SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled Thursday afternoon that officers were justified in their use of lethal force against 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal seven weeks ago.
Following the fatal officer-involved shooting on May 23, family members, friends, and community members have protested to demand answers in the case.
City leaders such as Mayor Erin Mendenhall as well as state lawmakers issued public statements about the shooting after Salt Lake City Police released a portion of the body camera footage on June 5th.
Gill explained the public outcry prompted the expedition of Palacios-Carbajal’s investigation.
“I was very sensitive to the concerns that we were having in the community. There are protests. This is of concern to our community so I did not want to be insensitive to that,” he said.
In a press conference Thursday morning, Gill walked through the details of the investigation and explained what led to his ruling.
Investigative documents stated that around 2 a.m. on May 23rd, police received calls about two armed robberies at the Utah Village Motel. When they arrived, they said they saw Palacios-Carbajal standing near the motel rooms, looking through the bags in his hands.
Officers said Palacios-Carbajal fled the scene when they ordered him to show his hands. During the pursuit, investigators said he disobeyed multiple orders to show his hands and surrender his weapon. Surveillance and body camera footage also show that he tripped, dropped the handgun, and stopped to pick it three separate times.
“Why is somebody who’s dropping the gun spending time picking up the gun? He could’ve just ran away. So we asked both of the officers specifically, ‘If the gun had been dropped and he started moving away, would you have shoot him?’ They said, ‘Absolutely not.'” said Gill.
Gill said Officer Neil Iversen and Officer Kevin Fortuna fired their weapons at Palacios-Carbajal after he picked up the gun the third time and started to run. They were about 15 to 20 feet away.
ABC4 News asked Gill about public concerns regarding Palacios-Carbajal being shot in the back as he was running away.
“We asked Officer Iversen why he shot the suspect in the back. Officer Iversen replied he was concerned that the subject was going to ‘turn and shoot me.’ Remember he had talked about the compression of distance. Iversen said he had every reason to believe that the suspect had a gun,” Gill answered. “For me, if that gun had been dropped and he was running away, it would be a very different analysis for me as well.”
Regarding non-lethal procedures, Gill said that before officers realized Palacios-Carbajal had a gun, one of them considered deploying a taser. But considering it was raining that morning, Palacios-Carbajal was wearing a loose jacket, and there was a considerable distance between them, they did not believe the taser would have worked.
“Officer Fortuna said on the continuum on the use of force, they are trained to bring as equal or greater force to the threat. So holstering his gun and pulling a taser out when somebody’s already got a gun would be against that training that they had,” said Gill.
He said that under Utah’s law, the police officers’ actions in this incident met the criteria under Utah law for using lethal force. Palacios-Carbajal’s family and attorneys disagreed and publicly responded to his decision a few hours after in a press conference with media.
“Now we can have a second conversation about criminal justice reform. We can have a second conversation about police brutality. But this particular case and the facts in this case, it is justified under the statute,” said Gill.
Thursday evening, protesters congregated outside the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s building to demonstrate in opposition to Gill’s ruling.
“To the protesters, I say exercise your first amendment right. I support that. I believe in that. I protested myself. I believe in its power. But the next part of that is to do the work that’s necessary to change policy, statutory framework, procedures, manuals, and trainings that we need to do. That conversation is long overdue and we need to continue to have it,” said Gill.
He added, “It’s pretty abundantly clear that we’re at a log jam of our policymakers and the very near future, my office will release a set of proposals to start the conversation on how those laws may be changed.”
Palacios-Carbajal’s family said they will file a civil suit in the near future.
Salt Lake City Chief of Police Mike Brown said he trusts the transparency and accountability afforded to the community through the investigative process.
“But, more importantly, I trust our officers,” Brown said. “I trust them to operate within the bounds of the laws and according to their use of force training. I trust that they can make the appropriate split-second, life or death decisions – weighing all factors and public safety – with the brevity required of them.”