Updated 8/11/2023 at 1:48 p.m.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) — Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill announced the 2020 police-involved shooting of a 13-year-old autistic boy as unjustified in a press conference in Salt Lake City today, Aug. 11.
Gill discussed findings from a nearly three-year investigation into the shooting. Gill reported that while the shooting was unjustified his office will not file criminal charges against accused Officer Matthew Farillas.
Gill’s office worked with two court-qualified experts to investigate the shooting. Experts Natasha Powers, a retired police sergeant based out of Colorado, and Eric Daigle, Esq., an attorney, and retired police officer based out of Connecticut, came back with opposing opinions.
Powers’ final report stated she believed “Officer Farillas did not use good judgment when he shot Lindon Cameron” and she believed the officer’s actions were “not in concert with established police practices and guidelines and that a reasonable, trained, and prudent officer would not likely have performed in the same manner as Officer Farillas did.” She concluded that the force used by Officer Farillas was “inappropriate… a reasonable officer in his position could not have believed that it was proportional to the threat at the time.”
Daigle stated his opinion “Officer Farillas’ use of deadly force was within Salt Lake City PD’s use of force policy and training and met the national use of force training standards.” He felt that “based on the totality of the circumstances Officer Farillas was reasonable in his belief that deadly lethal force was necessary to defend himself from the perceived imminent threat of serious bodily injury.”
Gill summed up that even with an expert on each side of the argument because of statutes in place his office felt they could not prove their burden without reasonable doubt. He said that if the experts had agreed they would have been more easily compelled to file charges again Officer Farillas.
“This was an avoidable shooting that did not need to escalate to the point where lethal force was used,” stated Gill. “The police actions that followed, for example, the approach plan, the decision to pursue and the decision to confront and manner in which they did so lacked the professional discretion and judgment we expect of a police officer who is specially trained to respond to mental health crises in our community. The outcome in this case, that is the shooting of a child suffering a mental health crisis was the consequence of procedure missteps by the police throughout their response to the call for service.”
The SLCPD Communications Director Brent Weisberg reported the internal investigation by the department is ongoing with an eye to the way the department responds to people suffering with mental illness.
“We are reviewing the district attorney’s findings. While the civil and criminal cases associated to this investigation have resolved, the department’s internal review remains ongoing,” Weisberg said. “Since this tragic incident, the Salt Lake City Police Department has invested in and has provided more resources for officers when they respond to people who are living with a mental health illness or are in crisis. Additionally, the Salt Lake City Police Department continues to diversify its public safety response to include partnering with nationwide organizations that train officers on engaging with people living with sensory needs, mobile crisis outreach teams, utilizing the Salt Lake City Fire Department’s Community Health Access Team (CHAT), and the Salt Lake City Police Department’s social workers and the department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).”
The 2020 shooting sparked a nationwide conversation on how police respond to calls involving people with mental illness.
Police were called out to the home of Lindon Cameron on the night of September 4, 2020. Cameron’s mother, Golda Barton, had called 911 seeking help with crisis intervention for her son. On the call, she was heard asking dispatchers for a crisis intervention officer because her son needed to be transported to a hospital for an uncontrollable outburst. She informed police he had been in a high-speed chase with police previously, and due to an officer-involved shooting of one of his relatives in Nevada, he did not like cops at all.
“The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department shot my dad and killed him in his front yard this year,” said Barton. “So my son has severe…severe… he does not like cops at all. And so that’s why we need a mental health worker it’s super important, because I really… he’s sick.”
During a brief discussion, a female officer is heard on body cam footage saying, “It’s a psych problem… I don’t know why we should even approach.”
Officers responded, and after consulting with Barton, they approached the home. Cameron fled out the back and jumped the residence’s fence. Body cam footage shows officers in pursuit and culminating with Cameron stopping and being told to get down on the ground. He is heard saying “No.. no I can’t.” Then officers fire off a succession of shots. Cameron falls to the ground where he rolls over and can be heard saying, “I don’t feel good. Tell my mom I love her.”
Cameron survived the shooting but suffered life-changing injuries and emotional trauma according to a statement from the family attorney Nathan Morris. The family reached a $3 million settlement with Salt Lake in 2022. It was reported the family accepted the settlement to avoid more emotional trauma that could have come after a years-long wait for the lawsuit the reach trial.