Salt Lake City police officers fired at least 20 shots at a 22-year-old man who was running away from them two weeks ago, body camera footage released Friday shows.
Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was killed in the early morning of May 23 after police responding to a call of a gun threat chased the Salt Lake City man for several blocks when he ran from a motel as they approached.
The body camera footage showed the officers encountered Palacios-Carbajal at the Utah Village Motel, 271 W. 900 South, just after 2 a.m. One officer yells, “Show me your hands!” as Palacios-Carbajal starts to run away.
The officers pursued him for several blocks, shouting at him to “drop it!” One officer yells that he sees something in Palacios-Carbajal’s pocket.
The video shows Palacios-Carbajal stumble and fall several times before getting up and continuing to run from the officers. After he falls a third time, he picks up something from the ground — police say it was a gun — and continues to try to run away before two officers begin shooting.
After Palacios-Carbajal is shot in the back, he collapses on the ground as officers continue to shout at him. “Show me your f---ing hands!” one officer yells.
It doesn’t appear, based on the body camera videos from the three officers, that Palacios-Carbajal pointed a gun at them. Police said a weapon was found near him after he was shot.
His siblings were allowed to watch the video footage Friday afternoon. His sister, Elsa Karina Palacios, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the police could have handled the episode differently.
"They didn't have to kill him," she said. "They didn't have to shoot him so many times. He was running. He was scared. He would still be here."
Asked if she wanted to communicate anything to the protesters who have been rallying nightly in Salt Lake City against police brutality — including the hundreds who flocked Friday to the Capitol and then marched downtown — she responded: “I don’t even know what to say. I just wish he was here.”
Jeremy Delicino and Steve McCaughey, attorneys for Palacios-Carbajal's family, said in a statement Friday evening that the 22-year-old was no threat to the police officers and did not confront them.
“He did not even turn to face them,” they said. “He ran away from them and yet was shot in the back before falling to the ground. And then Bernardo, lying lifeless on the asphalt, was shot more.”
The lawyers said the shooting was avoidable, and says Palacios-Carbajal’s family wants accountability.
“It is now up to all of us, already grieving over the loss of so many young men to police brutality, to demand change,” they said. “A change to police tactics. A changes to the bias that pervades our police forces. A change to the system that has all too often allowed officers to escape discipline and prosecution.”
The video of the shooting was released Friday as part of the Salt Lake City mayor’s policy that body camera video be released within 10 business days of a shooting by police. Police officials emphasized Friday that an investigation was still ongoing.
The two officers who fired their weapons have been put on administrative leave, which is standard after a police shooting.
Chief Mike Brown said Friday in a brief statement to reporters that he stands with his officers. “I trust our training," he said. "I trust in the investigative process we have in place to address officer-involved critical incidents. Most importantly, I trust our officers.”
Democratic state Reps. Sandra Hollins and Angela Romero, along with Sen. Luz Escamilla, issued a statement Friday evening calling for an expedited investigation of the police shooting. All three represent Salt Lake City.
“The footage released today by the Salt Lake City Police Department is disturbing, and a thorough investigation is needed,” the statement reads. "We urge calm while encouraging people to continue using their voices to advocate for the changes that we all want.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall urged the department to investigate quickly so “everyone can get the answers that they deserve in a timely manner.”
Mendenhall apologized to Palacios-Carbajal’s family Friday, calling the bodycam video “genuinely disturbing and upsetting."
“Right now, given all that our country is going through, in particular the rawness and fear that so many people of color are feeling, outrage is understandable,” she said. “... We have great work to do in the days and months ahead, and we must channel our collective anger into a process of progress and change.”
Gov. Gary Herbert also asked for a swift and transparent investigation.
“Due process is expected," he tweeted. "Until all the facts are in we will not comment substantively on this ongoing investigation. We will, however, always decry disproportionate use of force. If there are findings of misconduct, we expect full accountability.”
The release of the bodycam footage came after a week of nightly protests in Salt Lake City in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in Minnesota by a white officer who knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. His death sparked rioting and looting in that state and has led to protests against racism and police brutality across the country.
Salt Lake City police officials seemed to be bracing for more protests Friday after the video release. The street in front of downtown’s Public Safety Building — which still had damaged and cracked glass from earlier unrest — was blocked by National Guard Humvees.
Police officers and armed Guard members stood waiting for a crowd, but none had formed by late afternoon. A Guardsman told The Tribune that Washington Square, that park surrounding City Hall, had been quiet compared to the rest of the week. At one point, officers followed and later stopped a group of men near the park after receiving a report they were hiding weapons.
Officers let the men go soon afterward, finding they hadn’t done anything wrong.
Activist groups Rose Park Brown Berets and Utah Against Police Brutality said Friday that they weren’t planning any demonstrations for the evening to let Palacios-Carbajal’s family grieve but said they planned to be on the streets protesting Saturday.
Protesters did, however, mass in the hundreds near the Capitol early Friday evening and stayed there for a few hours before heading downtown, sharing thoughts over a loudspeaker despite gusty winds and a chance of severe thunderstorms.
In the crowd, several held white signs that declared in red type: “Justice for Bernardo.”
Demonstrator Tyeise Bellamy told the crowd that Friday was hard for numerous reasons. It was Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She would have been 27 if police had not killed her in her Lousiville, Ky., home on March 13.
On Thursday, Bellamy said, Floyd was laid to rest in Minnesota, and she was grappling with that. Then came the footage of Palacios-Carbajal’s death.
“Just know that we’re fighting, we’re praying, we’re hurting with [Palacios-Carbajal’s family and friends]," she said. “We’re hurting for you guys.”
The crowd later formed a procession that traveled from the Capitol to City Hall and the Public Safety Building. It was the second times in two nights protesters had made the several-mile trek to demonstrate.
— Tribune reporters Erin Alberty and Libby Seline contributed to this story.