COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS – An independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting of a Utah teenager isn’t complete, but the Cottonwood Heights Police Department released all their body camera footage in an effort to be transparent.
"We want to be able to show it and say 'hey, we have these [body cameras] for a reason. This is what the officer saw, this is what he went through.' You could hear the intensity ratchet up. You could hear the breathing, you could hear the yelling, you can hear all that stuff. I mean, it's a pretty intense thing," said Lt. Dan Bartlett, CHPD.
CHPD released a total of six body camera videos on YouTube. The most important being that of the responding officer, whom police say is a Sergeant with 14 years of experience in law enforcement. That video starts with footage of the Sgt. pursuing a driver he believes is under the influence. However, police said the driver took off at a high rate of speed. The pursuit came to an end near the exit ramp of 1300 S and I-15 in Salt Lake City.
“There’s a box of bullets on the ground, and bullets scattered from where he’s running,” Lt. Bartlett said. “The officer saw that because from the beginning you can hear him say, ‘drop the gun.’”
The video does show the Sgt. walking toward the suspect, who left his car and appeared to be walking away from police in an attempt to blend in. The Sgt. immediately yelled "Drop the gun!" while pulling and pointing his own weapon at the suspect.
Initially, the suspect seemed to comply, but a short time later, police said he appeared to reach for something in his waistband.
“Don’t move! Don’t move,” the Sgt. shouted, followed by “Don’t, Don’t!”
The suspect continued his movement and the officer fired once, hitting him in the abdomen.
“He reached up into his waistband for something and that’s concerning,” Lt. Bartlett explained.
Online, he said the Department had seen comments from people who questioned why the officer didn’t use a stun gun.
“We don’t bring Tasers to a gun fight,” Bartlett explained.
He said the fact that the officer saw a trail of bullets in the direction the suspect was walking led him to believe he had a gun.
“They didn’t strip search him there, but when his clothes are finally cut off of him at the hospital is when it came out,” Lt. Bartlett added.
Lt. Bartlett said the Sgt. has been placed back on duty, and they were eager to make the body camera footage public, but Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he wished Cottonwood Heights Police had waited to release the video.
“Our commitment has been for both transparency and integrity of the process,” Gill said.
According to Gill, a recently-passed law makes evidence like these videos protected evidence. He said the release of protected evidence should wait until the official investigation was complete.
“We all need to be consistent to the process we committed to, including Cottonwood Heights … It’s not about picking and choosing. It’s about being consistent to a single process that our community can trust and that’s the process that we’ve created with an independent investigation, and independent review, and we wait until the investigation is finished," Gill said.