Judge dismisses lawsuit in fatal Salt Lake City police shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal

U.S. District Judge David Barlow ruled that the two officers reasonably believed the 22-year-old was an “immediate threat to their safety.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A memorial for Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal is shown at the murals at 300 West and 800 South, where family and friends gathered to celebrate what would have been Palacios-Carbajal's 23rd birthday, on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. A federal judge dismissed the family's wrongful death lawsuit Monday.

A federal judge this week ruled that Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal’s constitutional and civil rights were not violated when two Salt Lake City police officers fatally shot him in May 2020.

U.S. District Judge David Barlow on Monday granted a motion filed by Salt Lake City on Sept. 8 to issue a ruling in the civil case against officers Neil Iversen and Kevin Fortuna, as well as police chief Mike Brown.

The city’s motion contended that the Palacios-Carbajal family could not show that the 22-year-old’s rights had been violated, and asked that his family’s claims be dismissed. Barlow dismissed the wrongful death lawsuit this week and asked that the case be closed.

Attorney Nathan Morris, who represents Palacios-Carbajal’s relatives, said Thursday that the family was “very disappointed and disheartened” by the ruling.

“They are struggling with the decision and trying to understand how they move forward from here in honoring Bernardo’s name,” Morris said. “They’re truly grateful for all the people who have continued to reach out to the family and to send their prayers and well wishes. They understand there’s lots of things happening in the world right now, and it’s encouraging and they’re grateful for people who have shown their love and support.”

Morris also said the family is “considering all of their options,” including appealing the ruling. However, Morris noted that the family feels progress has been made by the Salt Lake City Police Department and the district attorney since Palacios-Carbajal’s death.

More than 30 rounds fired

Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was shot May 23, 2020, after police received a call around 2 a.m. reporting that someone had threatened two people at gunpoint.

Officers later found Palacios-Carbajal in the area and chased him through the streets, with Iversen and Fortuna eventually firing more than 30 rounds at him after Palacios-Carbajal dropped and picked up a handgun three times.

While investigators have said Palacios-Carbajal pointed the gun at police, attorneys representing his family have contended that he didn’t.

Palacios-Carbajal’s death prompted protests in Salt Lake City throughout the summer of 2020, including the day Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced that his office would not charge the two officers.

Some demonstrators that night spilled red paint and broke windows at the district attorney’s downtown office building in protest. They said the paint represented the blood on Gill’s hands for not charging the police officers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters chant “too much blood,” as they react to the announced ruling by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Thursday, July 9, 2020, that the shooting death of 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal in May by police officers was legally justified. Angry over the ruling, they painted the district attorney building red and covered it with posters.

The family’s lawsuit, filed in 3rd District Court in September 2020, had alleged that Iversen and Fortuna fatally shot Palacios-Carbajal even though he didn’t “present an immediate danger or threat to the officers.”

The shooting also happened after a supervising officer yelled to use a Taser, the complaint stated. The lawsuit alleged that the officers violated Palacios-Carbajal’s constitutional and civil rights.

Court documents filed Monday state that because the two officers had heard that Palacios-Carbajal had threatened multiple people with a gun, and because Palacios-Carbajal had dropped and retrieved a gun three times, “the shooting officers reasonably believed that Mr. Palacios was an immediate threat to their safety and to any member of the public he might encounter during the chase.”

‘Their actions were guided by training’

In a text message, Palacios-Carbajal’s sister, Karina Palacios, told The Salt Lake Tribune, “What they did to my brother was very wrong. There’s a reason they have hid their faces and replaced their names with numbers.

“But the lawsuit being dismissed,” she continued, “proves that a badge gives the right to murder without consequences.”

In a statement, the police chief said, “The loss of life is tragic. As police officers, we are charged with the duty to protect our community and each other and in this case, that is exactly what happened.”

“Our officers faced a threat,” the statement continued. “Their actions were guided by training and experience and supported by law and department policy. I appreciate the court’s careful review of this matter. The court rejected many of the unsupported claims and characterizations made in this case and relied on evidence and the law to dismiss those claims.”

— Tribune staff writer Paighten Harkins contributed to this report.