addition, the three were asked about a pressing local issue: The Ada County Jail. While Traubel said he wanted to stay ahead of growth, he also added the jail population had dropped last spring and that decision could possibly become the new operating procedure.
The jail needs more space, nominee Mike Chilton said, but said he was concerned about the expanded jail being filled and the cost of new deputies. Chilton worked for the Ada County Sheriff's Office from 1994 to 2010 and ran unsuccessfully for Ada County Coroner in 2014.
“We are going to grow, we are going to expand,” Chilton said. “But I’m also in favor of going back and looking at ways to (not) lock less dangerous people up, so we don’t have to maintain the liability and the cost of housing those people.”
One question the candidates were asked was what they would do in the event there was a law that would infringe on the rights of citizens, such as a law infringing on the Second Amendment.
"I think, from the time I was 19 to when I joined the Marine Corps, I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of America,” Chilton said. “In your example, if they ordered like a gun grab … no, I could not be a part of that.”
As an Idaho native, Clifford said he had grown up with a way of life other people in other parts of the country didn’t have.
“As a sheriff, I would promise you I would use everything in my power in my powers and ability to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens of Ada County, to include the Second Amendment,” he said. “I need Idaho to stay Idaho.”
“Agreed,” Beck said. “Thank you.”
Clifford defended his job as Eagle police chief, an area which Commissioner Ryan Davidson described as low crime.
Part of the interview process involved a waiver to allow the commissioners to access information, background checks and records. Traubel and Clifford signed while Chilton initially refused. He sent the board a partial waiver, Kenyon said, but it was edited to be almost unusable.
“The original waiver was fraught with problems,” Chilton said. “I took it to my attorney, I had three different attorneys review it … they all said it was overreaching, that the promise to doxx everything to the public was very concerning.”
When Traubel's interview was done, four rows stood and applauded for him. The audience also clapped for Chilton. Around eight stood to applaud for Clifford, many wearing stickers promoting Clifford for County Sheriff.
Clifford, an Ada County Sheriff's Office employee who serves as the police chief for the city of Eagle, is the only one of the three nominees to have Peace Officer Standards and Training certifications required of patrol officers and hail deputies, according to the Idaho Statesman. POST certifications are not required of sheriff candidates.
Prior to Wednesday's interviews the commissioners received feedback in the form of dozens of emails and letters from residents and officials offering their say on the appointment. Of the three, Traubel and Clifford are mentioned the most, but Clifford had the most support from sitting elected officials in the Treasure Valley.
The Garden City police chief, the Meridian mayor and city council, several Ada County Sheriff’s Office employees, the mayor of Eagle, the mayor of Kuna, and the Garden City and Star mayors all wrote in to express support for Clifford.
“Matt wants to be Ada County Sheriff for the right reasons,” read a letter signed by the mayors of Meridian, Kuna, Star, Eagle and Garden City. “He is a good person doing great work for the people of Ada County who is willing and ready to lead the Sheriff’s Office with professionalism, integrity and an unwavering commitment to excellence and community.”