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AG: Idaho sheriff charged after pulling gun on youth group leaving thank you notes

Investigators say Sheriff Craig Rowland aimed a gun at the group of girls, dragged their adult chaperone from the car by her hair, and threatened to execute her.

BLACKFOOT, Idaho — The sheriff of Bingham County is facing felony charges after investigators say he pulled a gun on a group of girls, dragged their youth group leader out of her car by her hair, and threatened to shoot her while holding a gun to her head.

The Idaho Attorney General's Office on Tuesday charged Sheriff Craig Rowland with aggravated battery, aggravated assault, and exhibition of a deadly weapon.

Rowland told Blackfoot Police Chief Scott Gay that he had "really screwed up" during the Nov. 9 confrontation, which happened after a youth group came to his door.

According to a probable cause affidavit, the seven girls, ages 12 to 16, were delivering paper "thankful turkeys" to people around the neighborhood as part of a youth group activity. 

The girls would deliver the turkey thank-you notes by taping them to a recipient's door, ringing the doorbell, and running away before the person inside could see who had left the note.

Rowland told investigators that at about 8 p.m., his Yorkie began to bark so he went outside and saw two people running away from his house.

According to the affidavit, the girls returned to their youth leader's car giggling, and told her they had tried to leave the turkey, but had nearly been caught by Craig Rowland so had been unable to deliver it. The group delivered another "thankful turkey" to a house nearby, then returned to the sheriff's home to try again. 

Rowland told police that a few minutes after he had seen people running away from his house, his Ring doorbell activated and he heard his front door rattle.

The sheriff said he got his gun, and stepped outside wearing long johns and socks. 

Credit: Idaho Attorney General's Office
A photocopied image of the "thankful turkeys" a Blackfoot youth group was delivering to community members on Nov. 9.

The woman supervising the youth group told investigators that the girls returned to her car after leaving the turkey, and she was driving away past the sheriff's home when she saw Rowland standing in the road waving her down. 

The youth group leader stopped and opened her car door, illuminating the inside of the car where the seven girls were sitting, and told Rowland that they had just been dropping something off for his wife.

She said Rowland looked into the car, pointed his gun at her, then pointed it at two girls sitting in the front passenger seat. The sheriff then aimed the gun back at her, the woman said, and told her to "get the f-- out of the car," the woman reported. 

As she moved to put the vehicle in park, the woman said, Rowland grabbed her by the hair, yanked her from the car, and aimed his gun at her face, holding it just inches from her forehead. 

Multiple girls inside the car reported hearing the sheriff ask the woman who she was and say "I will f----shoot you," according to investigators.

The youth group leader, who grew up in the house next to Rowland and considered him a family friend, said she told Rowland her name and that she was his neighbor, but added that the words did not seem to register. 

"That's when I really got scared because the gun was still at my head and he didn‘t know who was," she said, according to the affidavit. 

Rowland told police that he did not recognize the woman but she was "terrified," and that he ultimately told her to "get the f--- out of here."

The sheriff admitted to investigators that he had pulled the woman out of her car by the hair and pointed a gun at her, demonstrating aiming it at her head or neck, according to the affidavit. 

Rowland said he had had one alcoholic drink earlier in the night, but was not drunk or impaired.

"I had all of my facilities with me, I was clear as a freakin bell," he told investigators.

Credit: Bingham Co. Sheriff's Office
Sheriff Craig Rowland, right, at a ceremony in 2020.

Rowland told investigators that the recent time change had "really messed me up" and said he was on edge because of interactions he and his wife previously had with members of the community.

"I have been doing this job for 36 years. I've had drunk Indians drive down my cul-de-sac. I've had drunk Indians come to my door," he said. "I live just off the reservation, we have a lot of reservation people around us who are not good people."

Investigators with the attorney general's office reviewed footage captured by the sheriff's Ring doorbell camera, including a video that shows the girls taping the turkey to the door and running away.

In the video, Rowland steps outside, looks at the note, and appears to read the words "thank you" aloud. 

"That's frickin' bullsh--," the sheriff says in the video, before calling to his wife to "get my gun." 

The Idaho Attorney General's Office was called in to investigate and prosecute the case to avoid any conflict of interest with the Bingham County Prosecutor's Office. A summons was issued for Rowland on Tuesday. 

Rowland remains the elected sheriff of Bingham County, but agreed to take a leave of absence after the investigation started, according to East Idaho News.   

Shoshone-Bannock tribe spokesman Devon Boyer called the sheriff's comments about Native Americans "extremely offensive." No tribal members were involved in the incident, the tribe said. 

“We ask Rowland to officially step down as Sheriff and offer a public apology to the Fort Hall community," Boyer said in a Thursday statement. “We hope the woman and the children involved will be able to heal from this traumatic incident. This incident should not have occurred but proves racism still exists. We need major relationship building between our communities.”

The sheriff previously generated controversy in 2016 when he said that a statewide bill to streamline the collection and tracking of rape kits was unnecessary because most reports of sexual assault are untrue. 

Aggravated battery carries a possible 15-year prison sentence, while aggravated assault is punishable by up to five years.

Rowland is due to appear in court Dec. 22 for an initial appearance.

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