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Cottonwood Heights city councilwoman charged with interfering with arrest during protest

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cottonwood Heights city councilwoman Tali Bruce talks about what happened during a protest Sunday during a news conference on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020.

A Cottonwood Heights city councilwoman who said she was punched by an officer during a recent protest to honor a 19-year-old man who was shot and killed by police has been charged with interfering with an arrest — although the charges may soon be dismissed because of a conflict of interest.

Prosecutors filed the class B misdemeanor count against Natalie “Tali” Bruce on Wednesday. Bruce was elected in November 2017.

Court documents don’t specify what Bruce is accused of doing, but say it happened on Aug. 2, the day of the protest.

The demonstration was held in remembrance of Zane James, a 19-year-old killed by officers in 2018. People brought pinwheels and and squirt guns and planned to dance in the street. But when officers showed up to keep the demonstrators off the road, the scene turned violent, video shows. Protesters who’d been arguing with police about staying on the sidewalk ran to watch and record police throwing, tackling, hitting and macing attendees.

Protesters are tackled by Cottonwood Heights police officers during a march Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. The protest was a "March for Justice" focused largely around Zane James, who was fatally shot by police in Cottonwood Heights in 2018. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

James Hansen, the city’s prosecutor, didn’t immediately respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment.

The city announced in a statement just before 5 p.m. Thursday that Hansen has been asked to withdraw from the case “[t]o avoid any potential conflict of interest.” The statement said that an independent prosecutor will take the case and determine if they will file the charges again. That prosecutor hasn’t yet been chosen.

Court records don’t show the notice of withdraw was filed Thursday.

Michael Young, who represents Bruce, declined to comment on the charge, saying he didn’t know what Bruce could have done.

Police arrested nine people that day — including James’ father and brother — and impounded five vehicles. Bruce was not taken into custody.

The councilwoman broadcast parts of the demonstration on Facebook. About 26 minutes into video, Bruce goes toward officers who are arresting two people, in one case throwing a woman to the ground before restraining her hands.

Officers tell Bruce to get back, and she responds, “I don’t have to get back.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Bull s---,” she says, and continues filming. Among the other screams, the woman who’s been tackled yells out, “I can’t see.”

A protester is handcuffed by Cottonwood Heights police officers during a march Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. The protest was a "March for Justice" focused largely around Zane James, who was fatally shot by police in Cottonwood Heights in 2018. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Bruce does not ever seem to physically try to block an arrest, but is told to move away from officers multiple times. In a later video, Bruce says she was punched in the throat. Police have denied the accusation.

Timothy Beery, a city spokesman, said the city attorney decided to recuse himself and Hansen from the case because Bruce’s job requires her to make decisions about the justice court prosecuting her, setting up a possible conflict.

“In addition, the investigation by city police and the prosecution by the city’s normal prosecutor of an elected city official is unusual,” Beery said. “Consequently, the city attorney has determined that the best course of action will be to avoid any potential conflict of interest by recusing both the contract prosecutor and himself from the case in favor of an independent prosecutor who has no ties to Cottonwood Heights.”

Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Rob Russo and Bruce have clashed ever since she was elected, after Bruce asked it’d be more economical for the city to contract with Unified Police Department instead of having its own police department.

Russo filed a lawsuit against Bruce this year, alleging she and others conspired to get him fired.

Bruce has accused police of harassing and intimidating her, including by parking outside her home and ignoring her when she tried to question them.

Russo didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

It’s unclear if other protesters have been charged in connection with the Aug. 2 demonstration.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill will try any felony cases that arose from that protest. He said Thursday that his office hasn’t finished its review.




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