Investigators in Idaho Falls, Idaho, are probing a fatal police encounter after a traffic stop escalated to a brief manhunt, and an officer fatally shot an allegedly armed man who was mistaken for the fleeing suspect, only to realize the error and later find the actual suspect hiding in a shed on a neighboring property.
Idaho Falls police did not release the name of the victim Tuesday but identified him as the resident of the home near where the shooting took place. In a statement, the department said it had been in contact with the man’s family, which had requested privacy.
“There are no words to express how heavy our hearts are today,” Idaho Falls police Chief Bryce Johnson said in a statement Tuesday. “This situation is devastatingly tragic for the family, for the officer, and those that love and care about them. We all feel the weight of what has occurred today.”
The Idaho Falls officer who fired the single fatal shot also was not identified but had been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, the department said.
The events that ended with a man shot to death in the backyard of his home just east of downtown Idaho Falls began barely 20 minutes earlier with a traffic stop. Just after 12 a.m. Monday, a Bonneville County sheriff’s deputy pulled over a car for a broken taillight, police said.
When the car stopped, a man later identified by police as Tanner J. N. Shoesmith, 22, jumped out and ran. The sheriff’s deputy called IFPD for backup, noting the suspect’s dark-colored shirt.
As more law enforcement officers joined in the search, they were able to identify Shoesmith and note that his record showed three open arrest warrants and a history of violent interactions with police; the fleeing suspect was now considered dangerous. Officers spoke to a resident in the area who reported seeing someone run through the person’s yard — possibly armed, police said.
Meanwhile, a passenger in the car, who had stayed behind to cooperate with police, was receiving text messages from Shoesmith that included his GPS location, the department said. The person shared the location information with officers, who began to close in on the area.
According to the IFPD statement, officers “heard yelling” as they neared the backyard, where they saw a man in a black shirt with a gun. Officers reportedly told the man to drop the weapon; Johnson, the police chief, said that what happened next is unclear.
“We do not currently have answers as to what exactly occurred during these moments,” Johnson said in a statement. “We do know that during this interaction, an Idaho Falls Police Officer discharged his service weapon firing one shot which struck the man.”
Johnson said officers, and later medical personnel, tried to save the man but were unsuccessful. Officers found Shoesmith hiding in a shed in the backyard of a nearby home and arrested him on his previous outstanding warrants and a new misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.
The incident is Idaho’s first fatal police shooting in 2021; the state has recorded 45 fatal police shootings since 2015, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.
David A. Klinger, who chairs the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said that too few details are known about the case for him to comment on it, but he described mistaken police shootings of individuals as rare.
“The issues of police shooting the wrong person is not limited to them shooting citizens,” Klinger said, noting that unintended-target situations also include members of law enforcement shooting each other.
Johnson said the details, including that the victim allegedly was armed, were not shared with the intent of assigning blame or even explaining the situation; Klinger separately backed up that point, saying that the presence of a gun does not necessarily clarify the situation for police.
“Anyone in law enforcement knows you don’t get to shoot someone merely because they possess a gun. Is it a homeowner? Or maybe another police officer?” said Klinger, who formerly served as an officer in Los Angeles and in Redmond, Wash.
Monday’s shooting is under investigation by the Eastern Idaho Critical Incident Task Force, which immediately sent officers to the scene to begin the investigation, according to the IFPD.