A judge’s ruling this week brings the family of a Coeur d’Alene High School athlete who drowned in Lake Coeur d’Alene a step closer to closure.
First District Judge Rich Christensen ordered the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office to turn over to the family of Reginald J. Nault all the evidence it gathered in its investigation of the 16-year-old’s drowning death two years ago.
The order is in response to a lawsuit filed by Brandi Jones, Nault’s mother, and his sister, Dasha Drahos. They were seeking information from the sheriff’s office, which in the past refused to provide to the family evidence including unredacted reports, video and photographs of the events surrounding Nault’s death.
“This ruling will help us better understand this tragedy,” plaintiff attorney Lee James said. “And provide closure to the family.”
In his ruling this week, Christensen ordered the county and Sheriff’s Office to turn over all the evidence within 14 days. ALL was capitalized in Christensen’s order.
In the past, when the family asked for Sheriff’s Office reports, a large portion of the reports, including names and ages of juveniles and the names of adults who were either with Nault when he drowned or saw him on the day of his drowning, were redacted, meaning blacked out. Family members who sought to piece together what happened to their son and brother on a summer day two years ago were twice denied unredacted reports.
Christensen ordered that the reports submitted to family members not be redacted. He also ordered the Sheriff’s Office and county to turn over cellphone records of everyone who was with Nault when he drowned, video DVDs of interviews of the people involved, SnapChat records, names and contact information of witnesses, any photographs generated in the investigation, the names of people suspected of giving the teenagers alcohol, 911 audio and all the investigators’ notes.
Nault, a former Coeur d’Alene High School athlete, drowned July 21, 2015, in Lake Coeur d’Alene after reportedly falling or jumping from a moving 23-foot Cobalt boat while on an outing with two of his 16-year-old friends. His body was recovered two weeks later from more than 120 feet of water near Arrow Point at the lake’s north end.
No charges were filed by the Sheriff’s Office.
Darrin Murphey, the civil deputy prosecutor who represented the county, told the court the Sheriff’s Office redacted names, photographs, cellphone and text message records, video and audio interviews because in unredacted form “(they) would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” according to court records.
“The sheriff is in a difficult situation,” Murphey wrote. “On the one hand if he produces records in which a third party has a right to privacy, he may have liability under federal law.”
But after the judge’s order was filed, Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said he would comply.
By press time, family members had not returned phone calls or emails asking for comment.
James said he may file suit on behalf of the family against anyone deemed responsible for Nault’s death.
“This is a case where there was alcohol, underage kids and a fast boat on a lake, and that’s a dangerous recipe,” James said. “Knowing what contributed to that recipe, that’s part of the closure … knowing if there are people responsible for Reggie’s death.”
The cause of death, according to an autopsy, was asphyxia due to freshwater drowning. The report showed alcohol intoxication was a condition related to Nault’s accidental death, according to a coroner’s report.