One day after an investigation into the death of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal reached his desk, a group of 100 protesters rallied to urge Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill to take action.
Palacios-Carbajal died early in the morning of May 23 after being shot more than 20 times by Salt Lake City Police. The department turned over the shooting investigation to Unified Police — and it was submitted to Gill’s office at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Protesters vowed to gather every evening until the report is made public.
“We don’t know yet” how long that will take, said Palacios-Carbajal’s sister, Karina Palacios, adding that no one with the district attorney’s office, Salt Lake City Police Department or government has reached out to her. “That’s why we’re here. We want answers. We want to know exactly what happened that night.”
The number of protesters slowly grew as people taped “Justice for Bernardo” and “don’t shoot” signs on the windows and doors of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building at 35 W. 500 South.
“No more police immunity. Sim Gill, do your job,” shouted Lorena Burciaga, a family friend of Palacios-Carbajal.
The protesters were joined by another group that marched from the Utah Capitol building. Together, the crowd marched to the Salt Lake City Hall, pausing to take a knee at 400 South and State Street while facing the Capitol. There, they chanted “Mayor, what happened to his fingers?”Then protesters marched to the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building while chanting for Police Chief Mike Brown to step down.
Although protesters moved past a barricaded area marked with police tape, and some appeared to confront officers at one point, the gathering remained peaceful.
Protesters didn’t gather to demand justice solely for Palacios-Carbajal. Misti Okimoto never met Palacios-Carbajal, but she was friends with Cody Belgard, who was shot and killed by Salt Lake City police in late 2018. Body camera footage showed officers yelling “He’s got a gun!” and “He’s pointing!” even after Belgard’s girlfriend told officers he was unarmed. After the shooting, officers found they’d mistaken Belgard’s phone for a weapon.
Gill determined in May 2019 that officers were legally justified in the shooting since they believed he was carrying a gun.
“I have really bad feelings for [Gill],” Okimoto said. “So any cop can yell ‘gun’ at any time, and that justifies it?”
In an interview, Gill said he was planning to expedite his investigation of Palacios-Carbajal’s death as a result of public interest in the case.
“I’m hoping in the next two weeks we’ll have it finished,” Gill said, adding “we’re committed to trying to gather as much information as we can.”
Gill also offered support for Wednesday’s rally.
“I believe in protests,” Gill said. “Given the challenges we have in the criminal justice system, every elected [official] should be challenged. ... This didn’t happen overnight, these issues.”
The protest came the same day that a district attorney in Georgia released charges against two Atlanta officers for the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks. Earlier this month, prosecutors charged three police officer for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and elevated a murder charge against another officer who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. In New York, two Buffalo police officers have been charged with second-degree assault after they were caught on video pushing a 75-year-old protester to the ground.
Body camera footage show Salt Lake City police confronted Palacios-Carbajal at the Utah Village Motel, 271 W. 900 South, at around 2 a.m. on May 23, after officer responded to a call of a gun threat at a motel. As Palacios-Carbajal ran away, officers chased after him and yelled “Show me your hands!” After following him for several blocks, an officer commented that he saw something in Palacios-Carbajal’s pocket. The man stumbled several times and appeared to drop something and pick it up again, although footage does not appear to show Palacios-Carbajal pointed a weapon at the officers.
Salt Lake City police said a gun was found near the man after he was shot.
The Salt Lake City Council issued a statement after the footage was released, expressing “outrage” at the shooting and promising police reform. This week, they voted to move $2.8 million of the police department’s budget into a holding account. They also relocated $2.5 million in social work funds to another department and plan to have a third party scrutinize the police budget to determine whether there can be further cuts.
The council has also authorized funds to provide body cameras for all police.
Correction: 4 p.m., June 19 • An earlier version of this article misspelled Lorena Burciaga's name.