The morning after protesters damaged the building that houses his offices, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill vowed to “encourage robust civic dialogue” while decrying the violence that seriously injured one police officer and at least two demonstrators.
“More than just paint was spilled and windows were broken,” Gill said in a statement, scolding the “few people” who broke windows and covered the entrance of his office building in red paint for their “unlawful and irresponsible disregard for civic dialogue and community collaboration.”
And, he vowed, “The vandalism of a few won’t discourage or distract us from continuing our work in the community as we seek improvement, reform, understanding and respect throughout our community.”
The Salt Lake City Police Department responded to the damage by laying down the law, saying in a news release that they “will no longer tolerate vandalism, violence, or using cars to block roads.”
“SLCPD will assist in traffic control to support peaceful protesters and remind the community that it is incumbent upon each person to respect the First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble,” the statement read.
Bodycam and security video shows Palacios-Carbajal running from police, dropping and picking up a gun three times before he was shot — the first bullets hit him in the back. Gill decided that the two officers, who fired a combined 34 rounds at Palacios-Carbajal, reasonably feared for their safety and met the legal requirement to use deadly force.
A group of about 300 came together in a protest that ended in four arrests, including two of the Justice for Bernardo group’s lead organizers, 18-year-old Sofia Alacá and 21-year-old Emanuel Hill.
Alacá was booked on suspicion of felony criminal mischief on accusations she helped spread red paint on the road in front of the district attorney’s office during a June 27 protest. Hill was arrested on suspicion of felony rioting and criminal mischief. Police said undercover officers at the protest watched him break windows at the district attorney’s office.
Both were arrested hours after the demonstration ended when they returned to downtown Salt Lake City to pick up a vehicle. The arrest was captured by activists in a Facebook Live video.
Two others demonstrators were taken into custody on misdemeanor allegations of failure to disperse. One was also accused of a misdemeanor assault on a police officer.
Police in riot gear descended on the district attorney’s building Thursday as some protesters began breaking windows — five total — and declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly.”
Lines of police, dressed in body armor and shields, and protesters, mostly in casual clothing and cloth or medical-grade masks and bandanas, clashed as they met on 500 South near State Street.
The department said one of its officers was seriously injured at the protest Thursday and taken to the hospital. At least two protesters were also injured, and many on social media reported bruises after being pushed down or struck by officers.
Nathan Morris, an attorney for Palacios-Carbajal’s family, said Friday that the family had called for “peaceful protests” during their Thursday news conference, and added they did not support the actions of some protesters who smashed windows and threw objects at police.
“The actions of a few certainly don’t represent the views of the family,” he said. “Clearly, there is a lot of emotion out there,” and the family is “grateful for the support.”
He also pointed to statements by Gill and Police Chief Mike Brown that laws regarding the use of force by police need to change, adding that it’s “worthwhile” to continue to protest. “If they’re making that clarion call for change, then protesting is the only way that those voices can be heard.”
But only if the protests are peaceful, Morris argued.
“Certainly, we don’t feel like violence helps our cause at all,” he said. “But protesting is an important right that needs to continue.”
The Salt Lake City Racial Equity In Policing Commission issued a statement expressing condolences to Palacios-Carbajal’s family, and the hope that “you may someday find solace in our actions and efforts to ensure that no family should ever find themselves in the position you are in now.”
The statement went on to say that “our communities of color are tired. After lifetimes of repeatedly asking for change in the wake of tragedies, the outcomes have become unfortunately predictable.”
Mayor Erin Mendenhall recently created the commission, which is still naming new members, and tasked it to develop recommendations for reforms in the coming months.
In announcing his decision to not charge the officers, the district attorney said he was acting in accordance with current laws, but that the laws around police use of force need to change. He said he plans to come up with proposals sometime in the near future — although there’s no timetable for that announcement.
The Racial Equity in Policing Commission agreed with Gill, declaring the “standards for deadly force are too broad. There is a gap in this instance ... between what is legal and what is truly right and just.”
Under the law, as it is currently written, officers can use lethal force if they reasonably believe that they or someone else may be seriously hurt or killed.
In his news conference on Palacios-Carbajal’s death, Gill pointed to evidence that Palacios-Carbajal had robbed at least one man at gunpoint earlier the night he was killed. Gill also said repeatedly that Palacios-Carbajal had many opportunities to drop his gun as he ran from police and did not, suggesting Palacios-Carbajal must have intended to use the gun.
After that, Morris said he received an anonymous email “saying that [Palacios-Carbajal] deserved what he got and we’re glad that he was killed. And there are many people who say he should not have put himself in that position.”
But Morris believes that regardless of what Palacios-Carbajal did that night, he didn’t deserve death.
“I’m not going to justify the alleged conduct of Mr. Bernardo Palacios[-Carbajal] that evening,” Morris said. “But there is a principle, whether people like it or not, that suspects and criminals are deemed to be innocent until proven guilty.”
And, he said, police acted as “judge, jury and executioner, without giving that benefit of the doubt to anybody.”
Morris also accused Gill’s office of blindsiding Palacios-Carbajal’s family with its Thursday announcement.
He requested the district attorney’s office alert the family before going public with its decision, and the family wasn’t forewarned. He added that family members saw autopsy photos of Palacios-Carbajal’s hands for the first time during the district attorney’s news conference.
“That was, obviously, upsetting to the family,” he said. “And, certainly, we would have hoped that they would have addressed some of those sensitive issues with us beforehand. But that did not happen.”
And it was “disappointing, to say the least,” that Gill used those autopsy photos and acknowledged he did so to quash rumors that Palacios-Carbajal’s fingers had been severed after he was killed.
“That, to us, seemed fairly gratuitous, the way that that was presented and unfortunate for the family to see in that manner,” Morris said.
Gill brought up Palacios-Carbajal’s fingers because protesters had been marching for weeks, chanting the question, “What happened to his fingers?” His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening.
On Friday, Gill thanked Mendenhall, Chief Brown and the Salt Lake City Police Department for their “organized, orderly work” to quell the civil unrest, and Gov. Gary Herbert for his executive order declaring a state of emergency. And he said his office will work closely with police “to ensure those who ought to be held accountable will be held accountable.”
That state of emergency closes access to the state Capitol and allows the governor to direct resources to the city if needed. The governor updated it Friday to announce that the DA’s office will also be closed. The order lasts until the end of day Monday.
Gill vowed that he would continue to “encourage robust civic dialogue … celebrate free speech and honor the right to dissent without fear of reprisal or retribution. … Last night wasn’t that. We urge the community not to let the misguided and unfortunate actions of a few to set back the progress we’ve seen in the last several weeks.”
On Friday evening, the areas that have been popular with protesters in the past were empty. A handful of officers milled around the district attorney’s office. The broken windows had been boarded up, and some of the red paint from the Thursday night remained on the building.
Salt Lake City’s police headquarters was quiet. The Capitol building grounds were wrapped in yellow police tape, and Utah Highway Patrol troopers stood by.
Reporter Jessica Miller contributed to this story.