After a family watched their 2-month-old son and grandson die at a hospital — possibly from a respiratory viral infection — West Valley City police broke into the family’s house in a rage and terrorized and assaulted them, the family says.
The dead child’s grieving father and booked in jail on suspicion of aggravated assault after he tussled with an officer.
The incident occurred Feb. 24. On Friday, the family held a news conference to discuss the allegations and a potential lawsuit against West Valley City and the two officers.
West Valley City Police Chief Colleen Jacobs held a news conference Friday afternoon in response. She said an internal affairs investigation was opened immediately following the incident. Following that, a citizen review board will review the investigation.
“It was concerning because what seemed to have been a routine investigation, in that it was a death investigation, and for it to turn into a use-of-force, clearly something happened and we need to find out why it went down that road,” Jacobs said.
West Valley City has not named the officers, but the family’s attorney, Bob Sykes, identified them as Ben Christensen and George Martinez.
Sykes was planning to file his lawsuit Friday, but said West Valley City offifcials reached out, admitted some wrongdoing on behalf of the officers and asked to engage in mediation, which is expected to occur next week.
Jacobs said she was not part of that conversation and opted not to comment on whether the officers were in the wrong.
Christensen, a patrol officer who has been with the department for nine years, was on medical leave until March 5, and then placed in a modified assignment where he has no contact with the public, Jacobs said. Martinez remains on patrol.
The two police officers showed up at the infant boy’s grandfather’s house where family had convened about 15 minutes after they returned from the hospital where Kameron Evans had unexpectedly died that night.
The episode started when Christensen and Martinez knocked on the door and Ricardo Estrada Sr., Kameron’s grandfather, yelled at them and slammed the door while in a state of emotional trauma, the family says.
Video then shows Christensen kicking in the door and entering the home with what Ricardo Estrada Jr. said Friday was a “look of rage.”
“I don’t know if it‘s attributed to training, or if this individual himself just lacks the mental aptitude to be a police officer,” Estrada Jr. said. “It’s ego-driven.”
If an officer doesn’t have a warrant or permission to enter a home, the law requires some sort of “exigent” circumstances — such as someone needing immediate medical care, or that there is destruction of evidence or a serious crime in progress — to legally enter.
“I am not sure what his exigent circumstances or his rationale behind that was,“ Jacobs said at the police news conference.
Estrada Sr. engaged in a short yelling match with Christensen before being pepper sprayed. He then walked up the stairs. Christensen followed, according to video of the incident, and pushed Tevin Evans, the dead infant’s father, up the stairs on his way to grabbing and handcuffing Estrada Sr.
“You could visibly see the officer was upset,” said Estrada Jr. “He couldn’t really handle the situation.
“He was quivering at this point. He couldn’t really say his commands like most police officers do.”
Estrada Jr. and another family member then called 911 to report the alleged civil rights violations.
When Christensen tried to cuff Evans, he resisted, and his mother, Traci Eggett, tried to intervene. Christensen “slammed his hand over Traci’s forearm for no apparent reason,” the family’s written account of the episode states. But she said the “karate chop” wasn’t very hard and didn’t leave a bruise.
Evans was recording the altercation, but dropped his phone and pushed Christensen as the officer was attempting to pull him away. The officer crashed into a wall and then pulled Evans down the stairs, and they both fell to the bottom, the family states.
Video of the incident shows Evans moving quickly toward Christensen, but Sykes said it was the result of him pushing Christensen while Christensen was pulling Evans down the stairs, and that no assault occurred.
Jacobs had a different version of events.
“Evans struck the officer in the face, causing him to become unconscious and fall on the stairs,” she said.
Throughout it all, dogs are barking and people are screaming at each other in a rush of emotion.
“He just died in my arms,” Maryssa Estrada-Evans, Kameron’s mother, is heard yelling in the video.
Officer Martinez then put his knee into Evans’ back and reached for his gun, the family says. Estrada-Evans then jumped on Evans and pleaded with the officer not to shoot. Martinez let go of his gun and grabbed his Taser, according to the family.
Christensen then got up and pushed Estrada-Evans off, grabbed Evans’ arm and twisted it before telling him he was being arrested, according to the family.
Eggett started criticizing the officer’s use of force, and Christensen responded by again pulling out his pepper spray and using it on her and Estrada Jr., according to the family.
After Evans was cuffed and put in a police car, the officer returned to the house and handcuffed Estrada Jr. and Eggett, then threw them on the couch. By that time, a handful of officers had arrived, as did news media. Eggett, Estrada Sr. and Estrada Jr. were taken out of handcuffs by different officers after about 20 minutes, Eggett said.
“This is a grieving family,” attorney Sykes said Friday. “There is no need to use any force at any time on any of these people. They’re terrified.”
Police then searched the home, including going through closets, the family said.
Police never once said why they were at the home during the altercation, the family said. Later in the evening, other officers who responded to the home after the incident took a statement from Estrada-Evans on the death of her son.
Evans was booked into the Salt Lake County jail, but charges were never filed.
The night his son died was the first time he had been in jail, Evans said Friday, and the worst night of his life.
“I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I didn’t do anything but walk in circles,” he said.
The 10-minute whirlwind of chaos at the home capped off a day of immense trauma and grief. It started with Evans and Estada-Evans waking up to find their baby son pale and struggling to breathe.
They had taken him to St. Mark’s Hospital the day before due to similar symptoms. Doctors said Kameron had respiratory syncytial virus but would be all right. The doctors said to monitor him and bring him back if his symptoms worsened, according to the family.
When Estrada-Evans and Evans brought Kameron back, doctors noticed weak vitals and were unable to put in an IV. They called for an ambulance transport to Primary Children’s Hospital.
Meanwhile, Kameron’s oxygen levels were dropping and doctors struggled to insert a breathing tube. Soon, a helicopter transport was ordered.
Doctors were never able to get the breathing tube in, and shortly after the helicopter arrived, Kameron stopped breathing on his own. Doctors pumped air into his lungs and performed chest compressions for 53 minutes, but Kameron died.
The hospital, located in Taylorsville, contacted the Unified Police Department about the death. UPD then passed it off to West Valley City police, to conduct the follow up investigation into the infant’s death, since that’s where the family lived.
It is not clear exactly what Christensen and Martinez were told before they arrived on the Estradas’ doorstep. But Jacobs said a typical investigation of this nature would involve gathering witness statements regarding the death, as well as information about events leading up to the death. “This investigation would also include determining if the home was the scene of a crime, or if anything occurring in the home contributed to the cause of the baby’s death,” Jacobs said in a written statement.
After grieving at the hospital, Evans, Estrada-Evans and other family members returned home. Estrada-Evans could barely make it into the house. When she did, she sat and cried with her father, Estrada Sr., and Evans held his other children as they all cried.
That’s when Christensen and Martinez arrived, according to the family.
Jacobs said even though it was a “routine” death investigation, police still needed to go to the home and question family members to make sure there was nothing in the home that contributed to the death of the infant.
“We typically try and do it as timely as possible,” Jacobs said. “In the event that it is a homicide, it preserves evidence.”
But the family felt the immediate response was insensitive given the unexpected death of the young loved one.
Jacobs said the department has yet to recommend criminal charges against Evans to the district attorney. When asked whether the department plans to do so, she ended the news conference.
“Thank you very much,” she said as she walked from the lectern.