SALT LAKE CITY — Three armed robbery victims tell FOX 13 that Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal held them at gunpoint before he ran and was shot and killed by police on May 23.
All three have different perspectives on how officers handled the case that night. They have asked to remain anonymous.
District Attorney Sim Gill on Thursday ruled the shooting justified, stating he would not be pursuing criminal charges against Officer Kevin Fortuna and Officer Neil Iversen for their use of deadly force against Palacios.
Two of the armed robbery attempts took place at a motel across the street from where the shooting occurred on 900 South and 300 West.
The third robbery took place in an adjacent parking lot as a patron left the Trails Gentlemen’s Club.
For the sake of this story, we will be identifying each of the anonymous victims only by number. The number assigned to each victim is not necessarily indicative of the chronological order in which they encountered Palacios.
Victim 1 is a man of color who was staying at the motel. He told FOX 13 he has been working through the last few difficult weeks with help from a therapist.
“Every day I think about it, because every day I’m reminded by it,” Victim 1 said. “He pointed a gun at me. He had no reason to. No reason at all. I was very kind to him.”
Victim 1 said he first spoke with the suspect after Palacios may have been drinking at Trails Gentlemen’s Club. He said he believed Palacios was intoxicated and that he offered to get him a cab.
Palacios declined the offer and gave him a warm hug, Victim 1 said. Minutes later, Palacios reportedly returned with a gun and demanded money.
“He pointed it gangster style, like this, basically at (my) face right here,” Victim 1 said, holding his hand sideways. “I don’t know why he did what he did, pointing the gun at me when I offered help.”
Victim 1 said once Palacios thought he was about to be caught, he came back a third time, trying to climb through the window.
“He said, ‘Please, help me.’ I was in the living room, and I was pretty much frozen in fear,” Victim 1 said, starting to become emotional. “Perhaps I could have talked to him, made him come down, made him realize what was happening. I could have made a difference, but I didn’t. I really should have… I think if I did, none of this would have happened.”
Victim 1 said he wonders if he may have been able to save Palacios’ life, even if that meant putting his own life in danger.
“It could have turned into a lot worse situation though. A lot worse. People would have had to evacuate,” Victim 1 said. “I forgive him very much from the bottom of my heart. I hope he finds peace and rest wherever he’s at… Bernardo, I forgive you. To the family, I hope you can hear me and everything is forgiven.”
Victim 2, a white male who was staying at the motel, said he was held at gunpoint by Palacios and a second suspect.
“My girlfriend is more scarred by it than me,” Victim 2 said. “I think I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time… I told them they must have the wrong guy. I didn’t have anything.”
Victim 2 said he continues to hope the second suspect is identified and arrested. He said he believes he may have seen a photo of the second suspect at a recent memorial for Palacios, but he was not confident.
The Unified Police Department is handling that side of the investigation due to the officer-involved shooting of Palacios.
Victim 2 said he does not think it was fair for SLCPD officers to shoot at Palacios.
“We all make mistakes. That’s why we have courts,” Victim 2 said. “I thought he was trying to throw the gun further away (so police couldn’t get it) as he was running… they shot so many times.”
Victim 1 said he does not know enough about the case to have an opinion on whether the shooting should have been ruled justified because he has not seen the video evidence.
“I’m not prepared to see it just yet. I was told about it, but I haven’t. I don’t know if I (ever) want to,” Victim 1 said. “I think it could have gone better, but then again you’re dealing with someone with a gun, and it was a big gun too. I’m sure it was a powerful one. At that point, police do what they’re trained to do, but what about all these non-lethal ways that they have?"
Victim 1 said he did not encounter the second suspect, but he hopes UPD detectives are able to solve the case.
“I think he should come forward, turn himself in, otherwise I feel like he could do the same thing,” Victim 1 said. “Please come forward, explain what happened, and accept the punishment. Every action has some kind of repercussion… What if it happens again, and again, and again, and again? I don’t want to go through that.”
Victim 3, a self-identified Hispanic man, said he first encountered Palacios and the second suspect inside Trails Gentlemen’s Club before the armed robbery.
“(Palacios) stepped on my shoe and apologized,” Victim 3 said. “Nobody was pat down before going into the club.”
Victim 3 said, as he was leaving the club, Palacios and the second suspect held him at gunpoint; that Palacios pointed a gun at his stomach and the other man pointed a gun at his head. Victim 3 then handed over his wallet, containing his ID and dozens of $1 bills.
“They were both pretty drunk,” Victim 3 said. “They could have easily accidentally pulled the trigger... Nobody's going to say **** if I would have died. Nobody would have been protesting in the streets for me.”
Medical examiners later found Victim 3’s belongings while conducting an autopsy on Palacios, according to District Attorney Sim Gill.
EXCLUSIVE - All three of Bernardo Palacios’ armed robbery victims speak to FOX 13 tonight at 5:30— Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) July 10, 2020
They all say Bernardo held them at gunpoint before he ran and was shot by police.
Now they have three different perspectives on how officers handled the case. pic.twitter.com/TLy9QnzSA1
Victim 3 said he did not want the money or ID back because they were covered in blood. He said he understands why people are protesting across the country, but he takes offense to any protest honoring Palacios.
“I understand they lost a family member,” Victim 3 said. “This one’s different… nothing close to what happened to George Floyd.”
Victim 3 said he believes the officers were justified in their use of force in this case because Palacios kept stopping to pick up his gun while running from police.
“But I could be biased because he stuck a gun at me,” Victim 3 said. “Of course he was ‘scared.’ I was scared too!”
Victim 1 in many ways agreed with Victim 3’s perspective on the protests in Salt Lake City.
“Violence and protests and destroying property is not the answer. It’s not the answer at all,” Victim 1 said. “Mahatma Gandhi was able to obtain a whole country’s independence from another country through no violence. Why can’t we do the same?”
Trails Gentlemen’s Club has not returned FOX 13’s request for comment.
If you have any information about a second armed robbery suspect in this case, please call the Unified Police Department.