SLCo DA: Use of force not justified in collision with teen, no criminal charges

May 27, 2022, 4:03 PM | Updated: 4:46 pm
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill determined Cottonwood Heights officer Casey Davis was j...
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill determined Cottonwood Heights officer Casey Davis was justified in shooting 19-year-old Zane James. In light of this new information, he’s reexamining the Casey Davis.

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced that based on new evidence, the use of deadly force by vehicle in a collision between an officer and Zane James in 2018 was not justified. However, Officer Casey Davies will not be criminally charged.

The 19-year-old, killed by a police officer in Cottonwood Heights on May 29, 2018, caused protests and an outcry that police were not forthcoming with evidence in the case.

The investigation into the officer’s deadly use of force was recently reopened by the District Attorney in February. 

A five-page letter explains that there was an original investigation into the fatal shooting of James, but there was never an investigation into the use of force by vehicle: of the collision between Davies’ vehicle and James’ motorcycle.

The letter states, “Following a legal review of the shooting, on Oct. 18, 2018, the DA’s office issued a letter outlining its decision not to charge Officer Davies for a criminal offense related to the shooting.”

However, the letter goes on to explain that in the months and years that followed, they “met with and received information from the James family and their counsel” in a lawsuit they had filed over the shooting, the collision, and other related matters.

The family presented new evidence from their research behind the lawsuit including the GPS tracking of location and speeds of Davies’ patrol vehicle that morning and interviews from witnesses of the collision.

According to this letter, one witness stated she, “saw a wrecked motorcycle,” and  saw James “limping away, crouched over as if injured by the motorcycle crash.”

The letter from Oct. 18, 2018 did not address the collision because “the investigative task force did not present any evidence to our office to allege or support such a scenario.”

While the James family had long supported the scenario of Davies hitting James’ motorcycle with his police car, it wasn’t until March of 2022 that “potentially admissible evidence to support such a claim came to light.”

Apparently a short time after the shooting, Davies commented to CHPD Sgt. Dailey, that he, Officer Davies, hit James motorcycle with his patrol car.

According to the letter, upon learning this information, an investigation into the use of force was reopened.

The witness quoted above and only witness that has said they saw the collision occur, did not return phonecalls and requests for comment back in 2018. Other witnesses saw the motorcycle go down but did not see the collision occur.

Davies refused to comment on the case and his actions in hitting the motorcycle per his right under the fifth amendment.

The investigation concludes that the evidence provided does not show that “James posed a threat of death or serious bodily injury to Officer Davies or others at the time of the alleged contact with his motorcycle.”

However, the letter explains, “the evidence of which we’re aware doesn’t eliminate the possibility that Officer Davies did not intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly hit Mr. James’ motorcycle with his police vehicle.”

For instance, the collision could have been an unintentional or inadvertent collision, and Davies’ statement about hitting the motorcycle would not be inconsistent with an unintentional collision. Without the ability to prove the mental state of Davies at the time of the collision, it’s difficult to file criminal charges.

A statement from the James family’s attorney, Sam Meziani, states:

“The District Attorney’s findings vindicate Zane James. The D.A. correctly concluded Davies was not justified in using deadly force when he crashed into Zane. Although the D.A. determined he did not have evidence to meet the very high criminal standard to prove the car crash was intentional, the D.A. did not have, and could not use, Davies’ Garrity statement. (A Garrity statement is a police officer’s statement of what occurred in an investigated event). In the civil case brought by the family against Cottonwood Heights, the court has already ruled that Davies’ own statements contained in the Garrity statement are admissible.

The public has yet to hear the complete story of Davies’ actions in crashing into Zane James, and then fatally shooting him in the back on May 28, 2018. We look forward to the day we will present all the facts to a jury of citizens.”

A release from the District Attorney concludes, “After determining the facts do not support the affirmative legal defense of justification, we reviewed the evidence and considered whether Officer Davies should be charged criminally for his use of deadly force. We determined we lacked proof of all the elements of a criminal charge. We also determined we lacked sufficient quantity and quality of evidence to support each element of a criminal charge. Therefore, consistent with the legal and ethical obligations to satisfy our burden of proof (which legal and ethical obligation govern our ability to file a criminal case) we declined to file charges against the officer as explained in the attached letter.”

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SLCo DA: Use of force not justified in collision with teen, no criminal charges