KSL INVESTIGATES

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.

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