A report released last week by the Custer County Sheriff’s Office details witness accounts of the fatal shooting of a Boise man by Bonners Ferry Police Chief Brian Zimmerman in August. The report alleges that 73-year-old Russell Liddell fired shots in the presence of Zimmerman’s camping party while apparently intoxicated.
The report, obtained Tuesday by the Idaho Mountain Express, describes the events leading up to Liddell’s death at a Custer County campground on Aug. 1, as told to police by eyewitnesses.
The Custer County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has not determined whether charges will be filed in the case, a member of the office told the Mountain Express on Thursday. Zimmerman has not been put on administrative leave while the case is under investigation. “Chief Zimmerman’s actions were in no way related to his employment with the City of Bonners Ferry,” city officials previously said in a statement.
It isn’t clear from the report whether all of the witnesses interviewed were friends and family members of Zimmerman. By press time Thursday, Custer County Sheriff Stu Lumpkin had not responded to questions from the Mountain Express asking whether the shooting had been witnessed by any campers who were not with Zimmerman’s party.
According to the report, Zimmerman was camping that night at the Tin Cup Campground with 17 friends and family members as part of an eight-day UTV trip. At about 10:15 p.m., a pickup truck with Ada County license plates pulled into the campground and turned around, driving within feet of one couple’s tent before attempting to back up, according to the report.
A woman with Zimmerman’s party told investigators she approached the driver to see if he needed help backing up. When she spoke to the driver—later identified as Liddell—the driver “told her they were in his camping spot and asked where they were from,” the woman said, noting that Liddell “seemed agitated.”
Another witness told police that Liddell “seemed very upset.” Several members of the group reported hearing Liddell say something similar to, “All you [expletive] Californians coming up here with your [expletive] fancy toys,” according to the report.
A witness told investigators that Liddell smelled like alcohol, according to the report. Lumpkin did not respond by press time when asked by the Mountain Express on Wednesday whether Zimmerman or any of the witnesses interviewed had consumed alcohol that night.
One man said he told Liddell “he needed to leave or he would run him off with a .41” according to the report; in response, Liddell “told the man that he had a .45,” according to the man’s eyewitness account. The man told investigators he then walked back to his tent and Liddell began backing up the truck again, driving about 20 yards in a circle before stopping with his headlights shining on a tent.
Zimmerman was not aware of the exchange his fellow male camper had just had with Liddell, according to the report, but had retrieved his Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol from his UTV after hearing about the conversation between Liddell and the woman. Zimmerman concealed the pistol in his shorts pocket, the report states.
Zimmerman and two other men approached the pickup truck “to see if there was a problem with the driver,” according to the report. They found the pickup truck’s window down and Liddell in the driver’s seat, Zimmerman told investigators.
According to the report, Zimmerman asked the driver what was going on or what they could help him with; Liddell mumbled something but otherwise did not acknowledge them, Zimmerman said. Zimmerman told investigators he then asked Liddell to “watch his language” after using profanity in earlier exchanges.
Liddell opened the driver’s door and got out of the truck, the report says; witnesses told police he “stumbled and nearly fell down,” and “showed signs of physical impairment.”
After getting out of the truck, Liddell opened the back passenger door on the driver’s side and “began looking for something inside,” according to the report, while standing with his back toward Zimmerman and the other two men. All three men told investigators they “heard the sound of a slide of a semi-automatic pistol being racked,” according to the report.
Zimmerman told investigators that “when he heard the racking of the pistol, he removed his pistol from his pocket and held it alongside his leg,” according to the report. Liddell “began turning counter-clockwise” toward the three men, according to the report, and fired two shots while he was turning.
“Zimmerman, having already removed his pistol from his pocket fired back at Liddell,” the report states. “Zimmerman believed he had fired five rounds at Liddell.”
After the shots were fired, Zimmerman “retrieved and secured” Liddell’s firearm, placing it on the running board of the pickup. Another camper later secured both Liddell’s and Zimmerman’s firearms, the report says.
A registered nurse with the camping party and a former paramedic “came and checked on Liddell,” the report states, adding that neither were able to find a pulse.
A man with the camping party drove a UTV to Diamond D Ranch and used their phone to call dispatch after the shooting, according to the report. A Custer County deputy and an Idaho State Police trooper arrived at the campground at about 1:45 a.m.
After arriving at the scene, the Custer County Sheriff’s Office requested that the Eastern Idaho Critical Task Force assist with the investigation. 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.