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Utah officer who shot Dillon Taylor was wearing a body camera

Published August 19, 2014 6:35 pm

Crime • Burbank said the footage from the officer's body camera will be released at the end of investigation.
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The Salt Lake City police officer who shot 20-year-old Dillon Taylor outside a convenience store last week was wearing a body camera. And that footage will be released to the public upon the completion of the investigation.

"You will see on camera ... the actions of everyone involved, including up to the point where our officer utilizes deadly force and his response thereafter," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank told reporters during a question-and-answer session Tuesday at police headquarters.

Police have said the investigation may take several weeks, causing frustration among Taylor's supporters, who insist he was unarmed when he was shot Aug. 11 outside a 7-Eleven at 2102 S. State St.

"I want to know what they're hiding. Why is it that they can't tell us the truth?" Marissa Martinez, a family friend of Taylor, asked at a protest outside police headquarters Monday.

Burbank declined to discuss details of the camera footage — including whether Taylor had a gun when he was killed — because of ongoing investigations by detectives from two police forces, the district attorney, the department's internal-affairs unit and the civilian review board.

"It would be wholly inappropriate to take the most vital piece of physical evidence we have and put it out to the public prior to the officer having some due process," Burbank said. "That would be the same for anybody."

Burbank indicated that if Taylor's shooting is found to have been unjustified, the officer involved would be held accountable. In the past five years, the chief noted, two officers have been dismissed for using excessive force with a firearm.

The introduction of body cameras has been a cornerstone of Burbank's tenure as police chief, designed to usher in a new era of transparency for the department.

"My commitment in putting cameras on the officers, and the officers know this, is they're going to be exposed a little bit to public scrutiny," Burbank said. "That's not a bad thing because I am convinced that the majority of the time it will document outstanding police work. And it has thus far."

Burbank said that every officer who interacts with the public will be equipped with a camera within a year, and the footage recorded by the body cameras also will be used for training.

"We can now show that in training and say, 'This is what took place. How can we do better? What should we do differently? What are the good things that the officer did?' " Burbank said. "There's tremendous value in that."

Burbank drew a distinction between Taylor's shooting, in which the officer involved was not white, and the racially charged shooting of Michael Brown, the black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., two days before Taylor was killed.

But Taylor's family, friends and supporters have drawn parallels to the Brown case, asserting that Taylor, like Brown, was unarmed when he was shot.

"It didn't make sense to me when I first heard everything, and they tried to say he had a gun," said Taylor's friend Aaron Swanenberg, who came to Monday's protest straight from Taylor's funeral. "I knew Dillon. He never packed a gun."

Taylor's brother, Jerrail, who was outside the 7-Eleven with Taylor when he was shot at least twice, also has said his brother was not armed.

Another protest demanding justice for Taylor and Brown is planned for Wednesday at 7 p.m. outside the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building at 125 S. State St.

During the Q&A, Burbank reiterated his opposition to a new ordinance proposed by the Salt Lake City Council that would require city investigators to submit for analysis all rape kits gathered from victims after a reported sexual assault.

"It's an undue burden on the taxpayers," Burbank said. "If someone is arrested for committing a sexual assault in this state, the law requires that their DNA be taken and entered into a database. Now why, if that's occurring, would I [duplicate] that process and run a rape kit?"

Councilman Kyle LaMalfa has criticized the department for failing to analyze 788 of 1,001 rape kits collected between 2003 and 2011, and has said the ordinance would help to successfully prosecute more sexual assaults.

"The sense among the policymakers is that we've waited long enough," LaMalfa said last week.

But Burbank said analyzing every rape kit would sacrifice the department's ability to investigate other crimes such as homicides and robberies.

"It plays well politically to be sympathetic to someone who has been the victim of sexual assault, and I am sympathetic to that," Burbank added. "But I also have to be realistic and deal with the victims of all crime."

Other highlights from Burbank's Q&A:

• The militarization of police: "I do not believe we should be militarized. In fact, we have taken steps in the police department to go in the other direction. … I am convinced if we show up wearing riot gear, helmets and shields and everything else, it says 'throw rocks and bottles at us.' Now, in some circumstances, maybe that's the only option. But, is there a better way to do business?"

• Police treatment of the homeless and drug addicted: "The challenge with our homeless population, the challenge with drug and alcohol addicts is they don't have the trust and confidence in the police because we're viewed as the heavy hand coming in and we have impact negative to their lives. … If you're homeless, we should be finding you a place to stay or identifying what your needs are. If you have drug and alcohol dependency, jail doesn't solve that problem. There should be alternatives to that."

• Warrants being served by SWAT teams: "The SWAT team serves all our warrants now following that unfortunate incident wherewe hit the wrong house. … I said, guess what guys? You're no longer just responding to just those high-level incidents that are very stressful. You're going to respond to these low-level things and you're going to have to learn how to deal with it with the least amount of force."

hstevens@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Harry_Stevens