Critics hoping to oust Sim Gill after Willard shooting announcement
Critics of Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill are calling for his head, politically speaking, days after he announced that two West Valley City detectives were wrong to shoot and kill a young woman last year.
Gill said in a news conference Thursday morning that officers Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon were not justified in the Nov. 2 killing of Danielle Willard. Later Thursday, attorney Bret Rawson who represents both Salmon and the Fraternal Order of Police, a statewide law enforcement group criticized the findings and expressed a desire to see someone challenge Gill in the 2014 election.
Rawson couldn't be reached for comment on Friday, but he told reporters Thursday that he hoped for a "candidate to emerge who has an understanding of Force Science principles."
Gill dismissed the comments in a conversation Friday, saying they were nothing new. Gill also stood by his findings in the Willard case, as well as his record as district attorney.
"I'm going to do what is right, whether it's popular or whether it's unpopular," he said.
He would not discuss any plans to run for re-election in 2014, instead saying he was focused on doing his job in the present.
Lindsay Jarvis, who represents Cowley, echoed Rawson in criticizing Gill's performance. Friday afternoon in a phone conversation, she argued that Gill apparently takes a "guilty until completely proven innocent" approach to officer-involved cases and is not popular with law enforcement.
"He is very not liked," she said. "Nobody trusts him. Law enforcement is definitely not on his side."
Jarvis reported hearing rumors of potential challengers in next year's election, though she did not mention specific names. She also said she has no plans to seek the position herself.
Salt Lake County Republican Chairman Chad Bennion was even more blunt, calling Gill's record "weak" and suggesting the D.A.'s upbringing in India, where Gill has discussed witnessing injustices, may be tainting his current performance. Bennion said Gill has been "letting criminals off" a reference to the scores of cases that have been dismissed over concerns about West Valley City's Narcotics Unit while coming down hard on police officers.
"It might simply be that Sim is a cop hater," Bennion added.
Bennion went on to say that he believes Gill's overall record opens up a strong opportunity for a Republican to take the D.A.'s office in 2014. Republican officials were not meeting with any potential candidates after Gill's announcement Thursday in the Willard case, though Bennion expressed confidence that his party could defeat Gill.
Gill countered that during his time in office, he has focused on transparency and accountability. He also said that in the past three years he paid for 900 cops' training on the psychodynamics of officer-involved shootings. By the end of his first term, that number will reach 1,000 officers.
"It leaves one wondering how to even respond to that," Gill said of allegations that he might harbor animosity toward police. "It's really too bad that when you do your job we have to reduce conversations to personalized hate or political rhetoric."
He further rejected the notion that he has a poor or antagonistic relationship with law enforcement. He said a small group of officers may believe law enforcement decisions should never be questioned, but most others want to base their opinions on evidence. Still others are glad someone is going after cops who break the rules.
"At the end of the day it is the facts and the evidence at hand that drives the situation," Gill explained of his investigation into Willard's death. "Nobody is above the law."
Though Gill's critics became more vocal following the Willard announcement, his allies remained firmly in his camp. Salt Lake County Democratic Chairman Richard Jaramillo said Gill has always been supportive of police officers and is "someone with integrity." Jaramillo is pleased with Gill's performance but said he is not surprised to see Republicans going after him.
"It has nothing to do with his respect for law enforcement," he added.
Stan Jacobson agreed. Jacobson heads the local chapter of the International Footprint Association, an organization dedicated to supporting law enforcement and encouraging interagency relationships, which in April named Gill the law enforcement Officer of the Year. Jacobson, who also is a former police officer, described Gill as fair and thorough.
"He's pro cop, but when he finds a bad apple he goes after it," Jacobson said.
Gill, a Democrat, began his tenure as district attorney in 2010 when he defeated Republican incumbent Lohra Miller. The election was a re-match from four years earlier, when Miller bested Gill.
Gill estimated that during his time in office he has investigated 35 to 40 incidents in which officers used deadly force. Though he didn't have exact figures over the weekend, Gill estimated that as many as 35 of those officers have been cleared, with their use of force ruled justifiable.
Cowley and Salmon are the fourth and fifth officers during Gill's term whose use of force was not justified, he said.
Before Gill's time in office, Miller determined that at least two officers wrongly used deadly force. In 2007, Miller announced that Salt Lake County Sheriff's deputies David Jensen and Alan J. Morley should not have shot Joseph Blair in the arm. The two deputies never faced criminal charges.
However, Miller sided with officers in a handful of other cases, and at one point faced a lawsuit from the family of a man killed by police.