After a yearlong court battle, West Jordan has turned over records that show why two police officers fired on a man in 2018, killing him.
The internal documents reveal why police killed Michael Glad in 2018. They don’t indicate why West Jordan fought so hard to keep the information private, Salt Lake Tribune attorney Michael Judd said.
The Tribune requested these records as part of Shots Fired, a project that chronicled Utah’s police shootings, absent of any state effort to do so. Reporters requested records from agencies across the state.
While most departments shared these records, West Jordan and two other police agencies rejected the State Records Committee’s ruling and took The Tribune to court to prevent their release. A judge granted the news organization access to West Jordan’s records last month.
West Jordan maintained that it needed to restrict access to these so-called Garrity records because they revealed “deeply personal” details about the officers. A review of the records show the interviews overwhelmingly discussed the shooting. About 25 lines were redacted across both documents — which comprise 65 and 49 pages, respectively — because they contained personal information.
The bulk of the redacted lines seem to discuss the shootings officers’ vision and contained keywords like “contacts,” “glasses,” “LASIK,” and “eyes.”
“There’s not anything in there that, to me, screams, ‘Aha! This is why this record is kept back in the first place,’” Judd said.
It was at once “relieving,” he said, since there was no apparent wrongdoing, and “dismaying, because it suggests that those records were kept back for some reason other than a real belief that there is something personally sensitive or private in them.”
West Jordan spokesperson Tauni Barker said Tuesday that the city refused to release the records because officials wanted to stay “consistent” with statements made to officers that they wouldn’t release such interviews to the public.
The transcripts show that during these interviews, officers were not promised their testimony would remain private — just that the compelled interview could not be used in criminal court, aligning with the conclusion of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Garrity v. New Jersey, for which such records are named.
“It’s been the city’s position, and our interpretation of the law, that these were protected statements that did not need to be released to the public,” Barker said, “and that was the commitment and promise that we made to the officers.”
What we learned
The Tribune had already obtained supplementary records from the shooting, including video footage, meaning the public had a clear idea of when, where and how police shot Glad. Those records didn’t indicate why officers opened fire — though District Attorney Sim Gill hypothesized. He ruled the shooting justified in October 2018, despite both shooting officers declining to give prosecutors statements for his investigation.
For the first time though, the Garrity records illustrate why the officers opened fire, in their own words.
The shooting stemmed from an armed robbery call. Officer Tyrell Shepherd was near 6400 West and 9300 South on May 28, 2018, when his radio alerted him to the robbery at a 7-Eleven at 6215 S. Dixie Drive. Officer Joshua Whitehead was elsewhere, working a traffic patrol shift. He said it was a “relatively quiet day” up to that point, the records state.
When Whitehead heard the call, his first thought was about Officer Steve Hutchings, who was already near the convenience store, he said.
“I did not want to see something happen to Hutch,” he told internal investigators.
Whitehead was right: Hutchings was the first officer on scene that day, and Whitehead said he grew worried when he heard him on the radio.
“I could hear his voice was elevated and things like that. I could tell that it wasn’t a compliant situation at that point, that Hutch was having difficulty,” Whitehead said.
Shepherd arrived to see Glad standing in front of Hutchings’ car with a gun in his hand. He said he got out of his car with his rifle.
Hutchings then moved toward Glad, and Shepherd followed. Shepherd saw Glad point the gun at Hutchings.
“I remember pulling my trigger on my rifle at that point. My safety was on, though,” Shepherd said.
Then Glad pointed the gun at him, the records state.
“I was in fear for my life. I didn’t know if...rounds were going to start flying, you know?,” Shepherd said. “I felt like I was staring down the barrel of a gun.”
He decided, again, to shoot Glad. His finger was on the trigger when a woman walked outside her house, behind Glad. Shepherd said he “let the slack out of my trigger” because he didn’t want to hit her.
When Whitehead arrived, he remembered seeing Glad point a gun at officers and “thinking that someone was going to shoot him at that point,” but they didn’t.
The scene was loud, Whitehead said, with sirens blaring. He asked officers to turn them off, so police could talk with Glad.
About that time, Glad climbed inside Hutchings’ police truck, and Shepherd made up his mind once again to shoot him. He planned to fire through the windshield — but then remembered Hutchings’ police dog was in the truck. He decided to wait for a better shot.
Whitehead said he decided to shoot, if he could, when Glad started driving.
“I’m thinking someone’s going to get hurt, somebody’s going to get seriously hurt or someone’s going to die,” Whitehead said. “He’s going to do something, based off of his noncompliance at that point, that’s not going to end well.”
Both Shepherd and Whitehead opened fire into the side of the truck as Glad passed them. Shepherd noted that he worried Glad could access additional weapons inside the police vehicle.
“I knew that lethal force was justified. I was in fear for my own life, having the gun pointed at me. I’m in fear for the public. I’m in fear that he...could harm them. I’m in fear for all the officers on the ground,” Shepherd said. “He only becomes a greater risk as a fleeing, violent felon getting into the police vehicle.”
Glad’s family has said the 23-year-old struggled with mental illness and they think it played a role in how he behaved the day he was killed.
Fighting for public access to Garrity records
Of the three police agencies that took The Tribune to court over the release of Garrity statements, Cottonwood Heights later agreed to drop its litigation after The Tribune received the records. Washington County settled with The Tribune and turned over records.
But West Jordan chose to continue the case through court proceedings.
“Ultimately, all of them came out,” Judd said, “and the only real difference is how hard all those different entities fought for this kind of same inevitable conclusion on all of them.”
Judd said regardless of the content of the records, The Tribune sought them as part of a reporting process and should have been granted access earlier. The news organization had no indication the records would reveal wrongdoing, he said.
“That’s one of the reasons why it’s been so perplexing that that request was denied, because it wasn’t an attempt to shield some firestorm,” Judd said. “It just seemed to be a refusal to engage in this process because West Jordan believed that Garrity statement should categorically be protected. The court certainly doesn’t agree with that.”
The Tribune’s pursuit of these record prompted a state law change earlier this year to restrict access to such documents in the future.
Barker, with West Jordan, said, “Our position from the get go is that these Garrity statements are are not something that we would release to the media.”
She said she was grateful for the law change’s “further clarification.”
Although these documents are no longer expressly public, they can still be accessed if they pass the so-called balancing test, which states that a record should be released if the public interest in its release outweighs an entity’s privacy interest.