WEST VALLEY CITY (News4Utah) – Community members are demanding accountability and transparency from law enforcement at a rally Thursday evening in front of the West Valley City Police station. Organizers from Utah Against Police Brutality (UAPB) said the rally was prompted by three cases in the past month where they feel like police used excessive force.
The first case happened on February 24 when Tevin and Maryssa Evans went home after their baby died from respiratory problems at the hospital. They said two West Valley City police officers entered their home without a warrant and assaulted two male family members during what WVCPD chief said was a “routine investigation for unattended deaths.”
“Officer Christian is shown on video as enraged to point of being almost non-verbal, after being refused an interview and house access to a non-suspect, and reacted violently. His behavior was not merely unbecoming of an officer, but literally the exact opposite of acceptable policing,” said Jacob Jensen with UAPB.
On March 13, a federal agent shot and killed 31-year-old Bryan Liles in a parking lot near a Sandy TRAX station. Investigators said an agent with the Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives was tracking an individual to serve a federal arrest warrant. They said, “based on some actions of the suspect, shots were fired by officers attempting to serve the warrant.”
Rally organizers said officers shot the wrong person.
“Liles would be alive today if the officer didn’t continue to pursue him, even after they discovered that he was clearly not person named in their warrant. Despite this, the agents engaged his prior to knowing if he had a criminal history,” said Jacob Jensen with UAPB. “Liles’ father said he was told his son was unarmed but that the agents thought his movements in the car could have been interpreted as searching for a gun. It isn’t acceptable to shoot someone based on ‘a hunch’ that someone might have a gun.”
A week later later on March 20, an unarmed teenager was shot by a Granite School District resource officer. Police said the officer was patrolling the area and saw a car with multiple teens inside. They said the officer smelled marijuana coming from the car, but as he approached them, the driver stepped on the gas.
“The vehicle attempted to run him over and at one point, he was on the vehicle,” said Ben Horsley with Granite School District.
Investigators said the officer was thrown from the vehicle, but when they were unable to specify when he fired the shot that hit the driver and sent them to the hospital in serious condition.
“The scant details or footage around an unarmed teen by a Granite School District officer is a disturbing sign either a cover-up, or a deep mistrust of the community. All we have been told is that the officer was hit by a car, and then shot the driver from mere feet away. What seems clear, without any additional information, is that officer preferred put himself and the other persons in car at a further risk by escalation, rather than to roll off the hood the car and call for back-up for a suspect that was trying to flee,” said a spokesperson with UAPB.
In a press release, the Utah Against Police Brutality group said the rally calls for:
- The firing of West Valley City police officers Ben Christensen and George Martinez, who “illegally entered and assaulted the members bereaved members of the Evans family, whose infant died hours earlier, and be stripped of their certification to practice law-enforcement in Utah”
- That all the footage during the killing of Bryan Keith Liles at the Historic Sandy Trax station by the hands of ATF agents be made public. Also, until the time of that release, that Keith Squires, head of Utah Department of Public Safety, “request that these specific killer federal agents be forbidden to practice law enforcement anywhere in the state of Utah.”
- The release of all footage in the shooting of an unarmed teen by the Granite School District officer by Hunter High School, in addition to his termination for the “additional reckless endangerment of witnesses, himself, and the unnecessary shooting of a suspect.”
“It hasn’t felt like the police have been protecting and serving for a long time. Now we have these three other incidents…there are not here to protect and serve. They are there to protect themselves and each other and it’s not okay. I don’t know what to tell my 4-year-old daughter about the police,” said Deborah Blake with UAPB.