Prosecutor who declined to charge officers proposes reforms
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah prosecutor who cleared two officers in the shooting death of an armed man has released a list of proposed deadly force policy reforms that he says would better allow officers to be held accountable.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill released 22 recommendations on Monday that include holding officers to a higher standard for using deadly force as self defense, requiring deescalation tactics and mandating implicit bias training.
Several states, including New Mexico and Colorado, have approved police accountability legislation in recent weeks that included limiting use of force.
Utah lawmakers voted last month to ban knee-to-neck chokeholds similar to the one used in the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and have promised additional reforms.
“The time has come to re-examine and, we hope, re-set the balance of justice in this state and in this country,” Gill, a Democrat, said. “Put another way, if we want different outcomes, we need different laws.”
Gill’s announcement came days after he said police acted legally in May when they fired more than 30 times at Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, 22, because he had repeatedly dropped and picked up a gun while running away. The district attorney said he was unable to pursue prosecution because the law protects officers if they fear that they or someone else are at risk.
Gill’s decision to clear the officers prompted protests that resulted in an officer being injured. Demonstrators have chanted Palacios-Carbajal’s name, posted fliers calling for justice and painted the street outside Gill’s office red to symbolize blood.
Lex Scott, who leads Black Lives Matter Utah, rejected Gill’s argument for not filing charges and said his recommendations reflect a pattern deflecting responsibility by not charging officers who use deadly force.
“Sim Gill allows police to kill us,” Scott said. “And by him allowing them to kill us, he is empowering more officers to kill us.”
Scott said she did support some of the proposed policies like eliminating qualified immunity and requiring an oral warning before using deadly force, but she characterized Gill’s memo as “too little too late”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she appreciated Gill’s assessment and plans to discuss the proposals with the city’s racial equity commission and law enforcement officers.
Several advocacy groups said the proposed policies are an encouraging first step but more would need to be done to address police brutality.
“Ultimately, we believe that police reform should not stop at addressing use of deadly force, but that we must make broader changes to ensure equity in policing in all aspects,” said John Mejia, legal director for the the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
Molly Davis, a policy analyst with the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute group, said Gill’s proposed reforms could “lessen the roadblocks” prosecutors currently face when investigating officers who use deadly force.
“Using ‘I was scared for my life’ as a legal defense for an officer employing deadly force should not be a justified standard,” she said. “But currently, this is what state law allows.”
Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.