SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Amid a sharp increase in fatal police shootings in Utah, a rift has developed between officers in Salt Lake County and the prosecutor charged with investigating them.
District Attorney Sim Gill has decided against police officers in a handful of cases, and in some police disagreed with his findings, the Deseret News reported .
“There is a genuine and pervasive lack of trust,” said attorney Bret Rawson, who frequently represents police. “He’s shown time and time again a willingness to charge, even when probable cause does not exist.”
The split comes as police shootings around the country are under increasing scrutiny from social movements like Black Lives Matter. There were 18 fatal officer-involved shootings in Utah last year, three times more than the year before, the newspaper reported.
Police officers have declined to speak with Gill’s investigators in at least five shootings during the second half of 2018.
Not being able to talk to a police officer about why they fired their weapons hampers the investigation, especially because the legal standard is whether officers fear they or others may be killed or seriously injured by a suspect, Gill said. Such refusals are becoming more common around the country, he said.
Still, he maintains that he makes decisions based on the evidence and will continue to do so. In 2011 and 2012, for example, Gill determined that three officers were not legally justified in their use of deadly force. Criminal charges were filed in two of those cases, but both were later dismissed in court.
But Gill also points to high-profile cases were he decided in favor of the officers, despite public protests.
“When those shootings were justified, and everybody out of the community wanted to hang those officers, it wasn’t the police union that was out there defending them. It was me. It was our office. Because that was the right thing to do,” he said.
But Rawson said his concerns continue about whether officers are treated fairly.
“We feel this D.A. is intending to get these officers in kind of a ‘gotcha’ moment,” he said.
Officers do submit to required interviews with their department bosses, but still have Fifth Amendment rights not to testify in shooting investigations that amount to criminal proceedings, he said.
Gill said he’s not aiming to railroad officers, but it’s important to be as transparent as possible to the public and families of the slain.
“The majority of men and women in law enforcement do their job honorably, professionally,” he said. “But wearing a uniform and having a badge is not an automatic immunity from the checks and balances, the expectations of our community, or the rule of law.”
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