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Salt Lake County approves new budget after fight over sexual assault prosecutors

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Salt Lake County voted to accept a new budget Tuesday evening that could raise taxes upwards of eight percent.

“This was not an easy budget year and I’m really pleased that the council engaged and I’m happy to be moving forward,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.

With the vote came a very contentious fight involving the District Attorney’s Office.

The question was should the county fund more Special Victim Unit prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office?

The answer was yes. The county voted to fund six new prosecutors with a catch. Councilmembers want four hired now, with two as a possibility mid-2020.

Salt Lake County has 11 SVU prosecutors on staff.

Salt Lake County Council Budget Meeting

“People like me who are raped in this valley have to suffer seeing their rapist around the valley because you guys don’t have the money,” Erin Kennelly told councilmembers during the budget meeting.

Kennelly is upset at Salt Lake County officials. She said she had to wait three and a half years just to begin a probable cause hearing in her rape case.

“I had been reaching out to my detective a lot. He was reassigned and I wasn’t told that. So, I didn’t have anybody to reach out too,” she says. “I didn’t know where my rape kit was. I had no updates on what was happening. So I was suffering from PTSD and I had no idea what was going to happen with my case.”

The whole time she says her rapist was walking Salt Lake County streets.

“The person who raped me in my home in 2016, he gets to go out to brunch with his family and live his life like nothing happened because to this point there have been no consequences. He hasn’t been held to justice yet,” she told ABC4’s, Jason Nguyen.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told councilmembers he had to cannibalize his Homicide Unit to put resources into the Special Victims Unit.

“We didn’t get the funding the last time around when we made the argument for us to carry our workload, and our office doesn’t have the luxury to turn down victims,” said Gill.

Salt Lake County District 5’s Steve Debry

During the budget meeting, Salt Lake County District 5’s Steve Debry said, “I hate to hear Sim that you cannibalized your homicide investigative unit. That is just as important or more so than this other SVU unit.”

ABC4’s Jason Nguyen asked Councilmember Debry what he meant.

“They are both terrible, but you shouldn’t as I think I said rob Peter to pay Paul,” he said.

The District 5 councilmen went on to say, “When somebody gets killed and you got to take someone to court, and prosecute them, and get them justice served for those people, I would say that is pretty much important or more important than a victim of sexual assault.”

Kennelly said “It’s like being traumatized all over again. It’s like the assault is happening all over again because what happened to me is real and it feels like I’m being told it doesn’t matter.”

“We giving him full six or full four isn’t going to help that move along any quicker,” Debry said. “I can’t imagine someone cannibalizing a Homicide Unit to fully staff or fund an SVU Unit.”

When Kennelly tried to talk to Councilmen Debry, he walked right by her.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson told Nguyen, “I think we have moved forward today and we provided that. I would prefer the vote be to fund all six now but the council did vote to keep funding for all six that were requested. So, I think that is a very good step.”

D.A. Gill added, “Let’s focus on the needs issue and making sure we have them funded in a way that we can give a measure of justice to our victims, so our communities can have a sense of safety, and that we can say we are fully committed to this venture of public safety. Otherwise, it is all rhetoric.”

The Salt Lake County District Attorney Office investigated 1,658 sexual assault cases in 2018. Tuesday the office is investigating 1,728 cases of sexual assault.

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