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ID- State AG concludes jailer committed suicide

4-16-2006 Idaho:

Investigation reveals inappropriate behavior with female inmates

The Idaho attorney general's office has concluded that former Blaine County jailer Michael Lance was "engaged in inappropriate behavior" with female inmates prior to committing suicide in August 2005.

In a letter dated Thursday to Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas, Deputy Attorney General Stephen Bywater wrote that the investigation was unable to determine if Lance had sex with former inmate Gretchen Biddle, who had alleged sexual contact with Lance in the Blaine County Jail in June and July 2005.

"Our investigation into the allegations of inappropriate sexual contact between Michael Lance and Ms. Biddle was unable to establish definitively whether or not Mr. Lance engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with Ms. Biddle," Bywater wrote. "It did reveal substantial evidence, however, that Mr. Lance engaged in inappropriate behavior with this and other female inmates of Blaine County."

Prior to his death, Lance's conduct was under investigation by the Magic Valley Critical Incident Task Force, an eight-county cooperative that assists law enforcement agencies with internal investigations.

The attorney general's office further concluded that Lance died from "a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head." His body was found Aug. 25, 2005, on a hill above Water Gulch Ranch, east of the Woodside area of Hailey.

Lance, who lived in Hailey, was 47. He had worked for the Blaine County Sheriff's Office for nearly 11 years.

The investigation into Lance's conduct did not involve convicted Bellevue murder Sarah M. Johnson, who alleged she was raped in the Blaine County Jail in 2004. Results of a lengthy investigation into her allegations were released Monday. Blaine County authorities concluded that Johnson lied.

The attorney general's office informed Thomas that it will take no further action in the Lance case. The investigation was requested by Thomas in September.

Neither Thomas nor Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling could be reached for comment. ..Source.. by TERRY SMITH, Express Staff Writer

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