Prosecutors are considering whether to file criminal charges against some Utah County Sheriff’s deputies accused of using excessive force, including a case where they chased a man down for minor traffic offenses and punched him in the head and back while putting him in handcuffs.
Utah County Attorney David Leavitt referred the case to the office of Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson. Both Leavitt and Dotson confirmed the investigation into the alleged misconduct, but neither would comment further.
Utah County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Cannon said Thursday that the office is aware of the investigation and is taking it seriously. He added they are also investigating the matters internally, but wouldn’t answer other questions.
It is unclear when Utah County prosecutors turned the case over to Iron County, how many deputies have been accused of using excessive force and if they remain on active duty.
However, the Utah County Commission linked the inquiry to the Feb. 4 arrest of a man involved in a police chase on Interstate 15 in its denial of records requests submitted by The Salt Lake Tribune. Those requests were for records involving allegations of deputy misconduct and body or dash camera footage of the arrest in question.
In its denial of the investigation documents, commissioners weighed a warning from the Iron County attorney that releasing the records would “interfere and undermine further inquiry and investigation.” The letter did confirm Dotson’s office was looking into allegations of “excessive force” and that it was trying to determine whether “criminal charges can or should be brought.”
Commission Chairman William Lee confirmed to The Tribune that the investigative documents and the Feb. 4 arrest are “connected."
A probable cause statement from the Feb. 4 arrest — written by Deputy Nicholas Friedrichsen — outlines several instances where deputies struck the suspect that rainy night. At this time, The Tribune is not naming the officers or the man involved in this incident because none of them face criminal charges at this time.
Friedrichsen was working in Orem that night, assisting a team of Utah County deputies, when they came across a parked red Dodge Neon.
He writes that a member of the Utah County Major Crimes team told Friedrichsen the car’s driver hadn’t signaled when he pulled away from the curb. Another team member told Friedrichsen the vehicle stopped beyond the stop line at a red light.
Friedrichsen followed the car, observing it going 40 in a 35 mph zone. He turned on his emergency lights and tried to stop the car near 1200 W. Center, but the driver didn’t stop. Instead, he got onto the freeway, headed north on Interstate 15.
That’s when Friedrichsen decided to end the chase. In the report he wrote, “The road conditions were wet, with light traffic and raining.”
However, the other law enforcement officers near him continued the pursuit. They told Friedrichsen the vehicle turned its lights off on the highway and eventually exited at 500 East in American Fork.
One detective requested deputies stop the car using a technique where they pull near the car and tap its back fender turning it sideways.
It’s unclear if officers did strike the vehicle to stop it, but when Friedrichsen arrived at 1100 S. 500 East, he found a deputy’s car “against the suspect vehicle” and five Utah County law enforcement officers standing with their guns drawn. Some were shouting commands at the man in the Dodge Neon.
“I was later advised that when they gave commands [the man] said ‘f--- you,'" Friedrichsen wrote.
Friedrichsen said he then went to the passenger side of the man’s vehicle with his firearm drawn and ordered him to get out. The man didn’t listen, the report states.
That’s when a deputy used a tool to break the car window, and a deputy reached in to pull the man out.
“I was later advised by [the deputy] that [the man] had hit [the deputy] during this altercation and [the deputy] attempted to get [the man] to comply with body strikes and he did not,” Friedrichsen writes.
Once out of the car, police tried to handcuff him, according to the probable cause statement, but the man wouldn’t comply, and police took him to the ground.
“[The man] was not placing his hands behind his back and bringing them out from underneath him,” Friedrichsen wrote. “Detectives delivered strikes to [the man’s] back, head and sides.”
Friedrichsen wrote he drew his Taser and placed it on the man, telling him to stop resisting and show his hands, and that’s when he listened and officers handcuffed him.
That arrest led to the man being charged with 3rd degree felony counts of assault against a peace officer, failure to stop or respond to command of police, possession or use of methamphetamine with a prior distributing conviction and obstructing justice. Additionally, he was charged with a handful of misdemeanors.
All of those charges were dismissed at the request of Utah County prosecutors on Sept. 24. The man’s attorney, Joshua Esplin, called that abnormal.
“I don’t typically get dismissals down here from this office very often,” he said. “So, I would say that I was surprised.”
Esplin said he never received a copy of the video footage from the arrest, which he considered suspect. He also said he was never told the case was part of a larger investigation into the officers’ use of force.