Bingham County deputy shot on duty gets warm welcome home from hospital
The Bingham County Sheriff’s deputy who was allegedly shot Friday night while confronting a suspect was escorted home by a motorcade of law enforcement officials from several Southeast Idaho counties after his release from hospital care Monday afternoon.
In the few days since the shooting, the outpouring of support for Sgt. Todd Howell, an 18-year veteran of the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office, has been tremendous, coming from his peers in law enforcement and from members of the community, too, said Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland.
“We had a woman come in today who didn’t even know Todd. I think her husband was in law enforcement, but she dropped a card off for him, which was really nice,” Rowland said. “And what I have seen on social media has been really positive. You see these positive comments and receive these phone calls from other sheriffs and chiefs of police even and it’s really encouraging to me to know that we are not alone.”
The police motorcade featured several law enforcement agencies including, among others, members of the Bonneville, Madison, Franklin, Bingham and Bannock county sheriff’s offices, Rowland added.
The motorcade escorted Howell from Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls — where Howell was transported on Friday and underwent surgery for the bullet wound to his left side — down Highway 91 through Firth, where the shooting occurred, to his Blackfoot home, said KaeLoni Boyd, the wife of fellow Bingham County Sheriff’s deputy Jeff Boyd.
KaeLoni and her family were among the throngs of supporters lining the streets in Firth with signs of encouragement as the motorcade passed through on Monday evening.
“The community of Firth is very thankful for the job our law enforcement does and the way they handled such a horrible incident in our small town,” KaeLoni Boyd said. “So, we got together and lined the highway in support. We are just so happy Sgt. Howell is home and doing well.”
Howell was allegedly shot by Juan Santos-Quintero Jr., 22, of Idaho Falls, a suspect wanted in connection to a string of armed robberies and shots-fired incidents in Bonneville and Bingham counties.
The incident began to unfold when Howell and two other Bingham County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a residence near 700 North 600 East in Firth at about 7 p.m. Friday. Authorities say they received a call of a person driving down the road while firing a gun out of the car window.
The three deputies were requesting the occupants of the home to exit the residence when Santos-Quintero allegedly shot Howell, Rowland said in a Saturday press release. Howell was hit on the left side of his torso and was wearing body armor at the time of the shooting. Rowland would not comment on if the bullet hit the body armor first before wounding the deputy.
After he was struck by the gunfire, Howell and the other two deputies returned fire. Santos-Quintero was not struck by the officer’s gunfire and retreated into the residence. The Bonneville County Special Weapons and Tactics and the regional STAR, or Special Tactics and Rescue, teams were called to the location and established a police perimeter around the home.
Rowland told the Journal on Monday that the incident occurred in a residential area less than a hundred feet away from A.W. Johnson Elementary School where a high school soccer match was underway. Players, coaches and spectators rushed to the safety of nearby homes, with some barricading themselves in basements to hide from the barrage of gunfire, the Rexburg Standard Journal reported on Friday.
After more than two hours of negotiation, Santos-Quintero surrendered to law enforcement without further incident at about 9:30 p.m. and was taken into custody. Santos-Quintero is currently incarcerated at the the Bonneville County Jail.
Rowland said charges against Santos-Quintero will likely be announced on Tuesday. Santos-Quintero will likely face charges in both Bonneville and Bingham counties, he added.
Sgt. Bryan Lovell of the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office told the Journal on Monday that Santos-Quintero was wanted in connection to an armed robbery in the parking lot of the Panda Express near the Walmart in Ammon on Sept. 16, and to the armed robbery of a Common Cents convenience store in Idaho Falls on Thursday night. Earlier Friday morning, Bonneville County issued a press release alerting the public to Santos-Quintero and describing him as armed and dangerous.
Santos-Quintero has a lengthy criminal record including a felony drug conviction in Teton County in 2014, a misdemeanor drug conviction in Bonneville County in 2017 and he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit in 2014, but the case was dismissed by state prosecutors.
Rowland told the Journal on Monday that several of the deputies who responded to the residence were wearing body cameras and that they were engaged. Howell is one of 26 Bingham County Sheriff’s deputies, Rowland said, adding that he and Howell were very close.
“I hired this kid, I promoted him and I’ve known him for over 20 years,” Rowland said. “We are pretty close. He’s always the first one to say he’s available to help. It doesn’t even matter if it’s his day off, he goes to community events, school events, you name it. All I have to do is ask and he never hesitates to do it.”
The incident is being investigated by the East Idaho Critical Incident Team — a multi-law enforcement agency task force that investigates incidents in which shots are fired — by suspects as well as police officers — to determine if officers acted properly and if anything can be done to improve officer safety in the future.
In addition to deputies and other personnel at the scene, Rowland said several members of various law enforcement agencies came together in a group effort on Friday after Howell was shot.
“It’s hard when you are in charge of an organization and people are getting pulled in several directions,” Rowland said about the circumstances on Friday night. “But we have competent employees who stepped up to the plate that night.”
Sgt. Lovell echoed Rowland’s sentiments.
”It’s a tense situation, but our training and the boundaries of the law we work within is to stop the threat and to keep things from escalating,” Lovell said. “It adds to that stress when you have a brother who was injured. Getting him to the hospital to get medical care while others work together to make sure this guy doesn’t get away to hurt more people was crucial.”
Lovell continued, “The goal was to keep this in a tight space and to keep this from escalating. There was stuff going on right near this residence and they did a great job working together and negotiating. This was a peaceful outcome and a true coordinated effort.”