A police officer found to have used “improper force” when he pushed down an elderly man during a chaotic protest in Salt Lake City won’t face criminal charges, although District Attorney Sim Gill said he wanted to file them.
Salt Lake County prosecutors reviewed the May 30 confrontation between Officer Val Brown and the man, and announced in a news release Friday that while Brown’s “conduct was unnecessary, inappropriate, and wholly without justification,” they decided not to file charges because they victim asked them twice not to. The office didn’t think a criminal case could succeed without the victim’s cooperation.
Prosecutors said, “Had the victim wished charges be filed, we would have done so.”
Video, captured by ABC4, shows officers dressed in riot gear arriving at the protest site near the downtown library. By that time, most demonstrators, who gathered to protest police violence, had moved down the street. Brown got out of the armored police vehicle and almost immediately began prodding two men with a shield. He hit one of the men, who was holding a cane as he was walking away from the officer, knocking him down.
The officers were responding after a group of protesters overturned an abandoned police car and set it on fire.
In a statement, Gill said that Brown’s action not only hurt the victim but eroded community trust in law enforcement.
“Importantly, the victim stated multiple times that he did not support the filing of criminal charges in this matter and would prefer, instead,” the district attorney said, “that the officer’s misconduct be addressed through disciplinary action and training from his employing agency.”
Gill said that he hoped SLCPD would similarly respect the victim’s wishes “in deciding what additional training and discipline may be appropriate to fully and fairly address Officer Brown’s actions.”
The department announced Friday that its internal investigation found that Brown had used inappropriate force. A spokesperson said the department could not release whether or not Brown was disciplined, but said he had been reinstated to full duty.
The prosecutors’ decision comes a week after the police department’s Civilian Review Board sustained allegations that Brown used “improper force” that day, and offered a host of recommendations to improve the department’s response to future protests, specifically the use of armored mine-resistance militarized vehicles, called MRAPS, that officers hadn’t trained with.
The city provided public records Friday that include interviews with Brown and the victim, who is not named in the documents.
Brown told investigators he and the other officers were deployed that day with the mission of “taking back the car and pushing people away.” The officer said he was told he was deploying into an area with active rioting, and as he got out of the armored vehicle he saw the elderly man, but didn’t notice the man’s cane or his age.
He told the man to “move” or “get back” several times before he “gave him a ‘tap’” with his shield. Brown then bumped the man with his shield again, knocking the man down.
The report notes that Brown also helped the man up.
The man told investigators that he lives nearby and came to the protest after hearing a police car had been set aflame. He said he wanted to take photos of the car.
The man’s doctor told him he may have injured his shoulder after Brown pushed him over. He told investigators he was now, “[a]ll healed up, just sore.”
When asked what type of discipline he thought Brown should receive, the man said, “A short suspension, don’t want to ruin a guy’s career.”
The document also gives some insight into how unprepared officers felt as they reacted to the protest, which grew to about 1,500 people.
In addition to being deployed in the unfamiliar mine-resistant armored vehicles, it notes that the public order unit was understaffed, fielding only 14 officers when a normal unit deployed to deal with a “high threat” situation would include 33.
One officer told investigators police “had 10 minutes to come up with a plan.” He thought using the armored police vehicles “was stupid” and described the rollout as a “mess.”
He said as he left the armored vehicle, he felt “pissed, scared, and stressed.”
The board also questioned the public order unit’s mission that day, saying it appears the objective was “protection of a fully destroyed police car with the presence of an AR-15 inside of it and to push the larger crowd of protesters back 25 or so yards.”
“A bit more analysis would have revealed the highly likely fact that the weapon itself would have been destroyed by the fire, as it was,” the report said, ”and that all ammunition within that weapon, and the car itself for that matter, would have “cooked off” rendering the weapon, had it survived the fire, as a non-threat in the short term.
The board said that is “could be argued” that securing the burned car “was a poor reason to put a severely understaffed POU unit(s) into harms way.”
In a statement, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said, “It is my sincere hope that Utahns will never see another day like May 30 again. As always, we will continue to train and improve our tactics to ensure that we have the most professional officers.”