Salt Lake City officer used ‘improper’ force when he pushed down an elderly man

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hundreds become aggressive in downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 30, 2020, to protest the death of George Floyd, the man who died earlier this week after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

The Salt Lake City’s Civilian Review Board believes a police officer used improper force when he pushed down an elderly man holding a cane during a tumultuous protest against police violence on May 30.

The report indicates the board “sustained” the allegation that an officer used “improper” force, but doesn’t give any other details.

Video, captured by ABC4, shows officers dressed in riot gear arriving at the protest site near the downtown library, an area most demonstrators had already left. An officer exits an armored police vehicle and almost immediately begins prodding two men with a shield. He hits one of the men, who is holding a cane as he was walking away from the officer, knocking him down.

The Salt Lake Tribune requested the case file, which includes the full review, but has not yet received it. The Tribune has confirmed that the recommendations outlined in the Civilian Review Board’s October quarterly report stemmed from that May 30 altercation. FOX 13 first reported the findings.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing whether or not to file criminal charges against the officer who knocked down the man as he stood on the fringes of the growing protest. Salt Lake City police are still conducting an internal investigation, the report notes.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown had previously called the officer’s conduct “inappropriate.” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said, “It seems to be well outside the protocol.”

That officer’s actions apparently prompted a host of recommendations from the board on how the department should respond to big protests in the future.

The review board suggested the department’s “Public Order Unit” should review its policies, particularly the use of armored mine-resistance militarized vehicles, called MRAPS, that officers hadn’t trained with.

“It appears that all POU training involved deploying from vans rather than [armored carriers] of any type,” the report said. “Above and beyond the lack of knowledge about how to do so by POU members, the use of the MRAPs would have the additional effect of ratcheting up the stress levels of the members and the public.”

The board wrote that these officers should not arrive in military grade vehicles, “as the visual created by such vehicles when a Public Order Unit is being used is a contradiction.”

It also urged Public Order Unit supervisors to remind others in the group of their role to protect the public and encourage them to stay calm.

“This could allow newer officers to relax and stay composed as they exit their transport vehicles and is of critical importance as policing actions are about to commence,” the report read. “The use of specialized units within the department is very rare and thankfully so. So, by the mere deployment, leadership is signaling that what is occurring is more threatening than officer’s normal duties.”

Salt Lake City police spokesman Keith Horrocks couldn’t say whether the department would enact any of the board’s recommendations, and he couldn’t answer to why the militarized vehicles were deployed that day, because the department hadn’t finished its own internal review. He said Brown would take the panel’s suggestions into consideration when making a decision.

Horrocks didn’t know how much longer the internal review would take.

Police arrested more than 45 people that Saturday, most for failure to disperse after city officials issued a curfew.

The protest began that morning and went throughout the day, with attendees migrating from downtown near the police station and library to the Capitol and back, some spraying painting phrases derogatory to police officers, like “ACAB,” on buildings and other objects.

Some demonstrators flipped and burned a SLCPD vehicle, and other did the same to a man’s car after he arrived with a bow and arrow and threatened protesters.

The man, Brandon McCormick, later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person. He was sentenced to a year in jail.