Salt Lake Co. DA evaluating Joint Criminal Apprehension Team

Posted at 4:50 PM, Apr 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-30 21:05:04-04

SALT LAKE CITY - The Joint Criminal Apprehension Team is being evaluated after the Salt Lake County District Attorney cited concerns about some of their behavior after fatal shootings earlier this year.

JCAT is a police task force headed by the U.S. Marshals and is comprised of officers from several local agencies looking for dangerous fugitives across the state.

Officers have been involved in two fatal shootings in Salt Lake County so far this year, and while both shootings were deemed justified, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill mentioned serious concerns about officer protocol afterwards.

In one incident, JCAT agents were on Foulger Avenue in Salt Lake City in late March looking for another fugitive when 37-year-old Ronnie Ontiveros opened fire. Officers returned fire, firing several rounds and hitting him at least twice. Ontiveros was rushed to the hospital where he later died.

In a seven-page letter, Gill outlines why he cleared officers in the shooting, but he also outlined some concerns about officers not adhering to local use of deadly force protocols.

"I reviewed it and I cleared five officers but I had a process that was a little flawed," Gill said. "We have a protocol in place and unfortunately, if we find ourselves in a position where we have to use lethal force, we all need to be working from the same set of rules."

JCAT operates under the U.S. Marshals, who have their own rules regarding use of deadly force, and officers come from different agencies, some of which have their own protocols.

But when JCAT officers shoot someone in Salt Lake County, Gill expects them to adhere to local rules.

"And we all have to be on the same page because at the end of the day, if we have a fatality like we did here, we need to be able to look our citizens in the eye and explain to them why this is justified and why you can trust the process," Gill said.

In the Ontiveros shooting, Gill said that Officer Aaron Lavin of Unified Police declined to provide any statement or submit to a verbal interview, and that Sgt. Lance Jensen was interviewed but not by the protocol team. "The recent practice of some shooting officers refusing to make statements about their actions is unfortunate," the report said.

"Ultimately everybody's intentions were good but we have to be transparent with what happened, especially when there's a death of a person involved," Gill told FOX 13.

Now Gill is meeting with members of the U.S. Marshals to iron out those issues and make sure that everyone is on the same page in the future. Meanwhile, JCAT is currently still in operation.