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Corn is harvested on a farm near Filer in 2015.

Sheriff's office loses K-9 deputy, trains next generation of handlers

TWIN FALLS — The Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office lost one of its deputies Feb. 23 — a four-legged one.

Drago, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, was one of the department’s dual-purpose K-9s used for narcotics detection and patrol. But for Sgt. Charles Hoop, the dog was more than just a resource; he was a true partner.

“They’re with us 24-7,” said Hoop, who’s been a K-9 handler with the sheriff’s office since 2009. “It’s a bond that can’t really be replaced.”

Hoop was Drago’s third handler, having worked with the dog for the past two years. But on Feb. 22, Drago went in for surgery to remove a blockage in his intestines. He was recovering at first, but the next day he took a turn for the worse, Hoop said. Drago died of unknown causes — but vets suspect he may have had a blood clot or even unknown health problems caused by a car crash early in his career.

“Without an autopsy, we’ll never know,” he said.

It was a tough loss to bear, but the sergeant isn’t throwing in the towel. As a K-9 trainer for several departments in the valley, Hoop is in the middle of training a new generation of K-9 deputies and their handlers. And he plans to get another K-9 partner soon.

“I love dogs,” Hoop said Wednesday. “I wouldn’t do anything else. It’s a blast.”


Max, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd mix, sits to notify his partner of the location of drugs during a drug-sniffing training exercise Wednesday at the Twin Falls Reformed Church in Twin Falls.

Building a bond

“That’s a good boy!!!!”

Cpl. Jason Vanleeuwen’s high-pitched praise voice told Max he’d done well. The German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix panted heavily, tail wagging, as Vanleeuwen threw him a tennis ball for his reward.

During the training exercise Wednesday, Max had just discovered the scent of drugs behind some toys upstairs at the Twin Falls Reformed Church.

For Max, finding drugs is a game. But for his handler, it’s serious work to prevent larger crimes from happening. In his experience, most crimes start with drugs, said Vanleeuwen, who works for the Filer Police Department.

Max is Filer’s first K-9 deputy, thanks to community donations and a grant from the Seagraves Family Foundation. On Wednesday, both handler and K-9 were training with Hoop on narcotics detection. Max is a narcotics-only dog, trained to detect heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.

Also in training was is Deputy Matt Radmall with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office. Radmall was training Ace, who came to his handler in December. The 2-year-old golden Labrador has a bouncy personality and couldn’t sit still as he waited for training to begin.

Aside from drug detection, Ace is also being trained for obedience and socialization.

“We want him socializing with a lot of kids,” Radmall said.

That’s because Ace will be with Radmall while he’s on duty as a school resource officer in Murtaugh, Castleford and other area schools.


Ace, a 2-year-old golden Labrador, is pet by his partner, Deputy Matt Radmall, during a drug-sniffing training exercise Wednesday at the Twin Falls Reformed Church in Twin Falls.

Hoop encourages K-9 handlers to bond with their dogs, so the partners will learn to trust one another on the job.

“The more time you spend with them, the better,” Vanleeuwen said.

Vanleeuwen received Max on Feb. 18 and began training with him the next day.

The bonding period includes lots of playtime, training and petting, Radmall said. Becoming a K-9 handler is a lifestyle change. The work doesn’t stop when the handler gets home; he still has to care for and train the dog even when he’s personally off-duty.

On Wednesday, Radmall took Ace to look through every cranny and corner of the rooms, practicing with both real drugs and scent kits. He was amazed at how quickly he and Ace had bonded, learning to trust each other and pick up on each other’s signals. Radmall knows when Ace has made a find because his head kicks back, he takes a deep closed-mouth breath and he sits, tail wagging.

Drago’s legacy


Jay Wiggins with Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office's dog Drago.

Drago made the news several times throughout his career with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office. Perhaps the most notable of these was in December 2014, just weeks after he’d been working with then-deputy Stanton Jay Wiggins. The deputy’s patrol car was struck by another vehicle and the K-9 went missing for several days. Wiggins was later found at fault in the crash.

Then, in 2015, Drago bit another deputy who got in the way during an altercation with a man in Kimberly. The Times-News reported at the time that Drago was “‘deep into the bite’ but released and sat down as soon as commanded.” The deputy was sent to the hospital.

Drago’s second handler retired, so Hoop took over as partner. The K-9 had twice taken second place in patrol during the Idaho Police K-9 Association Conference.

Patrol dogs react to situations differently and aren’t as happy-go-lucky as the “dope dogs,” officers say. But even so, the dogs aren’t considered aggressive.

“All of our dogs are friendly dogs,” Hoop said. “We don’t believe in mean or aggressive dogs. All of our training is based on fun.”


Cpl. Jason Vanleeuwen tosses a ball for Max, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd mix, during a drug-sniffing training exercise Wednesday at the Twin Falls Reformed Church in Twin Falls.

Patrol K-9s help take a risk off of officers. Hoop recalled once, when going on a domestic battery call, Drago tracked down the man who’d fled law enforcement. As soon as the man saw the K-9, he surrendered.

K-9s such as Ace come from training centers in Washington after being rescued from shelters. Dogs are selected for training based on personality characteristics. It’s important that the dogs have fun, Hoop said.

“A good dog is a ball-driven dog,” Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Ken Mencl said.

Out in the field, officers tone down on the praise, to maintain professionalism.

The K-9s are trained to detect heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana; the last part of the training comes in Idaho because marijuana is not illegal in Washington. If Idaho ever changed its laws to decriminalize marijuana, the state’s narcotics K-9s would need to be retired, law enforcement say.

Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office has three working K-9s and will get a fourth for Hoop, Mencl said. The dogs have important jobs but also help with public relations, he said.

INL contributed more than $2 billion to Idaho's economy last year

IDAHO FALLS — Idaho National Laboratory’s economic impact in Idaho was more than $2 billion in 2018.

The lab’s reported impact includes both the 4,349 people employed directly by contractor Battelle Energy Alliance in Idaho and the thousands more who worked for the site through indirect or induced jobs, INL’s annual economic report said.

“Idaho National Laboratory takes great pride in being a major economic driver for our state ...,” lab Director Mark Peters said in the report. “... The Laboratory’s success is rooted in our relationships around the nation and throughout Idaho with our citizens, communities, businesses, elected officials, and public schools and universities. ...”

Battelle was the state’s sixth-largest private employer and the ninth-largest overall, the same positions that it held in 2017. The average worker at INL made $97,893 last year.

Dana Kirkham, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, said the lab’s impact was as much about the indirect benefits from the employees as direct money from the site.

“That’s the kind of employment we want to see because those dollars come back and have an economic impact in the community,” Kirkham said.

INL’s impact also spread to the local businesses the site subcontracted to last year. According to the report, nearly 60 percent of the site’s spending last year was with small businesses, and the lab exceeded its goal for the number of women-owned and veteran-owned businesses it worked with. INL spent more than $148 million with Idaho businesses.

“That’s a big number anywhere, not just in eastern Idaho,” Kirkham said.

INL’s impact could increase even more after work begins on building a new small modular reactor plant at its desert site. A report created for REDI by the University of Idaho said the construction of the new reactor plant could create more than 13,000 jobs over the next four years and add another $644 million in labor income to eastern Idaho.

The report also emphasized the charitable work done by INL and its employees last year. Battelle contributed $628,700 to charities through INL, nearly half of which was awarded to Idaho schools for STEM grants, and volunteers led 40 STEM-related events for students across the state.

Chad Estes  

From left, Freddy Rodriguez and Brian Simmons, Process Nuclear Operators at the INL, use master-slave manipulators to work with radioactive material on the other side of the glass.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.


From left to right, Shoshone seniors Rionna Kerner, Cierra Hennings and Bailee Owens celebrate after defeating Prairie 30-27 on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, during the 1A DI Girls State Basketball semifinal game at Columbia High School in Nampa.

Idaho immunization rates drop as opt-out numbers surge

Originally posted on on Feb. 28.BOISE — Idaho’s immunization rate dropped this school year, as immunization “opt-out” numbers increased sharply.

Nearly 5,600 kindergarten, first-grade and seventh-grade students are attending school without a full battery of immunizations, a number a state official called “concerning.” Idaho’s opt-out numbers have increased by nearly 25 percent in two years, far outpacing enrollment growth.

Idaho law outlines — but doesn’t exactly require — a battery of immunizations. For kindergartners and first-graders, the list includes vaccinations covering diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough; measles, mumps, and rubella; polio; hepatitis A and B; and chicken pox. For seventh-graders, the list also includes vaccinations for spinal meningitis and tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. However, parents can decide to opt out of immunizations.

This is one reason why Idaho’s immunization rates remain well below 90 percent. Health officials recommend an immunization rate of at least 90 percent to prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as measles. A higher rate can help protect children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons — a concept known as “herd immunity.”

Idaho’s immunization opt-out rates have been among the highest in the nation. And while health officials in 10 states have reported cases of measles already in 2019, the Idaho Legislature is making it easier for parents to opt out.

The guidelines, and the numbers

Idaho’s immunization guidelines cover kindergarten, first grade and seventh grade. So this year’s Department of Health and Welfare numbers, released Thursday, cover students in these three grades:

  • In all, 86.5 percent of students are fully immunized, down from 86.8 percent the previous two years.
  • The immunization opt-out rate reached 7.7 percent, an all-time high. A year ago, the opt-out rate was 6.9 percent. The vast majority of parents say they are opting out on religious or personal grounds.
  • Putting this new opt-out rate into student numbers, 5,570 students were lacking at least one of their immunizations. That 5,570 figure exceeds the number of kindergarten, first-grade and seventh-grade students in the Boise School District. It also exceeds the number of kindergarten, first-grade and seventh-grade students enrolled in every charter school across the state.
  • Immunization rates are missing — or incomplete — for 4.8 percent of the state’s students. This translates to more than 3,400 students.
  • The remaining students were in school on a conditional basis, to allow parents time to get their kids current on immunizations. This translates to about 1 percent of all students.

The 86.5 percent rate is a conservative estimate. Additional students are partially or even fully immunized — even though records are spotty, or parents have filed opt-out paperwork with their schools.

Health and Welfare sees room for improvement.

“We would like all children to receive the recommended doses of vaccines because it protects those children from disease, and also dramatically reduces the likelihood for disease outbreaks,” said Kathryn Turner, the state’s deputy epidemiologist, who oversees the agency’s immunization program. “Exemptions among school-aged children are concerning, especially when they are non-medical.”

The implications for schools

In June, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra co-wrote a letter with then-Health and Welfare Director Russell Barron, advocating for a 94 percent immunization rate to limit the spread of childhood disease.

Only 11 of Idaho’s 115 school districts hit this target this year — and that list includes three of the state’s tiniest school districts: Three Creek and the Pleasant Valley and Swan Valley elementary school districts.

On the other end of the spectrum, 10 small districts have immunization rates of under 70 percent.

None of the state’s 10 largest districts hit the 94 percent plateau, but eight of them at least topped the state’s 86.5 percent rate. The lone exceptions were Coeur d’Alene and Twin Falls. (Click here to download the district-by-district data.)

Public schools must accept students regardless of their immunization status. That changes only during a disease outbreak. At that point, schools can exclude students who aren’t fully immunized — even if parents have filed an opt-out form with the schools.

State rules, and pending legislation

The 2019 Legislature’s record on immunization sends a mixed message.

On the one hand, legislators narrowly adopted a rule that adds a 12th-grade meningococcal vaccine to the state’s list of guidelines. This vaccination, like all others, is subject to parental consent.

But while their counterparts in Washington are looking to tighten immunization rules, Idaho lawmakers are making it even easier for parents to opt out.

They have upheld a rule allowing parents to opt out simply by submitting a letter to their neighborhood school, rather than filling out a two-page form. This rule, proposed by the state’s Board of Health and Welfare, was in effect for 2018-19, but now it will be on the books permanently.

The problem, says Turner, is that the rule allows parents to turn in an exemption letter just to buy time and get their kids enrolled in school. These parents might have every intention of getting their kids immunized, but get sidetracked.

“The ease of this process is a concern,” Turner said Thursday.

And lawmakers might not be finished.

On Monday, the House passed a bill to require public schools and private schools and child-care centers to provide parents with information about opt-out guidelines — at the same time they provide information on the state’s immunization guidelines.

Health and Welfare is taking no position on House Bill 133, which still must pass the Senate. The agency wants parents to understand the importance of immunizations, Turner said, but the agency also recognizes parents’ rights to opt out.

HB 133’s supporters — including its sponsor, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird — couch the proposal in terms of transparency. They say parents do not understand their rights, or are unaware of them.

Health and Welfare’s numbers tell another story.

In 15 counties, from Central Idaho to the Canadian border, immunization opt-out numbers are above 10 percent. And that includes the counties in Giddings’ legislative district: Bonner, (23 percent), Idaho (22 percent), Shoshone (18 percent) and Clearwater (14 percent).

House to query 60 Trump officials in obstruction probe

WASHINGTON — Declaring it’s “very clear” President Donald Trump obstructed justice, the chairman of the House committee in charge of impeachment says the panel is requesting documents today from more than 60 people from Trump’s administration, family and business as part of a rapidly expanding Russia investigation.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the House Judiciary Committee wants to review documents from the Justice Department, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. Former White House chief of staff John Kelly and former White House counsel Don McGahn also are likely targets, he said.

“We are going to initiate investigations into abuses of power, into corruption and into obstruction of justice,” Nadler said. “We will do everything we can to get that evidence.”

Asked if he believed Trump obstructed justice, Nadler said, “Yes, I do.”

Nadler isn’t calling the inquiry an impeachment investigation but said House Democrats, now in the majority, are simply doing “our job to protect the rule of law” after Republicans during the first two years of Trump’s term were “shielding the president from any proper accountability.”

“We’re far from making decisions” about impeachment, he said.

In a tweet on Sunday, Trump blasted anew the Russia investigation, calling it a partisan probe unfairly aimed at discrediting his win in the 2016 presidential election. “I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted & corrupt people in a Witch Hunt that is illegal & should never have been allowed to start—And only because I won the Election!” he wrote.

Nadler’s comments follow a bad political week for Trump. He emerged empty-handed from a high-profile summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearization and Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in three days of congressional testimony, publicly characterized the president as a “con man” and “cheat.”

Newly empowered House Democrats are flexing their strength with blossoming investigations. A half-dozen House committees are now probing alleged coordination between Trump associates and Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election, Trump’s tax returns and possible conflicts of interest involving the Trump family business and policy-making. The House oversight committee, for instance, has set a deadline for today for the White House to turn over documents related to security clearances after The New York Times reported that the president ordered officials to grant his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s clearance over the objections of national security officials.

Nadler’s added lines of inquiry also come as special counsel Robert Mueller is believed to be wrapping up his work into possible questions of Trump campaign collusion and obstruction in the Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. In his testimony, Cohen acknowledged he did not witness or know directly of collusion between Trump aides and Russia but had his “suspicions.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Sunday accused House Democrats of prejudging Trump as part of a query based purely on partisan politics.

“I think Congressman Nadler decided to impeach the president the day the president won the election,” McCarthy said. “Listen to exactly what he said. He talks about impeachment before he even became chairman and then he says, ‘you’ve got to persuade people to get there.’ There’s nothing that the president did wrong.”

“Show me where the president did anything to be impeached ... Nadler is setting the framework now that the Democrats are not to believe the Mueller report,” he said.

Nadler said Sunday his committee will seek to review the Mueller report but stressed the investigation “goes far beyond collusion.”

He pointed to what he considered several instances of obstruction of justice by the president, including the “1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a ‘witch hunt’” as well as Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey in 2017. According to Comey, Trump had encouraged the then-FBI director to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump has denied he told Comey to end the Flynn probe.

“It’s very clear that the president obstructed justice,” Nadler said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has kept calls for impeachment at bay by insisting that Mueller first must be allowed to finish his work, and present his findings publicly — though it’s unclear whether the White House will allow its full release.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House intelligence committee, on Sunday also stressed that it’s too early to make judgments about impeachment.

“That is something that we will have to await Bob Mueller’s report and the underlying evidence to determine. We will also have to look at the whole body of improper and criminal actions by the president including those campaign finance crimes to determine whether they rise to the level of removal from office,” Schiff said.

Nadler and McCarthy spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” and Schiff appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”