The $2 million settlement the city of Hurricane entered into with the family of Brian Cardall, who died in June, 2009, after he was hit twice with a police Taser while he was suffering a psychotic episode, was a long time coming.
But the news of the settlement that followed that tragic and unnecessary event rekindled reservations I have had for a long time about the tendency of some law enforcement groups to look for cover when someone dies at their hands rather than embark on introspection about what could have been done differently.
Don't get me wrong. I understand police officers have a tough job and put their lives on the line every day. And I grieve with everyone else when one of our public servants is killed in the line of duty, which occurs way too often. But I also believe that when there are questions about police actions that result in someone else's death, the sense of urgency for finding answers doesn't seem to be the same.
The Cardall case is particularly galling.
Cardall, who suffered from bipolar disorder, suffered hallucinations while driving back to Arizona from a wedding in Salt Lake City. He took medication, but it takes an hour for that to take effect. He took off his clothes and began darting in and out of traffic. His wife, concerned for his safety, called 911.
But when the Hurricane police arrived, rather than assess his mental condition, call for backup and close off traffic while he was subdued, it was easier to just hit him with a Taser.
What is troubling is that police tapes of the officers' response included a discussion of where he was standing and where the officer was standing, to mitigate any wrongdoing, even while he was lying there not breathing. They even brought up a controversial explanation for that type of cardiac arrest, excited delirium, as the reason for his death.
So instead of concern for Cardall, they were mulling over excuses.
Then they took his wife to a police station and interrogated her, as if she were a suspect. Later comments from the department made it seem the cops were the victims because of the trauma they had suffered.
To my knowledge, no real discipline was given to the officer who deployed the fatal shocks and the fact the city fought the issue in court for four years indicates officials never took responsibility for his death.
These types of incidents and the cover-ups by police are too common.
It's been more than two months since two West Valley City plainclothes narcotics detectives killed 21-year-old Danielle Willard, who was unarmed, with two shots to the head. And there hasn't been a whiff of information from the police department about what exactly happened or why lethal force was necessary.
A young woman is dead. Maybe the shooting was justified. But why has there been no explanation for the shooting for more than two months?
An acquaintance of mine was assaulted by police in Ogden several years ago when he held up a sign along a highway alerting motorists to a speed trap ahead and letting them know what the speed limit was. He lost consciousness, had broken ribs and spent time in the hospital. But, fearing he would sue the city, which he eventually did, the city charged him with assaulting the officers. A judge eventually reprimanded the city attorney for the phony excuse and the city settled with him.
During a Utah Jazz-Chicago Bulls NBA Finals game in 1998, an 85-year-old man left early to get his car in order to pick up his wife near the entrance of the arena. When he dropped his keys, a cop working security in the parking lot became suspicious. After some words, the officer threw him to the ground, dislocating his shoulder and causing other injuries.
Attorney Rocky Anderson represented the man in a lawsuit against the city. Later, when Anderson ran for Salt Lake City mayor, a number of members of the police union demanded he not be endorsed because he represented the victim of an overzealous cop rather than taking the officer's side.
I'm not saying the police can't be careful. They even should get the benefit of the doubt. But when they unnecessarily hurt people because of bad decisions or overblown egos, they should be held accountable. And their colleagues should be the first ones to insist on that.