Salt Lake County DA under fire after finding fatal shooting by police justified
Salt Lake County, Utah residents are experiencing déjà vu. Their District Attorney, Sim Gill, announced last week that he would not bring charges against the police officer who fatally shot Patrick Harmon in the back. The announcement comes just over a year after Gill declined to bring chargesagainst the officer who shot then 17-year-old Abdi Mohamed, a choice that attracted outrage from some community members. On Sunday, roughly 150 people gathered to protest his latest decision.
“[Gill] is not going to justify one more murder in this city, is he?” Lex Scott, an organizer with Black Lives Matter, asked the crowd. “We’re coming for your job, Sim. We’re coming for justice, Sim.”
Harmon, a 50-year-old black man, was stopped by police on August 13th while riding his bicycle. Police told Harmon they stopped him because he didn’t have a red rear taillight on his bike, and moved to handcuff him after learning of multiple open felony warrants for his arrest, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Harmon allegedly pled with the officers not to take him to jail, then broke into a run.
Footage from three body cameras released last week shows what appears to be Officer Clinton Fox shooting Harmon in the back at close range after Fox yells “I’ll f — -ing shoot you.” Fox contends that at some point Harmon turned back toward him and pointed a knife. (A knife was recovered at the scene, according to Gill.)
“Officer Fox said that in 10 years of law enforcement and two military deployments, it was the scariest situation he had ever been in,” reads part of the DA’s report finding the shooting was legally justified.
On Tuesday afternoon, two days after community members called for his resignation, Gill announced that he had asked the FBI to review the incidentand his office’s finding that deadly force was justified, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. In a letter to the FBI obtained by the paper, Gill explained that “given the seriousness of the case and the considerable public interest in the matter, all issues must be completely examined to preserve the public’s trust in the criminal justice system and ensure the right measures are taken in this case.”
In June, Gill’s name appeared alongside other district and county attorneys in the state on an editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune entitled: “Utah prosecutors need no additional oversight.” The op-ed argues that the term “prosecutorial misconduct” is “cliché” and “misleading,” and notes that “creating new disciplinary committees and regulations to further constrain all prosecutors will not serve the public good.”
Protesters who rallied outside the city’s Public Safety Building on Sunday called for Gill to resign, and for body camera footage to be released within 24 hours of all police-involved shootings. Failing to charge Fox is seen by the groups protesting as part of a broader pattern in which police aren’t held accountable by Gill’s office.
Frustration over that lack of accountability is heightened by what groups like Utah Against Police Brutality and the Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter say is clear racial discrimination. In Utah, black residents comprise just 0.7 percent of the population, but 9.3 percent of the state’s adult prison population. Latino and Native American residents are also overrepresented in the state’s prisons and jails.
Harmon’s niece, Alisha Shaw, told The Guardian that her uncle’s death was clearly the result of racial profiling.
“Why do we have to fight so hard for justice?” Shaw asked. “All we want is to be treated equal as a black person instead of being profiled and looked at as if we were a threat.”
Utah Against Police Brutality has organized a sit-in at Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s office on October 17th before a City Council meeting to demand “a new ordinance to make sure that cops cannot withhold body cam footage from the public.”