Members of the Orofino Chamber of Commerce gathered Feb. 5 for the general meeting.
As announcements were made, Superintendent Dr. Michael Garrett took a few minutes to briefly present the school district’s upcoming levy, distribute fliers, and to answer questions from the audience. He clarified his intentions, and shared that by law, a district cannot either promote or discourage voters to support a levy.
Garrett has been diligent in meeting with as many community groups as possible. He explained it was his duty as the superintendent, to make sure all people were informed with factual information.
Garrett added, “Transparency is key for the community to truly understand why the funding is so important, why it continues to increase, and where it is spent. We’re just trying to do what is good for the kids and trying to help the community as well.”
Jordyn Howell, Executive Director, announced that the final edit of the application for the Idaho Travel Council grant was underway.
A rash of recent scams has dismayed quite a few local businesses. Howell said someone or several individuals have been impersonating both of the Orofino and Lewiston Chamber of Commerce Departments, sending invoices via email. Howell explained the chamber sends their invoices from the post office and will never send invoices via email.
The incidents have been reported and are under investigation by the Orofino Police Department. Further occurrences should be directed to Officer Remington with OPD. Precautions have been taken to prevent additional scams, but others have been affected as well. She asked for all to use caution when opening an email to check the address sending the email is legitimate.
The theme for this year’s auction was revealed and Chamber President Ashley Steinbruecker asked everyone to save the date of May 1 for this year’s Chamber Auction. “We were trying to come up with something we hadn’t done before. Costumes and activities will reflect the “Rags to Riches” theme of Monopoly! Come dressed as if you live on Baltic Avenue or Park Place.” It should be a really fun evening. Watch for more details to be announced in the near future.
Before giving an update on what’s been going on in the area and some of the latest trends, Jeff Wilson, Chief of Police, asked to pay tribute to the school district.
“Presently our department has the best and strongest relationship with Supt. Garrett, the principals, their staff, and the school board ever. I’ll always have their back and they’ve had mine. Our officers are welcome in the schools. It makes my job easier and hopefully theirs too.”
Wilson shared the community has had a large spike in the suicide issue. “It’s not to imply we are seeing suicides committed, but it’s become a lot larger threat among teens now. We have worked with the schools this past year, early in the year we dealt with struggling students several times a week. We treat it very seriously and followed each case to make sure things were taken care of.
“It’s alarming, and it’s probably something that has always gone on, I just think we are now more aware and the cases are reported more often.”
“Changes in drug trends have an impact on our teens. Heroin is on the upswing as well as the narcotic, Fentanyl. The scary thing about Fentanyl is that you never know where it is, and it can be extremely potent. A lot of other drugs are laced with Fentanyl. Even those buying the drug have no way of knowing until it is too late.
“All of our officers and Emergency Medical Service personnel carry Narcan, a medication used to block the effects of opioids. It is commonly used for decreased breathing in opioid overdose. Last year a couple of lives were saved in our community by administering Narcan.
“Heroin and methamphetamines are cheap and fairly easy to come by, We try to stay on top of the latest trends, but it is ever changing. It happens, and it’s scary, but something we need to talk about.
“Another issue we’re seeing more often with teens are sexual abuse cases and child abuse cases. There’s more now than I can ever remember in the history of my career. It is sad, difficult, and emotional work and it keeps us busy. The department receives lots of support from other agencies, which is available even in our small town.
“These offenses are out there more than most of us know and likely something we don’t want to think about. Dealing with the prevalence of those types of issues make it essential for the department to have different types of skill sets, making sure we have readily available services and knowing what to do and what we can or can’t do.
“It’s not only about helping the victim, but also doing what we can in seeking justice in cases that are properly investigated. This is tough in a small community. We may know a lot of those people, and often information gets out, there’s a lot of dynamics to go along with that.
“The era has changed drastically – There are skills we didn’t use to have. Just about every case involves a cell phone or social media. We have to seize phones, computers, and tablets, acquire search warrants, decipher the evidence, all things that are tedious, and time consuming. It’s a difficult process and we’re a small agency. We deal with embezzlement, fraud, and again a specific expertise is needed for investigation.
“We try to go above and beyond for our citizens to the point of contacting agencies outside of our jurisdiction if necessary. We try to pressure them to get things done. There’s not many others that will do that.”
Murder of May 2017
The last topic to be disclosed was something Wilson said he probably hadn’t talked enough about and the reason he was bringing it up, was to tout the efficiency, expertise, and dedication of the officers, and hopefully give the community a little better understanding of their police department.
Wilson described the day of May 22, 2017, the day 23 year-old Samantha Fignani was murdered in broad daylight “within the city and it occurred about 200 yards from my unmarked police car on the street, near my house at that time. I was coaching high school sports when I heard the sirens go off. Typically I don’t call in every time I hear sirens, but a sixth sense kicked in and I tried to make a phone call.
“When the phone picked up, the first thing I heard was ‘roll the body over to see if there’s a gun.’ The officer in the attempt to shut his phone off, had inadvertently answered the call.
“We were a six man team at the time and I knew it was bad, and had occurred at a place near my home.”
Sergeant Vince Frazier was on his way back into town from a homicide training. Wilson said Frazier was mocked by his peers for attending such a training as Orofino really didn’t have a crime problem. When Frazier heard the sirens, he went directly to the scene.
“I can say with complete confidence,” shared Wilson, “that any other agency our size or even two to three times larger would have called in for resources from state police and their detectives, and possibly the FBI.
“We were in the position that we have some guys who are uniquely trained to handle a crime scene, to handle and process evidence and do things most agencies our size can’t do. We’re one of the best equipped departments, and we’ve been able to acquire equipment which allows us to do a lot of things,
“We processed the scene ourselves with assistance from the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) in the first couple of days. As we began to develop some leads, and found out what we had thought had happened, we generated three search warrants in the first 24 hours. We had one at the murder scene, one for the home and car of the suspect, and one for the car and residence of the driver.
“With three scenes to process, CCSO assisted in taking seizure of those locations until we could start our search and processing. Our six-man team had it done in 48 hours. I can tell you there was not much sleep those days.
“As you might expect, there was a tremendous amount of publicity on social media and a lot of opinions formed within the town over who was guilty or not guilty. The case raised a lot of turmoil in the community and a lot of friendships were lost.
“Sgt. Frazier took the lead to create a circumstantial type of case. We worked on that case every week for two years and it was a very tough two years before the case went to trial, as we tried to keep all our other operations going.
“There were DNA and gunshot residue issues, and computer forensics to resolve. We have an outstanding relationship with other agencies including the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, (ATF) Secret Services, and Rocky Mountain Information Network, or RMIN, the federally funded agency to assist states primarily on the west coast. We send a lot of our computer materials to them.
“The trial was moved to Idaho County and took two weeks, not three as was anticipated. When it came time for the verdict, it was the sickest feeling I’ve ever had. If you fail an investigation, it becomes very personal, you’ve got to live with it, there’s no escape. It was a first degree murder conviction.”
The driver of the car has since been charged, so the case hasn’t concluded yet.
“One of the crazy and perhaps one of the biggest advantages in the case,” said Wilson, “were some of the surveillance videos we were able to obtain that helped with the suspect’s movements the day of the murder. Several businesses along Hwy. 12 have cameras pointing toward the highway. We were able to get times of the suspect’s coming and going, which really helped shoot holes in the suspect’s defense. Our area businesses were a huge asset in the case.
“The Forest Service Building has surveillance cameras placed around the entire building and are motion activated. Ironically, one of the cameras was located in a position where it would have captured the whole crime scene, but there was not enough commotion to activate the camera until all the officers arrived.
“We learned a lot over the course of two years and there are things we would do differently now. The department handled the whole case on their own from start to finish, which is unheard of. We’re a role model for other agencies. I feel blessed every day to be here. We live in a fantastic community. It’s important to recognize the support and the great things happening here.”