Lawsuit accuses Salt Lake City police officers of using excessive force in fatal shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal

The family of a 22-year-old shot and killed by Salt Lake City police officers in May have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging that officers fatally shot him even though he didn’t “present an immediate danger or threat to the officers.”

“It is with heavy hearts today that we announce the [Bernardo] Palacios Carbajal family’s decision to move forward with a lawsuit against the Salt Lake City Police Department and the officers who took Bernardo’s life when they shot him in the back 34 times,” attorneys for the family said in a statement. "Despite the family’s attempts to negotiate, it is apparent that the [Salt Lake City Police Department] and the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office is not interested in real reform.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bernardo's sister Karina with her mother Lucy, with her son Freddie, holding his 7-year-old daughter Analiyah, hold a photo of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal,during a news conference in reaction to Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill's report to not charge the Salt Lake City Police officers that killed Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal. On Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, the family of the 22-year-old filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging that officers fatally shot him even though he didn’t “present an immediate danger or threat to the officers.”

The lawsuit was filed Friday in 3rd District Court.

Salt Lake City officials, through a spokesperson, declined to discuss the lawsuit, but said the city attorney’s office had received the complaint and was reviewing it.

Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was shot May 23 after police received a call around 2 a.m. reporting someone had threatened two people at gunpoint. Officers later found Palacios-Carbajal in the area and chased him through the streets, with Officers Neil Iversen and Kevin Fortuna eventually firing more than 30 rounds at him after he dropped and picked up a handgun three times. While investigators have said Palacios-Carbajal pointed the gun at police, family attorneys contend he didn’t.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office ruled the officers who shot Palacios-Carbajal were legally justified and police have said the shooting was “in policy.”

Palacios-Carbajal’s death prompted protests throughout the summer in Salt Lake City, including the day District Attorney Sim Gill announced his office’s decision in the case. Some demonstrators that night spilled red paint and broke windows at the district attorney’s downtown office building in protest, saying the paint represented the blood on Gill’s hands for not charging police officers.

The lawsuit accuses the officers of using excessive force in initially shooting Palacios-Carbajal after a supervising officer yelled to use a Taser, and for the estimated 27 to 29 bullets fired at Palacios-Carbajal while he was on the ground.

“Once they began firing their guns at Mr. Palacios, the defendant officers did not intend to bring Mr. Palacios into custody alive,” the lawsuit states.

It also alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and violations of the Utah Constitution.

Attorney Nate Morris said that the Palacios-Carbajal family had hoped to reach a financial settlement with Salt Lake City officials that would include policy changes.

Morris said the family was asking for police to not shoot fleeing suspects in the back, to use less lethal force when possible, and to only fire the minimum number of necessary shots at a suspect.

“At this time, the only way to make something happen through the reform standpoint, is through the filing of the lawsuit,” Morris said.