Minutes after an Ada County jury returned a verdict in a history-making whistleblower trial, Detective Brandon Eller turned to wife, Kristi, took a deep breath and said, "I think we need to go home and tell the kids."
Eller, the whistleblower and a veteran of the Idaho State Police, had just emerged victorious in a years-long battle with his superiors, in which he alleged retaliation for his refusal to change professional conclusions in a fatal crash. Eller joined ISP in 1997 and rose through the ranks to become a recognized and decorated policeman who went "above and beyond normal duty." In 2012, however, Eller was labeled a "disgruntled employee," denied a pay increase and relegated to night and weekend shifts after he faulted a then-Payette County Sheriff's deputy for recklessness in an October 2011 fatal car crash. Eller said some of the highest-ranking officers at ISP were responsible for his downfall.
In the early evening hours of Aug.29, a 12-person Ada County jury agreed, awarding $30,500 in lost wages and $1.5 million in damages.
"That $1.5 million? That was totally up to the jury. It was up to them to decide how much Brandon had gone through and how much he had suffered," said Eller's attorney, Erika Birch, of Strindberg & Scholnick, LLC. "Honestly, I think he was overwhelmed by the verdict. I'm sure he had a great sense of relief. I think it will take a while to process through it all, but I'm super proud of him."
Birch said the most impressive part of Eller's search for justice was his tenacity.
"This has been a very, very long, hard process. His courage and strength to stick through this whole thing has been really something," said Birch. "We have to rely on good, honest, courageous people who stand up in whistleblower cases such as this. Sometimes their fight is the only thing that will let us see the light of day."
In response to the jury decision, ISP Director Lt. Col. Kedrick "Ked" Wills wrote in a statement his agency was disappointed in the outcome, "but we respect the legal process and the rights of our employees to pursue their legal rights."