Cases on the clock: KSL Investigates lengthy delays in SL County’s police use of force decisions

Feb 19, 2024, 10:40 PM | Updated: Feb 20, 2024, 9:25 am

SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor is not apologizing for what he says he’s doing right or what critics on multiple sides say he’s getting wrong.

It now takes more than a year on average for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether police shootings and other types of force are legally justified, according to an analysis by the KSL Investigators. That’s about six times longer than a decade ago.

“I’m not going to apologize for the professionalism and the thoroughness,” said District Attorney Sim Gill.

While Gill stands behind his approach, the delay comes at a cost, according to both law enforcers and the families of those injured or killed by police. These groups agree that after officers use lethal force, Gill’s office takes too long to either charge or clear them.

“You don’t know what they’re going to do. It’s so hard,” said Penny Belgard, whose son Cody, a local rapper, was shot and killed by Salt Lake City police in November 2018.

Belgard said she felt like she was in the dark for the roughly six months she waited for Gill’s determination the following May of no criminal charges.

“You don’t know what’s going on because they don’t let you know,” she said. “So, you don’t know whether to go get a lawyer. You don’t know what to do. What do you do?”

Linden Cameron was 13 when his mother called Salt Lake City police in 2020 and asked them to bring him to a hospital because he was in crisis. Within 20 minutes, the boy was shot and badly wounded.

“He is so fearful,” his mother Golda Barton said of her son. “He’s just scared.” Gill’s decision in that case took nearly three years.

“This was an avoidable shooting,” Gill told reporters in August. He found the shooting not legally justified but said he would not file criminal charges against the officer.

If the DA’s office had taken the case to court, Barton said it would have made the wait worthwhile.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says during an interview with the KSL Investigators that he stands by his process for evaluating police use of force. (KSL TV)

“They could have come out with that like in a month and not made us wait and wait and wait and wait for healing that never comes,” Barton said. “If you’re just going to play both sides, just get it over with. Rip it off like a Band-Aid. Don’t screw around.”

It’s not just families who feel the impact of the lengthy wait. Police are frustrated, too.

“This is hanging over those officers’ heads for years,” said attorney Jeremy Jones, who’s represented many officers at the center of these investigations.

As these investigations stretch on, he says agencies can no longer afford to keep these officers on leave pending a decision, meaning they could be back on the job months or even years before the public and the officers themselves learn whether they could face prison time.

Jones said these are the people we trust to protect and serve the public, so, it’s important to know if they’re using force properly.

“If they’re not, we need to know that right away,” he said. “We as members of the public have a right to know expeditiously how officers are deploying deadly force in our communities.”

Gill and other county attorneys throughout Utah are required by law to review these officer-involved critical incidents, which include not just shootings but also police car crashes that kill or injure someone, deaths of those in police custody, or as a result of an officer’s attempt to prevent their escape.

In the last 10 years, Salt Lake County prosecutors have reviewed 132 of these cases.

Decisions in 2013 took about two months from the date of the incident to the day of his ruling. The average is now 14 months. Some take much longer.

The timelines started creeping up in 2018 as police shootings spiked, but the wait time continued to expand even after the number of cases dipped down.

About a dozen cases are still under review by Gill’s office – the oldest from two years ago. Under Utah law, Gill and other county attorneys must make a decision within 180 days or tell the public why they need more time.

Gill stands by his process.

He said an average case takes 80 to 100 hours of employee work. But why do those hours translate to years?

This careful work takes time, Gill said, noting he typically holds news conferences to explain his decision and his reports contain extensive detail.

“Our argument can’t be, ‘Well, because I had 20 hours of video to look at, I’m sorry, I missed that 15 seconds,’” Gill said.

Of the more than 120 attorneys who work in Gill’s office, only one is assigned to work on these cases full-time, assisted by an investigator. A high-ranking attorney oversees the process, and then a panel of mostly veteran lawyers in the office reviews the case.

For these reviews, he’s gotten outside opinions at times. After one fatal shooting in 2018, his office made the case for a grand jury that ultimately did not indict police in one case that took about four years.

Gill said as the clock’s ticking, he’s aware of the cost to families, police and the wider community.

“I would much rather be thorough than be expedient,” Gill said.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

KSL 5 TV Live

KSL Investigates

You’ve likely noticed a growing number of businesses that have gone completely cashless. When it ...

Matt Gephardt

Businesses are passing their credit card fees onto customers, what can you do?

You’ve likely noticed a growing number of businesses that have gone completely cashless. When it comes time to pay, it’ll involve a tap, swipe or maybe a click on an app. It's a phenomenon that is contributing to the price we pay for goods and services.

5 hours ago

Summer travel is about to take flight. That means a whole lot of points and miles being used and ea...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Thieves are going after your frequent flier mileage: how you can safeguard those miles and points

Summer travel is about to take flight. That means a whole lot of points and miles being used and earned, and cybercriminals know it.

1 day ago

Peggy Lundberg tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt about her experience of having her travel credit stolen....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Thieves stealing airline travel credits: How you can protect them

If someone steals your credit card or hacks into your bank account, federal law says you should get most of your money back. But what protections do you have when someone steals your airline travel credits?

2 days ago

Matt Gephardt looking over the CarShield documents for Scott Dumas....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

West Haven man says extended auto warranty refuses to cover costly engine repair

Many drivers buy an extended auto warranty to help keep their car on the road, but when the extended warranty a West Haven man bought refused to cover replacing an engine, he decided to Get Gephardt.

6 days ago

Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...

Matt Gephardt

How hoarding documents puts you at risk for identity theft

Someone who knows what they’re doing can do a whole lot of damage with the scraps of paper you’ve stashed in filing cabinets, drawers and other various hiding places around your house.

7 days ago

IOC excludes Russian and Belarusian athletes from Paris 2024 Olympics opening ceremonies....

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: How to stay ahead of the 2024 Olympics scams

As Utahns know firsthand from 2002, the Olympics can be a bit chaotic with millions in an unfamiliar place. The situation is sure to entice opportunistic con men with Olympic scams.

8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Cases on the clock: KSL Investigates lengthy delays in SL County’s police use of force decisions