He wasn’t the one who drove the car that hit and killed a police officer in November 2018 — Jeffrey Black was in the passenger seat.
But on Friday, the 44-year-old admitted that he played in role in South Salt Lake Police Officer David Romrell’s Nov. 24, 2018 death.
Black pleaded guilty to manslaughter and burglary, second-degree felonies. He admitted in plea documents that “as a party to the offense,” he “recklessly caused” Romrell’s death.
As the man twice uttered the words “guilty” in a crowded courtroom Friday, Romrell’s widow wiped tears from her eyes.
Black faces up to 15 years in prison on each charge when he is sentenced April 6.
Prosecutors had initially charged Black with first-degree felony murder, obstructing justice, robbery, attempted burglary and failure to stop at the command of a police officer.
Authorities say Black was in the passenger seat of the Chevrolet Impala driven by 31-year-old Felix Calata that struck Romrell as the two tried to flee from a South Salt Lake residence while trying to “collect a debt.”
After Calata hit Romrell with the vehicle, police fired their weapons and killed the driver. Black ran away and hid in a boat for more than an hour to avoid being captured.
Prosecutors never accused Black of being behind the wheel. But he was still eligible to face the same penalties as the driver if prosecutors could show the homicide was committed “incident to an act, scheme, course of conduct, or criminal episode” where a serious crime was committed. In charging documents, prosecutors alleged Black was liable because the officer’s death occurred while Black was fleeing from a robbery and attempted burglary.
Romrell and his partner had responded to a report of a burglary late Saturday afternoon at a business complex at 3575 S. West Temple when they confronted Calata and Black in the Impala.
A woman had called police, according to charging documents, telling them two people were trying to break into her home.
When the two officers spotted the Impala, they got out of their vehicles and yelled for the driver to stop. Calata instead accelerated, striking Romrell with the car and dragging him several feet, according to charges.
Black later told police that they had been in the area to “tax” or take money from the woman, and they had tried to use a crowbar to pry open the woman’s door.
He said he saw the police officers yelling for them to stop, according to charges, but thought they had hit a mailbox — not a police officer.