Tribune editorial: Keep Gill as D.A. for one more term

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jacob Jensen, left, and Adam Guymon, both organizers of Utah Against Police Brutality (UAPB), speak with District Attorney Sim Gill outside his office on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, as they bring attention and reject his decision to not file charges against a West Valley officer who shot and killed Elijah Smith.

For a second consecutive election, one of Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill’s own employees is trying to oust him.

Nathan Evershed, an experienced prosecutor in the DA’s office, raises issues similar to the ones Steve Nelson raised four years ago: Gill is inexperienced as a prosecutor of major crime, and that makes him ineffective as a supervisor of prosecutors.

Evershed points to a “brain drain” at the DA’s office as experienced prosecutors take jobs elsewhere. He says justice in the county is suffering as a result. He points to the unsuccessful prosecution of former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff. He also sees the recent controversy over Gill’s decision not to prosecute four sexual assault cases as evidence that Gill doesn’t have the experience to prosecute sex crimes.

But what Evershed won’t say is what, specifically, his fellow prosecutors did wrong in those cases.

That’s a tight spot for Evershed. He wants to blame his boss for not being a savvy prosecutor, but he can’t say exactly how he would have been more savvy. It’s hard for voters to know what to do with that.

Three police unions are also supporting Evershed. The Utah Fraternal Order of Police’s attorney says he is now advising officers not to give statements to Gill’s office when it investigates police shootings because he and others think Gill isn’t “capable of rendering judgment over these officers in an unbiased fashion.”

If Gill is biased against officers who shoot, it’s not apparent from his record. Even in a period where police shootings have drawn unprecedented scrutiny from the citizenry, Gill has ruled police shootings were justified in almost all cases. The police unions might think they would do better with someone else, but they couldn’t do much better, whether they cooperate with Gill’s investigations or not. As it is, there is a large segment of the public that thinks Gill is protecting officers who don’t deserve protecting.

The criticism from police and prosecutors is that Gill is too political, but that is because he has to answer to more than police and prosecutors. It’s noteworthy that Evershed had no issues with how Gill handles representing county government, which by nature is political. County council members, including Republicans, aren’t clamoring for Evershed, who doesn’t seem particularly interested in that part of the job anyway.

Ultimately, the biggest Sim Gill issue may just be longevity. With a few exceptions, it’s hard for elected officials to keep their momentum for a third four-year term. That’s true regardless of the office. The issues Nelson and Evershed raise can be inherent in any organization with longtime management, and eventually it leads to fresh blood at the top.

Would Evershed do better than Gill? No, so we’re endorsing Gill for a third term. It probably should be his last.