Family of Zane James sues police department over alleged protest misconduct

Wasatch Front News

Zane James was shot and killed by the Cottonwood Heights Police Department in 2018

A protester is led away by Cottonwood Heights police officers during a march Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. The protest was a “March for Justice” focused largely around Zane James, who was fatally shot by police in Cottonwood Heights in 2018. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah (ABC4) – A family of a man shot and killed by police has filed a lawsuit against the Cottonwood Heights Police Department in regards to the handling of a protest in 2020.

According to court documents, the family of 19-year-old Zane James has filed a suit against the former employees of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department and the city of Cottonwood Heights.

The lawsuit comes after the family alleged a police officer assaulted one of the family members and the city’s handle on the family’s protest regarding police misconduct following their child’s death.

According to the documents, James was shot in the back on May 29, 2018, by a Cottonwood Heights police officer.  Investigators say James was running from police after a crash in Cottonwood Heights. James was accused of robbing two stores with an ‘airsoft’ or toy gun loaded with BBs.

James died two days later of complications from the shooting. 

“In August of 2020, the James family was grieving. Their cherished son and brother Zane
James was dead, shot by a Cottonwood Heights police officer in the back… Nothing could bring back Zane, but the James family was not willing to accept Zane’s death as simply another meaningless death by a police officer that was too eager and too quick to take life,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit focuses on the family getting justice for being revoked their right to protest and freedom of speech, and the “unexplained attacks” that took place back in 2020.

“In August of 2020, the James family—Aaron James, Tiffany James, Raven James and Gabe
Pecoraro—did what Americans have done since the Summer of 1773, they joined a protest,” the lawsuit reads. “The protest was peaceful. Aaron and Gabe did not carry weapons and did not call for violence. There was no damage to property. The protestors met in their own neighborhood among their own friends, neighbors, and homes to publicly grieve and express their deep frustration with the City of Cottonwood Heights and the Police Department’s inaction in creating policy change after Zane’s shooting.”

As soon as the protest continued down its envisioned path, the city immediately shut down the event, and “officers lined up multiple vehicles behind the march to prevent any cars from approaching the marchers.”

According to the family using “traffic” concerns as a pretext and in violation of the First Amendment, Russo and Bartlett gave orders to arrest all persons in the street.

“Although they targeted the James family, Defendants did not arrest protestors advocating
a Manichean pro-police message who were also walking in the street. For example, one of the
counter-protestors—while standing in the street in full view of officers—threatened to kill
members of the James family by burning down their house,” the documents share. “Although this counter-protestor threatened a violent felony in full view of law enforcement, officers thought it was funny and failed to arrest the man— solely because they deemed his fighting words acceptable.”

The second instance which the James family is fighting against regards the alleged police misconduct which took place on August 2, 2020, between an officer and James’ brother.

“Gabe was walking on the sidewalk and street in his own neighborhood exercising his First Amendment rights when he was targeted and assaulted from behind by [the officer]. [The officer] knew Gabe as Zane’s brother. [The officer] singled out and targeted Gabe to retaliate against
the James family for speaking out about Zane’s death. Instead of trying to make a peaceful arrest,
[The officer] grabbed Gabe by the head and neck. Gabe, unaware that the person who assaulted
him from behind as an officer, reacted instinctively and failed to submit to this unlawful assault. When Officer Croft saw Gabe minutes later, he enlisted another officer to rush and attack Gabe from behind,” the document reads.

According to the lawsuit, the family anticipates a trial by jury of all issues.

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