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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Settlement between Brian Cardall’s family, Hurricane police confidential

Attorney Peter Stirba said the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Hurricane in the death of Brian Cardall has been settled in the best interest of all parties.

The problem is, the public is forced to take Stirba’s word for it. Stirba, who represented the city, Police Chief Lynn Excell and Officer Kenneth Thompson, said the details of the settlement were confidential.

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Cardall’s family sued the city, Excell and Thompson, who delivered two shocks from a Taser pistol to Cardall when he was having a bipolar episode on the side of a southern Utah highway in 2009. Cardall died shortly after the second shock was delivered and, Cardall’s family alleges, failed to provide medical treatment when he stopped breathing.

The public, who will foot the bill for the settlement, is in the dark. And that concerns at least one open-government advocate.

"There’s no doubt that the details of the settlement are of public interest," said Linda Petersen, chairwoman of the Society of Professional Journalists’ national Freedom of Information Committee. "Obviously in the case of wrongful Tasering, the public has a huge interest in knowing what its police force is doing. "

Petersen, who is also executive director of the Utah Foundation for Open Government, also questioned how a public entity could keep a lawsuit settlement away from the public. Normally, legal agreements involving cities and towns are public record.

Along with not knowing about how much money the city paid to settle the Cardalls’ claims, the public also doesn’t know if the city is taking any steps to ensure the episode is not repeated, such as training officers in dealing with mentally ill people or proper use of Taser pistols.

In the wake of Cardall’s death, the Utah State Legislature passed a resolution encouraging police departments to provide officers with better training in how to respond to people with mental illness. But resolutions do not carry the full weight of a law, and there’s a difference between encouraging and mandating that someone do something.

Do you think the settlement should be made public as a matter of accountability?



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