Criminal investigation reopened for ex-Cottonwood Heights officer in 2018 shooting
SALT LAKE CITY – Prosecutors are reopening their investigation into the 2018 Cottonwood Heights police shooting of a 19-year-old man who later died, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill confirmed Thursday.
Gill decided not to file criminal charges against officer Casey Davies more than three years ago, concluding the officer was justified in using deadly force on Zane Anthony James because Davies feared he was in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
But new information has surfaced as James’ family has raised concerns and Cottonwood Heights police have details to share, Gill said.
The district attorney has reviewed more than 100 cases of deadly force by police during 11 years as top Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor, but this is the first time he’s reexamined one of those decisions, he added.
“We’re in the process of gathering and digesting,” Gill said. “This has really, certainly risen to a point where we want to make sure that we reevaluate everything.”
The move follows new developments tied to a a civil lawsuit James’ family filed against Cottonwood Heights and the officer. James, who police had suspected of two armed robberies, was taken off life support after he was shot twice in his neighborhood.
His family contends Davies used his patrol car to hit James, who was traveling on a dirt bike, on May 29, 2018, but they say the Cottonwood Heights police omitted that detail in its statements to the press and public. They also say the department failed to correct its incorrect assertion in the days after the shooting that Davies was on his way to work and had not had a chance to pick up his body camera.
“My clients have always known the investigation was not complete,” said attorney Sam Meziani, who represents Aaron and Tiffany James. “My clients have always believed Cottonwood Heights has not been forthright and honest.”
A lawyer representing Cottonwood Heights in the family’s federal civil lawsuit says the city stands behind its former officer and is aware of the reopened review.
“The city continues to maintain that Officer Davies used legal force in shooting Zane James,” attorney Heather White told KSL in a statement. “The city stands behind its officers’ actions relating to the shooting and will continue to defend them against the James family’s claims.”
White has previously said the city is not withholding information or misrepresenting what happened. Rather, she told KSL last year that one discrepancy was due to an oversight and another was tied to the early release of information based on the observation of a single officer.
Davies’ attorney Jeremy Jones declined to talk about specifics, saying he hadn’t seen the updated documents and had not yet heard from Gill’s office. But he said he doesn’t expect the district attorney to reach a different conclusion.
“I don’t have any expectation that anything will turn out differently,” he said.
James’ parents contend the information about the crash and body camera was revealed in a statement officer Casey Davies gave in an internal police department review. Prosecutors are prohibited from considering the interview against the officer under a 1967 court decision. The ruling said officers have a Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify in criminal cases, but police departments can question them as part of internal reviews.
However, Cottonwood Heights police added the details about the car crash and body camera in an update last week to the 2018 police report on the shooting. Gill is not precluded from considering the report like he is the internal statement, but he wouldn’t talk to KSL about specifics.
“On its face right now, it raises certain concerns that we need to settle. Or rule out. Or give legs to,” Gill said. “It would be premature for me to prejudge this.”
A Feb. 8 update to the police report says a Cottonwood Heights sergeant was preparing for a deposition in the civil case and told a supervisor about a short conversation he’d had with Davies at the scene of the shooting.
Davies “made a comment about being at CHPD in the locker room, getting dressed for duty, and he ran out to assist. He said he forgot his body worn camera,” the report states. “Officer Davies also commented about bumping the motorcycle with his police vehicle and the suspect reaching in his waistband.”
Lt. Dan Bartlett noted in the Feb. 8 police report that he requested Salt Lake police reopen their investigation and also told Gill’s office.
“It’s unfortunate for my clients that they’ve had to go through the civil discovery process to actually get the facts they should have been released early on,” Meziani said.
He notes Davies previously faced discipline for violating the department’s policy.
In 2015 Davies faced a four-hour suspension for violating department policy by using a “pit maneuver” (intentionally bumping another car during a chase) after tailing a suspect’s vehicle through a parking lot and onto a road, according to documents Meziani provided to KSL.
“Officer Davies failed to objectively and continuously weigh the seriousness of the offense against the potential danger to innocent motorists and members of the public when he elected to pursue the suspect,” the disciplinary report states.
In 2017, while apprehending a suspect who resisted arrest, Davies “used closed-hand blows as well as impact weapons strikes” and his body camera was knocked off, but it wasn’t activated beforehand, the document says. He was given a verbal warning. Utah law require officers to turn on the cameras before an encounter with someone “or as soon as reasonably possible.”
A pending bill at the Utah Legislature, HB399, would restrict the public’s access to police or other public employees’ statements in internal investigations, like the one Davies gave to Cottonwood Heights after the shooting.
The measure, sponsored Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, is scheduled for debate Friday morning in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.
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