Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and his department hide behind a shroud of secrecy that even a former chief recently criticized as "not satisfactory." That shroud continues to enable the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) personnel to use excessive force including lethal force against people of color, immigrants, the disabled, and even unarmed children. The SLCPD claims that officers involved in such incidents are investigated, but the investigations lack transparency, the results are not fully shared with the public, and at times they even protect the names of bad officers from public scrutiny. There have been three notable high profile incidents this year alone that illustrate our points.
In May, 22 year old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was shot and killed by SLCPD Officers Kevin Fortuna and Neil Iversen. In their defense Palacios-Carbajal did have a gun, but he was shot in the back running away. We have the right to bear arms in this country and a trained police officer should be able to tell the difference between an armed man running away and an armed man attacking. It is not sufficient to simply say that he was armed and not following their directions to justify shooting him. Such claims would justify shooting any deaf person with a gun for not dropping it when asked. None of the body cam footage released so far shows Palacios-Carbajal attempting to harm the officers. The body cam footage that we have seen clearly shows Palacios-Carbajal trying to run away and we can see no reason why his killers could not have used less than lethal force (see video below). District Attorney Sim Gill concluded that the shooting was justified under Utah law because under Utah law an officer can legally use lethal force if they think a suspect poses a risk to their safety (https://kutv.com/news/local/shooting-of-bernardo-palacios-ruled-justified-by-salt-lake-county-da-07-09-2020) and apparently just having a gun is enough in his opinion.
Last month, SLCPD finally released body cam footage of their attack on a 36 year old black man named Jeffery Ryans or Jeffrey Ryans back in April. In that incident Officer Nickolas Pearce set his attack dog on Ryans after Ryans was on one knee with his hands in the air and continued to permit his dog to bite his leg after he was on the ground in handcuffs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzTIecEIQXM). Officer Pearce was suspended and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall suspended the use of police dogs (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/13/us/salt-lake-city-police-dog.html). We are not sure how long Pearce's suspension was. Ryans is now suing Salt Lake City for excessive force.
Last week, an unidentified officer shot an unarmed autistic child several times just for running away during a mental health crisis. 13 year old Linden Cameron's mother called 911 trying to get help for her son because she thought he might need to be taken to a psychiatric hospital. When police arrived she told them that he was unarmed and has autism, but he fled when approached. We are not aware of any attempt by the officers to gain his compliance besides verbal commands, a threatening presence, and a foot pursuit before they opened fire. We can think of nothing that an autistic child or any child could do to justify a police shooting short of pointing a gun at an officer (https://copblaster.com/blast/25958/whos-the-salt-lake-city-officer-that-shot-13-year-old-linden-cameron).
The 76-2-404 governs use of force by law enforcement (https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title76/Chapter2/76-2-S404.html). The statute reads as follows:
76-2-404. Peace officer's use of deadly force.
(1)A peace officer, or any person acting by the officer's command in providing aid and assistance, is justified in using deadly force when:
(a)the officer is acting in obedience to and in accordance with the judgment of a competent court in executing a penalty of death under Subsection 77-18-5.5(2), (3), or (4);
(b)effecting an arrest or preventing an escape from custody following an arrest, where the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by escape; and
(i)the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a felony offense involving the infliction or threatened infliction of death or serious bodily injury; or
(ii)the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect poses a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to others if apprehension is delayed; or
(c)the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.
(2)If feasible, a verbal warning should be given by the officer prior to any use of deadly force under Subsection (1)(b) or (1)(c).
We can think of nothing little Linden is accused of that would fit the above statute. He was not sentenced to death, he was not physically capable of outrunning a police officer, no cause existed to believe that he had committed a felony, there was no cause to believe that he posed a threat of serious bodily injury to others if apprehension was delayed, and no reasonable officer could have believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.
Despite there being no legal justification for the shooting of Linden Cameron, Chief Brown's department has not released the name of the shooter, has not announced any sort is disciplinary action being taken against the officer despite a week having passed, and will not talk about the investigation beyond calling the shooting a "tragic tragic event" citing Sam Gill's pending investigation as why he cannot discuss the details with the public (https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/9/11/21431786/salt-lake-police-chief-emotional-officer-shooting-13-year-old-autistic-boy). His comments were immediately contradicted by former Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank. Burbank told a local radio show:
"This is the mistake being made across the country time and time again. The nation has stood up and said, we have a problem and we need to discuss this. And the response from policing locally and across the nation is, Well, were going to talk about it, investigate it, and well tell you about it later. That is not satisfactory." former Chief Chris Burbank
Closed door investigations such as the ones in Salt Lake City are designed to enable bad officers. Those conducting them always begin the investigation with the primary objective of justifying the officer's actions. Only when the public sees undeniable evidence of wrongdoing do investigators finally decide that somebody needs to be thrown under the bus. Shrouds of secrecy such as this are basically dog whistles calling bad cops looking to do bad things. They send a message that unless undeniable video evidence appears on the news that they can do what they want. The SLCPD is clearly a dirty organization and the people of Salt Lake City are in desperate need of transparency.
Public records contain the following information about Chief Brown:
MICHAEL REID BROWN
Last Known Address:
2290 E BONAIR ST, SALT LAKE CITY, UT 84117-6215
We are willing to remove this address if Chief Brown releases the name of Linden Cameron's shooter. Until then we ask that people only use this information for non-violent purposes such as peaceful picketing or writing non-threatening letters. Please do not harm any people or property.