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A cheap shot
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Using the case of an unarmed woman killed by two West Valley City police officers as a means of scoring partisan political points is reprehensible.

But that's just what Chad Bennion, chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party, did when he accused District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat, of being "a cop hater," and of being soft on crime. Bennion was also not above dropping a little racism into his dastardly attack.

Late last week, after a nine-month, highly scientific investigation into the facts of the case, Gill announced his determination that the killing of Danielle Willard by two members of a since-disbanded drug squad was not justified.

Gill has yet to decide whether the officers, Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon, will face criminal charges in the matter. But he made it clear that the excuse the officers used for opening fire on an unarmed quarry — that she was threatening to run one or both of them down with her car — was not supported by the evidence.

Attorneys for the officers and for the Utah Fraternal Order of Police have defended the officers and suggested an alternate means of analyzing the events of Nov. 2 — something called "force science principles." Questioning Gill's conclusions, thus preparing a defense in any criminal proceedings that may ensue, is well within those attorneys' purview.

But attacking Gill personally, alleging that law enforcement officers in the county do not like or trust him, is less the tactic of a trial attorney than of a media spin doctor.

And Bennion's characterization of Gill as some kind of soft-on-crime weakling is clearly a cheap political shot aimed at helping challenge Gill at the polls in 2014. And, perhaps, as a way to undermine any conclusions Gill may draw in his office's ongoing investigation of the scandals attached to Utah Attorney General John Swallow (a Republican).

Worse still is the GOP chairman's suggestion that Gill is out of line because he grew up in India and, by Gill's own account, witnessed much of injustice.

One need not have grown up in the Third World to have seen, been offended by and be dedicated to opposing injustice and the abuse of power. Those characteristics are, one would hope, common in the United States. And they are commendable for any prosecutor at any level.

Unless it can be shown that Gill's conclusions were deliberately skewed, it is wrong to say that his efforts to call law enforcement officers to account when they abuse their power is somehow anti-cop. It is, in fact, one of the most important things a prosecutor can do to instill needed trust in those who, at great risk to themselves, enforce our laws.

Partisan, racist attacks out of line
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