The Bonners Ferry police chief is under investigation for shooting and killing a Boise man at a Custer County campground Aug. 1, the Custer County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday.
Bonners Ferry Police Chief Brian Zimmerman was off-duty when he fatally shot 73-year-old Russell V. Liddell of Boise that night, according to the sheriff's office.
Zimmerman has not been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, the city of Bonners Ferry said in a press release Thursday afternoon.
"The City does not feel that administrative leave or other personnel action by the City of Bonners Ferry is necessary at this time," the press release stated, "as Chief Zimmerman's actions were in no way related to his employment with the City of Bonners Ferry."
Custer County deputies were called to the Tin Cup Campground, about two hours north of Stanley, at 10:30 p.m. the night of Aug. 1, according to a statement released by the sheriff's office Thursday morning.
Witnesses said Liddell had confronted a group of 16 to 18 people who were camping there, the sheriff's office said. Witnesses told detectives that the campers did not know Liddell and that he was not part of their group.
A “verbal altercation” between Liddell and members of the group resulted in “shots that were fired,” according to the sheriff's office. Zimmerman, who was camping with the group, “fired rounds that struck Liddell, resulting in his death,” the statement said.
Witnesses told police that members of the group “began life saving measures and quickly traveled to an area with cell phone service to call 9-1-1,” according to the sheriff's office.
No other people were injured.
The city of Bonners Ferry said in its press release Thursday afternoon that Zimmerman "returned fire after being fired upon" by Liddell. But a spokesman for the Bonneville County Sheriff's Office, which is leading the investigation, told the Idaho Mountain Express after the press release was published that the sheriff's office could not yet confirm that Liddell fired any shots at all.
"It appears that that's the information [the city of Bonners Ferry] has from [Zimmerman]," Sgt. Bryan Lovell said.
Investigators are still working to determine what happened that night, Lovell said.
"It wouldn't be appropriate to speculate that," Lovell said. "I think [the investigative team] is waiting to get all of the pieces and information together."
The Custer County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Idaho Mountain Express on Thursday morning asking whether Zimmerman was the only person to fire shots or whether Liddell was armed.
After arriving at the scene, the Custer County Sheriff’s Office requested that the Eastern Idaho Critical Task Force assist with the investigation, according to the sheriff’s office. Detectives with the Bonneville, Bingham and Fremont County Sheriff’s Offices, the Idaho Falls Police Department and the Idaho State Police responded to the area that evening and have continued to assist with the investigation since then.
Zimmerman "made City administration aware of the incident shortly after it occurred," according to the Bonners Ferry press release.
Results from Liddell’s autopsy are pending, the Custer sheriff’s office said.
Liddell served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam war, according to an obituary. He went on to work in the aerospace program at Martin Marietta and retired from a career with the state of Idaho. He had a master's degree from the University of Idaho and a bachelor's degree from San Jose State University.
"Russ always said his place in the world was Idaho, and he made that a priority in his life," his obituary states. "He loved being outdoors, working with his horses, travel, and adventure, but nothing compared to Russ's love and devotion to his family and his personal walk with Jesus Christ. His giving spirit and kind heart touched so many lives. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him."
The investigation is ongoing.