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FOX 13 Investigates: Board says police officer used excessive force, others unprepared for SLC protests

Posted at 9:50 PM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 23:52:56-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Police need more training for violent crowds like those at the May 30 George Floyd protests, and one officer used excessive force that day, a review board has said.

The Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board also recommended officers responding to such protests should not arrive in militarized vehicles.

The review board recommendations, issued after its October meeting, are the first public assessment of how the Salt Lake City Police Department performed on May 30. That day, demonstrators across the United States were in the streets protesting how a Minneapolis police officer used his knee to choke George Floyd to death.

In Salt Lake City, that day’s protests at the Capitol and around Washington Square started peaceful. Then at least a handful of demonstrated began vandalizing public property. Downtown, protesters flipped a police car and ignited it.

That’s when Salt Lake City police deployed what’s called the Public Order Unit (POU), a team of officers with body armor, shields and clubs.

The review board said police department administrators need to review the policies and procedures for deploying the unit and hold what are called table top exercises with the unit.

In another paragraph of the report, the review board wrote that it “strongly recommends that while en route to any crisis involving the POU, that the senior POU member or supervisor, remind their subordinates of what the tactical objective is and to remain calm, as their purpose is to protect the public.”

CLICK HERE to read the full report

The review board also found that the POU hadn’t trained on deploying from armored vehicles like they traveled in May 30. The board worried that lack of practice and use of the vehicle increased the officers’ stress.

The review board’s report recommended “the POU not utilize a militarized vehicle… as the visual created by such vehicles created by such vehicles when a Public Order Unit is being used is a contradiction.”

In one of the most-high profile episodes from May 30, a Salt Lake City Police officer was seen knocking down a man who used a cane to walk. The review board said the officer used excessive force.

By law, the review board cannot issue discipline or enforce policy changes. Discipline is up to Salt Lake City’s police chief and policies are the responsibility of the chief, mayor and the city council.

Spokespeople for the police department declined to say the employment status of the officer the board said used excessive force or to discuss the review board report. Mayor Erin Mendenhall, through a spokesperson, declined comment, as did members of the city council.

The May 30 protests were not organized by Black Lives Matter, though Lex Scott, the found of the group’s Utah Chapter, said she feels she has an interest in Salt Lake City police learning from that day. She prefers police not arrive at protests over police brutality unless violence has already been committed.

“Their mere presence is a problem,” Scott said, “and it’s a conflict of interest because we are there to protest police brutality and the police are there to silence us.”

Scott has regular meetings with Salt Lake City police.

“I try to let them know,” Scott said, “Hey, when an officer is yelled at, right, if a police brutality victim comes up and starts yelling at an officer, we expect them to retain their composure and remain professional and not brutalize the protester.”

Edward Maguire is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University and has studied how police respond to protests. He said Salt Lake City police have historically been considered among the best at responding to protests.

Maguire said police need to be thoughtful about how they use an armored vehicle.

“If it’s going to arrive in a different location,” Maguire said, “not in the view of the crowd, that’s fine, but it’s when it arrives in the full view of the crowd, that could be problematic and be perceived as an escalation on the part of the police.

“And that would be justified if the police have intelligence or information they are under threat during their arrival.”

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