SLC police say two officers who shot and killed Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal were ‘in policy’

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Lucy Carbajal grieves for her son Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal during a rally against police violence in Salt Lake City, June 27, 2020.

The Salt Lake City Police Department announced Thursday that the two officers who fired 34 shots at Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal were “in policy” when they killed the 22-year-old man.

The decision was the final administrative review of the use of deadly force by Officers Kevin Fortuna and Neil Iversen. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill last week announced the officers were legally “justified” in their actions and he would not file criminal charges, and a police civilian review board exonerated the officers earlier this week.

“Decisions like these are not taken lightly and deserve all the time and attention required to fully review and understand the facts,“ Chief Mike Brown said in a statement. “I find the actions of the officers were reasonable, appropriate, and did not violate police department policy.”

Nathan Morris, an attorney representing Palacios-Carbajal’s family, said Thursday that they weren’t surprised by the conclusion that the police department reached.

“This is the police doing their own investigation,” he said, “and so we kind of know the deck is stacked when it comes to that aspect.”

Palacios-Carbajal was killed May 23 as he ran from police. Officers were called to the area near 900 South and 300 West on a report that a man had walked into a hotel room and robbed the occupant at gunpoint. When police spotted Palacios-Carbajal, he took off. Officers gave chase, and the man fell three times, each time dropping and then picking up a handgun. He was killed moments after the last fall, when two officers emptied their clips, firing some rounds after Palacios-Carbajal was already wounded and lying on the ground.

An “investigative summary” detailing the department’s internal review concluded that Iversen and Fortuna were “in the lawful performance of their duty and the suspect was an immediate threat.”

“Officer Iversen used tremendous restraint as he observed the subject drop and pick up an item that made a metallic sound when it hit the ground yet he did not engage the subject until he had repeatedly ordered the subject to drop it and was able to verify that it was in fact a gun that the suspect was holding,” the report reads. “Officer Fortuna also clearly observed the gun and imminent danger. Officer Fortuna also showed restraint in taking the time to give multiple orders and give the suspect time to comply and drop the weapon.”

The report did list five opportunities to improve. Investigators noted that when officers initially came into contact with Palacios-Carbajal, they didn’t identify themselves as police — but shined a flashlight on him and said, “Hey,” and “Show me your hands.” The investigators concluded that Palacios-Carbajal would have known they were police once he ran past several marked police cars.

Officers could have tried to close the distance between them and Palacios-Carbajal before announcing their presence, the report says. And investigators also noted that “some inappropriate language” was used “in the heat of the moment.”

Investigators also noted that Fortuna’s most recent training/qualification documents did not have his firearm serial number written down, and several officers who were near the incident did not have fully loaded magazines or had two different types of ammo in a magazine.

Morris called the section outlining proposed improvements “the most disappointing aspect” of the report, saying it didn’t adequately address training issues or whether it was proper to fire as many bullets as they did towards Palacios-Carbajal.

The attorney also noted similar language used in the reports from the district attorney, the citizen review board and the internal report, particularly the terminology that the officers showed “tremendous restraint.” He said Fortuna only took seven seconds from leaving his patrol vehicle before he began firing his weapon.

“So when they talked about him using tremendous restraint, I’m not sure what they’re talking about,” he said. “The reality here is that he fired his gun for nine seconds — which was two seconds longer than when he considered whether to shoot or not.”

Morris said that with these reviews complete, Palacios-Carbajal’s family is left with one option: A civil lawsuit. He said they will likely file the lawsuit later this month or in early August.