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Pierce Murphy


The closest thing to a resolution to the 2004 police shooting of Matthew Jones came last week when Boise City Ombudsman Pierce Murphy released his 60-page report about the event. The report, which is available at, also contains a response from Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, who disputes Murphy's conclusions about violation of city policy regarding the use of force. Murphy reports directly to the mayor and City Council in his investigation of police misconduct allegations. BW sat down with Murphy and found that the soft-spoken former police officer studied for the priesthood, but finds that his studies of philosophy are his greatest asset.

I would think the ombudsman is a pretty lonely position.

That's true. Intentionally, by structure, it's an isolated or independent position.

How are you received when you show up at a crime scene? Are regular police officers used to you now?

I think that's true. And I can't speak for everyone. The first one [was] in 2000, when an individual was shot and killed at the corner of Franklin and Cole. The officers were a little less than eager. It was awkward for everyone. I would say it's at the point now where, yes, they expect me. My role is clearly defined. I have no complaints about what happens at the scene; we all have a job to do.

With all the stuff out there about this incident, was there ever a point where you thought this report wasn't worth doing, after everything else that was out there?

Not for a moment.

Did anybody ever question you in that regard?

The only questioning I've ever gotten along the way was, why is it taking so long? I'm open to that criticism. I always wish I could do it faster than I can. But here's the calculus I make: I have to balance speed against thoroughness. An ombudsman is a unique kind of animal. I feel that time is not of the essence. It's not totally disregarded, but it's really not of the essence. What's at the essence is a complete, thorough, objective investigation, with well-thought-out findings and recommendations. I will always sacrifice timeliness in order to accomplish those other goals because I think they're paramount. I fully recognize that the time is hard on people and the community. I feel sorry for that. I always try to get it done as quickly as I can. Also, I got the last document on Friday [July 7].

What in your background do you feel has prepared you for this better than anything else?

If I had to pick one, it would be the two years of graduate studies in philosophy. I spent four years as a member of a Catholic religious order, the Jesuits. I was studying for the priesthood. I already had my undergraduate degree, from Santa Clara [University]. They sent me up to Spokane to study, as part of the course heading towards ordination, to do graduate work in philosophy.

All that reasoning and that questioning, and getting that argument right, and being able to express it in writing, that probably more than anything else has served me in this job.

It seems that you have to be a detective, but also a bit of a counselor.

I stayed at Gonzaga [University] and did not get the master's in philosophy because I decided to leave the religious order. I stayed on, and decided to matriculate over into the counseling side and got a master's in counseling [psychology]. So yes, I certainly use those skills, of listening and counseling, in essence.

What about the notion of being a detective?

There's no question this is detective work. But it's not a crime detective. The analogy that fits best to the criminal world would be white-collar investigations. There's a heavy reliance on documentary evidence. Although, this is the first case that afforded me the opportunity to get involved in actual forensic work with actual physical evidence. That was fascinating for me. But most of the time, it's reviewing the forensic work of others. Interviews, a heavy reliance on interviews.

How many interviews did you do for this?

Roughly a dozen or so. Pretty intense interviews, some of them. I interviewed [Matthew Jones' father] two days after the event, at his request. I don't normally interview involved parties or witnesses until the criminal investigation is completed. But, from time to time, an involved person will seek me out and say, 'I want to make a statement to you.' And from time to time, we accommodate that and in this case, I did.

Was there any anxiety about interviewing the father so close to the incident?

I wasn't anxious about it. I made sure that he'd already been interviewed by the criminal investigators and that that process was finished. If it was important enough for him, then I felt it was important for me to accommodate that. And it was very, very valuable.

In a situation like this, where the father was so involved in the event, is there a question in your mind as to how you're going to use that testimony?

No. First of all, as "detective," as an investigator, anything a party to an incident, whether they're an actor or a witness, anything they have to say could be valuable. So I welcome the opportunity to listen to whatever that person has to say.

I try to use all the skill I can to ask questions and make comments during an interview that invite and enable a person to tell me everything they recall, and everything they know, and even how they feel or how they felt about directing, influencing and editing. It's very difficult to ask questions in a way to accomplish that without influencing what a person says.

Every time I interview somebody, they say things that are superfluous. But they aren't to them. And I've had many instances where I've gone back and listened to the recording of my interview, and the lightbulb comes on. And I'll say, 'At the time, I didn't think that was important.' And I'll have to go back to the person and say, 'Let's talk more about that.'

Do you think you'll do this job for a while longer?

I sure hope so.

I wonder what you'd tell someone who might succeed you.

I would say, be thorough. Be objective. Be reasonable. And most importantly, in your findings and opinions and recommendations, give no thought or pay no attention to how others may react. Instead, consider how you will react when you look yourself in the mirror.