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OPINION: Mr. Gill, let the police go back to work

Law enforcement officials at the scene where a white pickup truck crashed into a business at 3339 S. State Street in Salt Lake City after the driver fired several shots at the Sheraton Hotel on Monday morning, prompting police to chase the driver into South Salt Lake, where he eventually crashed Monday, April 8, 2019. Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Fifteen police officers are on administrative leave after yesterday’s shoot out in South Salt Lake.

That’s standard procedure. Whenever an officer fires their gun, they’re put on administrative leave until the investigation is finished. Until then, their police department just has to tough it out and pay some overtime until they’re back at full staff.

But this isn’t a standard situation.

shoot-out south salt lake police

A crashed white pickup truck at 3339 S. State Street in Salt Lake City after the driver fired several shots at the Sheraton Hotel on Monday morning, prompting police to chase the driver into South Salt Lake, where he eventually crashed Monday, April 8, 2019, leading to a shoot-out. Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Monday, a crime spree that started with shots fired at a hotel turned into a dramatic police pursuit that only ended when officers pit-maneuvered a white pickup truck in South Salt Lake, where the driver crashed. A hail of gunfire erupted, and when it was over, the suspect was dead.

In all, fifteen officers are now on paid administrative leave from three different departments while the prosecutor investigates, a huge burden for those three departments and, to be frank, public safety in our area.

This is as clear-cut as officer-involved shootings get. We’ve all seen the UDOT footage of the chase and the cell phone footage of the shootout, and every piece of evidence we have so far suggests this was a completely justified shooting.

That’s why I’m calling on District Attorney Sim Gill to act swiftly and expedite his investigation to get these officers back on the street as soon as possible.

I believe Gill should give these officers a preliminary clearance within five days, so they know they will not face criminal charges and can go back to work.

After all, one of Gill’s primary duties is to determine whether police officers who use deadly force acted within the scope of law.

88 days to clear an officer

It’s no secret that I’ve called out District Attorney Sim Gill in the past on how long it takes him to clear officers after they fire their weapons in the line of duty.

In November, the KSL Investigates team looked into complaints from the Fraternal Order of Police that Gill drags his feet on these investigations.

On average, we learned, it takes Gill 88 days to clear an officer involved in a shooting. That’s nearly three months, on average, before an officer that fires a weapon is returned to duty – and in extreme cases, it can take nearly a year.

Unless this investigation breaks that mold, we’re going to be waiting for months.

That’s going to be a huge strain on our police departments, who are already struggling just to make their budgets work.

During the news conference today, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown revealed that he’s already had to bring extra officers in and start paying overtime to cover for the ten officers on leave in his department alone. It was going to take weeks, he told reporters, before they even got an idea about how long it would be until those officers come back.

“It’s hard. It’s tough. That’s not easy to absorb,” Brown admitted. “Ten officers, that does put a lot of pressure on us.”

A lot of pressure is putting it lightly. There is only 437 sworn personnel in the whole Salt Lake City police department. They’re out a sizable chunk of their entire force.

A clear-cut case

I get that incidents like these need to be investigated. It’s important that we do our due diligence.

The evidence is out there. You can hear first-hand accounts from the two armed robberies and a shooting he allegedly committed in a span of just 40 minutes.

You can watch the police chase, in which the suspect led police officers down State Street, rushing through red lights and putting the lives of innocent people across the city in jeopardy.

You can listen to the police talking to each other while they chased the suspect down the road, telling each other: “We can confirm he has an AR-15 in his hands as he is driving… We’ve got to get up there and shoot this guy. He’s a danger to everybody.”

You can even watch the barrage of gunfire captured on cell phone video and shared by witnesses.

Shoot-out on State Street

GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNINGA witness, Ricardo Menacho, sent in this harrowing video of the shootout between police and a gunman they say fired at them with a rifle while leading them on a car chase through Salt Lake City today.

Posted by KSL Newsradio on Monday, April 8, 2019

It’s clear. These officers acted within the scope of their duty to protect the public. They are heroes.

Mr. Gill, let them get back to work.