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Investigation into Cottonwood Heights Police regarding ‘use of force,’ policy reform discussions underway

Posted at 5:17 PM, Aug 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-04 19:24:33-04

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah -- An internal investigation with assistance from outside agencies is underway regarding the actions taken by Cottonwood Heights Police Officers during Sunday evening's protest which resulted in several arrests.

“Whenever we use ‘use of force,’ we’ll do an internal investigation that’s begun immediately. We’ll do that internally and we’ll use some outside assistance to objectively look at our finding and we’ll use that guide us going forward,” said Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Peterson to FOX 13 on Tuesday. “We hope that Sunday night was something we never see again.”

Protesters gathered at Mill Hollow Park for a demonstration in memory of Zane James, a man who was shot and killed by officers in 2018. When the protesters left the park and traveled down a street into a neighborhood, that’s when police were called.

“Yeah, they’re blocking traffic, it’s on a Sunday on a low-traffic residential street, this is not impacting me, it wasn’t impacting any of my neighbors to a degree that it should have been met with violence,” said a local long-time resident named Jake in an interview with FOX 13.

With a number of live-streaming videos showing the demonstration moving from the park, down the street and quickly into a violent skirmish with police, it’s unclear exactly what led to the confrontation. Protesters are saying that police instigated the situation. Police told FOX 13 on Monday that demonstrators “wanted a confrontation with law enforcement.”

“It feels like in that situation the Cottonwood Heights Police Department went from coming in to de-escalate straight to an enacting violence, skipping 20 other steps in what should be a rational de-escalation process,” said Jake, who grew up in Cottonwood Heights. “It was a group of kids mostly dancing down the street and we’ve seen this happen in places all over this community for the past eight weeks.”

According to Mayor Peterson, there was no permit granted for protesters to be using a street that evening.

“We will approve closing a street and facilitating it; That was not the case,” said Mayor Peterson.

“I didn’t witness it personally,” said Mayor Peterson who lives nearby where the ‘clash’ took place. “I did take the opportunity to talk to at least 20 residents who were on the route and asking for their thoughts and opinions and I got a variety of responses.”

In an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon, discussions took place between city officials regarding de-escalation techniques and officers applying the law where appropriate. According to Mayor Peterson, conversations regarding police policy and reform have been in the works for weeks.

“I was shocked, to see people being taken down on somebody’s lawn was really quite shocking,” said District 8 Senator Kathleen Riebe who calls Cottonwood Heights home. “We clearly have work to do, we’re trying to be empathetic to both sides and understand where it transpired and how it escalated.”

Riebe, along with others reacting on social media and publicly, wondered what distress call was made from police to trigger such an alarming response from area agencies.

“What would solicit that many police officers showing? It was more police officers than protesters, you know?” said Riebe.

Mayor Peterson says that he’s received mixed reaction from members of the community. Some saying they support the actions taken place by officers on Sunday, while others think less force should have been applied. Regardless, Peterson vowed to listen to both sides and work towards enacting policy reform within the department. He applauds Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Mayor Erin Mendenhall along with members of the community who worked towards Monday’s executive order regarding immediate reform.

“It’s just an unfortunate situation and we will get better,” said Peterson. “We have outstanding officers. They want to do the right thing. It’s an unfortunate situation and I think from what happened Sunday night to what happened last night was a great step forward.”