Cody Belgard was shot in the back and killed by police in west Salt Lake City just over a week ago, and his family is still grappling with the basic questions surrounding his death.
Why did the officer shoot? Why were the family not allowed to see Belgard’s body for days after he was killed? Why didn’t police interview witnesses at the scene? Was there body camera footage, and when can they see it? What kind of confrontation can a person be having with someone else if their back is turned?
“We want answers to all those questions,” longtime family friend Marvin Oliveros told supporters Saturday at a rally to remember his friend. “And today, a week later, we have answers to none of them from the police department.”
Family and friends have sought information themselves. They’ve listened to the 911 scanner from that night. They’ve talked to a witness and others who were nearby. They’ve observed the gunshot wounds in Belgard’s back, and tried to interpret statements from police about why they were pursuing Belgard that Saturday night. Little by little, they’ve pieced together a series of events, even if they don’t know exactly what happened in the seconds before Belgard was killed.
But of all the questions they have, there’s one they may never understand, even when they get answers: Why Cody?
Belgard was a teddy bear, Oliveros said. The 30-year-old wasn’t quick to anger. He was quiet, and as a musician in the Glendale community, known as See Smoke, he used rhymes and raps to express himself. He was the type of person who knew life was precious, his sister Sena Belgard said, and so he never missed the chance to give a loved one a hug.
“He just wasn’t violent. He didn’t ever want to hurt anything,” said Sena Belgard. Cody Belgard died Nov. 9 after being shot by police near 800 North and Sir Philip Drive.
Salt Lake City police have said Belgard drove at officers and “rammed” a police car when he and his girlfriend fled police who approached him in a Sugar House parking lot earlier that night. When officers found Belgard later in Rose Park, police wrote, he was “noncompliant.”
“Due to his actions shots were fired,” police wrote in a statement this week.
But Sena Belgard said her family received an autopsy summary that reported her brother died from two gunshots to his back. Police have released no information about what transpired before the shooting.
Utah Against Police Brutality, Rose Park Brown Berets and the Belgard family planned the 1 p.m. rally Saturday at the police station in Rose Park to demand more information about the fatal shooting, including body camera footage.
About 50 people attended, standing in a shower of light raindrops as family, friends and activists against police shootings spoke between intermittent chants of “Justice for Cody!"
“How do you have an altercation with somebody when their back is turned? It makes no sense," Sena Belgard told the crowd. "Nobody, not even a police officer, has the right to take somebody’s life if their own life is not in danger, and I know for a fact that whoever shot my brother, his life was not in danger.”
Witness Nomi Armijo told The Salt Lake Tribune that Cody Belgard appeared to be going to her home just before he was shot. Armijo said she was parked in a car with her boyfriend and sleeping toddler outside her home, near the scene of the shooting, when she noticed Belgard walking toward her house. Belgard was her older brother’s best friend, Armijo said, and had been visiting frequently to record music with him.
As Belgard reached her home, Armijo said, an officer slowly approached in a K-9 truck. Belgard turned and walked to the backyard, and the officer blocked Armijo’s car, got out and knocked on her car window, she said. He had a flashlight and a gun and ordered Armijo and her boyfriend to roll down the window, Armijo said.
“We said no because we got scared,” Armijo said. “He was like, ‘Just roll it down!’ He yelled at us. I was looking straight [ahead], and my boyfriend told me he had the gun pointing at us. … [The officer] said, ‘Stay in the car, don’t move.’”
The officer returned to the police truck and a police cruiser passed, speeding around the corner with no lights or sirens, Armijo said.
“Gunshots came out,” Armijo said. “I instantly knew it that it was Cody.”
Armijo said she was scared and ran into her home.
“I said, ‘It’s Cody, it’s Cody!’ Everyone started screaming and crying,” Armijo said. “Police did not come back and get a witness statement from me or nothing. It was weird.”
Armijo said she believes Belgard went through her backyard and a neighbor’s backyard to end up on Sir Phillip Drive, a block away; that’s where officers said police shot him. But she says she doesn’t know why they shot him. When he walked past her, she said, he was carrying nothing.
Sena Belgard said she has asked investigators whether Cody had any kind of weapon, but they will not answer. West Valley City police are investigating the shooting.
“He doesn’t own any weapons,” Sena Belgard said. “I don’t even know if Cody knew how to use a gun, honestly.”
Armijo said she was mystified by officers’ report that Belgard fled from police earlier that night in a car, after officers confronted him and his girlfriend; Belgard appeared to have arrived on foot when she saw him approaching her family’s house that night, and she had not seen either Belgard or his girlfriend in possession of a car previously. His girlfriend was not with him when he was shot, Armijo said, and she called Armijo’s family after the shooting, asking if they had seen Belgard.
Salt Lake City police have not described the car they said Belgard drove away from the Sugar House parking lot and have declined to comment on the shooting while it is under investigation. In a statement this week, police wrote that officers went to a parking lot at a strip mall at 2274 S. 1300 East, where they had been “notified about” a car that had been driven away from police a week earlier. Officers “made contact with the suspect and his girlfriend,” police wrote.
“The suspect was uncooperative and during the contact he was able to get into his vehicle,” police wrote. "He rammed a police car and hit two other vehicles in the parking lot, and attempted to hit officers. He then fled the scene with officers in pursuit.”
Police wrote that officers later found the car near 800 N. Sir Philip Drive and again “contacted the suspect.”
“He was again noncompliant and due to his actions shots were fired,” police wrote, identifying the man as Belgard.
Officers said they expected to release video footage from the shooting in the coming week. Belgard is the 14th person to be shot to death this year by police in Utah — a body count matched only in 2007 and 2014, when Utah officers also fatally shot 14 people. Since January, police have shot at 24 people, nine of those since mid-October.
Belgard’s death was being mourned by Salt Lake City’s rap scene, which shared See Smoke’s songs in memorials as news of the shooting spread.
Sena Belgard said her brother was so soft-spoken as a boy that when people first heard him rapping, around age 12, some were surprised to hear him talk at all.
“Music allowed him to express himself,” she said. “If you would say something, he’d put it into a rhyme because that’s just the way his brain worked."
In high school, Cody Belgard and his friends spent a lot of time at Glendale’s Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center, where they found a music studio, his sister said.
“He’d go over with his friends, make beats on these instruments there,” Sena Belgard said. “They got a producer and … started releasing rap music together, about Glendale, about Salt Lake City.”
After Cody Belgard died, fans shared “Creep Wit Me,” his homage to the neighborhoods and towns of the Salt Lake Valley.
“He was proud of where he grew up, he was proud of Glendale,” Sena Belgard said. “He loved music and he loved rhyming, and rapping was a way for him to express that.”
In recent years Cody Belgard struggled with drug addiction, his sister said. He had faced drug possession and shoplifting charges — but never had been accused of any violent crime.
His sister said she worried he would be written off as violent “because he was a rapper.”
“He’s a very sensitive and soft-spoken person,” she said. “He’s a big guy, and a lot of guys would try to be violent with him, and he would tell me, ‘I don’t understand. I don’t want to fight anybody.’”