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SLCPD release review on how officers handled July inland port protest

Posted at 8:13 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 01:22:48-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department released a review Thursday detailing how the department responded to a protest in downtown Salt Lake City-- including what officers did well, and where they need to improve.

In July, upwards of 200 people protesting the proposed inland port took over the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce office as well as the lobby of the building, leading to a chaotic clash between protesters and police.

The protest ended with arrests, and later, felony charges against several people. According to police, protesters caused nearly $10,000 of damage to the building, and assaulted several officers.

While city and state leaders condemned the actions of those demonstrating, protesters accused police of acting with unnecessary violence.

Officers responded, the review states, when property management and the Chamber of Commerce office called 911 to have protesters removed.  The review explains there were reports of vandalism, and some of the protesters staged a sit-in on the sixth floor where the chamber office is located using "sleeping dragon" devices to link arms.

While protesters largely dispersed from the sixth floor when asked to by officers, the report explains, things escalated in the lobby and officers began to use force to get people to leave.

Protesters reported being injured by officers, and Salt Lake City Police said several officers and two citizens were assaulted by demonstrators. Eventually everyone left the building.

In the days and weeks that followed, fallout from the protest continued. Police released body camera footage and the Salt Lake County DA filed additional criminal charges. A second protest called for charges against police for their handling of the ordeal.

The report explains that the incident review was compiled using over 100 narrative reports written by officers, security footage, 340 body camera videos and photos, and media footage.

Review highlights 'areas of merit'

The review applauds officers for how they dealt with protesters on the sixth floor in the chamber office.

"The communication by the officers on the sixth floor, with both the group and among themselves, was outstanding," the review states. "The officers in the lobby deserve merit for maintaining their composure during a dynamic and increasingly volatile situation, where some of the officers were physically attacked by the demonstrators."

According to the review,  officers acted within policy to remove trespassers. "While pushing, shoving, and arrests were being made, there were no signs of excessive or inappropriate use of force," the review concluded.

"It shows that our officers acted with a great deal of restraint, professionalism in the face of a very dynamic and dangerous situation," Salt Lake City Detective Greg Wilking said in an interview Thursday, of the review.

Review  points out 'areas of improvement'

The review also outlines areas of improvement. It pointed out that officers "had a lack of knowledge" about devices like the sleeping dragon used to link protesters together. Body camera video showed officers struggling to remove the devices safely.

"Line officers need additional training on common tactics used during demonstrations and the appropriate actions officers should take," the review states.

Police didn't follow department policy when asking protesters to leave the lobby, the review explains.

"A formal announcement should have been made, as per SLCPD policy," the review says. The policy indicates that an announcement to leave or disperse should be amplified in some way, like with a megaphone.

Instead, the review indicates that officers told the crowd to leave, without amplifying the message because there was no amplification device available.

Three different incident commanders ended up being in charge, which the review states created confusion for officers.

DA reviews Use of Force

The review addresses the actions of a sergeant caught on camera throwing punches at protesters. Videos showed the sergeant swinging at a man. The man yells after being hit.

"The sergeant of the Mobile Field Force was, at times, in-line with officers applying force. The sergeant should have been behind the line giving direction to the officers and making sure that proper force was being used," the review says. "This sergeant also was identified as one officer that was throwing what appeared to be punches at a demonstrator."

Sergeant Hatch later documented, “I struck down on the arms of the people holding onto the doors, but as one would let go, others would grab hold. Again, I told them to let go of the door. When they continued to hold onto the door, I punched one of those holding the door. This had the desired effect, and all of them let go of the door and we closed the door.”

The Salt Lake County District Attorney reviewed the use of force by Sgt. Hatch, and according to the review, decided not to file charges.

"We do not believe a criminal case based upon the facts we know, in light of what we believe Sgt. Hatch’s testimony would or could be, would have a reasonable
likelihood of success at trial," the DA wrote in conclusion.

Handling of citizen complaints

According to Salt Lake City Police, three people filed complaints in regards to police behavior during the protest.

"Those complaints actually were looked at from the Internal Affairs division, but also by the District Attorney’s office to make sure that we had operated within policy and procedure, but also lawfully," Det. Wilking said.

However, the review details roadblocks the department came up against in trying to investigate the complaints.

"The complainants did not respond to SLCPD’s request to obtain additional information or to schedule interviews," the review says. It says Internal Affairs responded to emails and left voicemails for the complainants, but never heard back.

According to the review, the Citizen Review Board also attempted to look into the complaints, but said they couldn't get a call back.

"Without the cooperation of [complainant], there is no way for CRB to determine if a policy violation has occurred," it stated, in a statement to SLC PD. The Citizen Review Board then closed the review.

Recommendations for change

The review made recommendations for the Salt Lake City Police Department, and offered seven next steps as the department moved forward. Many of them, the department reported, have already been implemented.

The recommendations included meeting with an expert to talk about best practices for civil disturbances, implement leaflet practice as recommended by the expert, conduct an incident review with recommendations, carry out additional training and purchase amplifications devices.

Two recommendations have not yet been carried out: Issue a department-wide training bulletin about responding to civil demonstrations and applicable SLCPD policies, and document policy reviews.

Those are scheduled to take place in early 2020.

"We take a critical look at any incident that takes place in the city," Det. Wilking said. "We learn from that, and then we go forward."

Protest impacts

According to the review, officers arrested 10 people, and identified 10 suspects later on. Some of the charges protesters face include felony riot, trespassing and interfering with arrests.

It lists four victims, including two police officers and two citizens. Assaults listed against officers included being spat on, kicked in the groin, punched in the face, hit on the head, sprayed with liquid, knocked to the ground, and more.

The damage was estimated at nearly $10,000, and included cleaning urine and human feces, replacing the lobby glass door, fixing a damaged receptionist desk jumped on by demonstrators, adjusting surveillance cameras and replacing a keyboard.

You can view the full report below: