DA pushing independent task force for officer-involved shootings

Posted at 8:37 PM, Nov 19, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-20 00:20:24-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The district attorney is creating a task for he claims will be more "independent" when it comes to investigating officer-involved shootings.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill outlined his plans on Monday for an independent task force made up of representatives from the Salt Lake Valley's various police agencies to look into police-related shootings.

"Most law enforcement agencies and officers are honorable," Gill said. "They do their job professionally, and therefore, it's kind of unfortunate that if the process we engage in is perceived to be less than honorable."

Under Gill's plan, investigators from the biggest agencies in Salt Lake County would be called out to investigate an officer-involved shooting, not necessarily the police agency itself conducting an investigation. Nearly $300,000 would also be spent on officer training to avoid shootings in the first place.

"Nobody's more concerned about saving our officers' lives than I am along with our other chiefs of police," Gill said. "But at the same time, we have to do it in a way that our community trusts our judgments and trusts our ability to hold people responsible when they don't follow the law."

The Fraternal Order of Police expressed concerns about Gill's plan.

"I would say officers in this county are very concerned that if they end up pulling the trigger, that they are going to end up being considered the suspect at this point," said Lindsay Jarvis, an attorney representing the police union.

Jarvis said the Fraternal Order of Police would like to see an investigation independent from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, like the Utah Attorney General's Office. She also expressed concerns about officers' rights against self-incrimination.

In many cases, officers must cooperate in an investigation into the shooting -- and that information could turn against them.

"What would make more sense is if someone, like a third agency, the attorney general's office, for example, went out and did the investigation at the scene and then presented that case to the district attorney's office for a screening," Jarvis said.

The Salt Lake District Attorney's Office is currently waiting for the results of the investigation into the shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard, who was shot-and-killed by two officers working an investigation at an apartment complex earlier this month. Gill will determine whether the shooting is justified or not.

West Valley City police are working the investigation into the shooting. Jarvis tells FOX 13 that the Fraternal Order of Police has told the officers in that case to remain silent.

"We are advising our clients to remain quiet and allow the investigation team to do their investigation without their statements," she said Monday.

Jarvis insisted that when the investigation was complete, the officers' actions would be found to be justified.

"The reality is at the end of the day, when the public gets the information, they'll see this shooting was in fact, justified," she said. "There were two officers involved and both of those officers were faced with injuries that were potentially life threatening."

Jarvis would not elaborate on what those injuries would be, citing the ongoing investigation.