Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Tuesday condemned what he said was the Republican Party’s attempt to politicize former Recorder Gary Ott’s death after the leader of the county party called for Gill’s resignation.
His office has been investigating allegations that Ott was subjected to elder abuse at the hands of former staffers, an investigation that remained ongoing when Ott died last week.
“We’re not going to be held hostage by the county GOP because they want charges to be filed,” Gill said. “That’s why we’re an independent office. If we have evidence, we will file [a charge], if we don’t, we won’t.”
Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairman Jake Parkinson held a news conference Tuesday in which he said there was “no excuse” for Gill‘s office to spend a year investigating the circumstances around Ott’s final years in office, which included four years when at least one staff member knew Ott had Alzheimer’s disease.
“Sim Gill has both the power to compel and subpoena and has no excuse for not having all the information available within a week of having the investigation in his office,” Parkinson said Tuesday in front of the County Government Center, five days after Ott died in St. George at age 66. His funeral is scheduled for Saturday.
Because Ott continued suffering during his final years in office while Gill’s investigation continued, Parkinson said, the district attorney should step down.
“Residents of Salt Lake County must ask themselves,” Parkinson said, “if someone like Mr. Ott can’t get justice and protection, if Sim Gill would refuse to help Gary Ott, what hope would any of us have if members of our families or loved ones are in a similar situation?”
Gill’s office took over an investigation from the state attorney general’s office after Republican insider Jeremy Roberts filed a complaint last year. The investigation is still ongoing, though Roberts has asked Attorney General Sean Reyes to reclaim authority.
Roberts echoed statements by other former county employees who say Karmen Sanone, Ott’s former fiancée, and Julie Dole, his former chief deputy, knew of his condition, took advantage of it for years and kept it from the public.
“The problem is this: They had strategically, when I say they it was Karmen Sanone and Julie Dole, had kept Gary out of the public eye,” Roberts said. “There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that they were covering up his diminished capacity.”
While Parkinson was delivering his statement, Dole walked up. When he finished, she held her own informal news conference and again denied wrongdoing.
She said she hadn’t been contacted by any investigators and suggested someone should investigate the circumstances around Ott’s recent death.
“I feel some things didn’t happen according to the way the legal system is supposed to work and how he died, so yes,” Dole said, “I would love to see an investigation into how he died.”
Gill, a Democrat, called it “unconscionable” for the county Republican Party to call for his resignation and said elder abuse investigations are complex.
“The guy is not even been buried yet. His family is still grieving,” Gill said. “I find it unconscionable after what the council and this county did in a nonpartisan way to bring some sense of dignity and respect to this colleague and friend.”
Gill and members of the County Council had been searching for ways to force Ott from office after his apparent health issues became public in early 2016. They said they were hamstrung by gaps in state law and the Utah Constitution that didn’t provide for a way to force an elected official from office.
Ott, who ran the office that’s primarily tasked with controlling property records, left his elected post this summer after his family successfully petitioned a court to allow it to make his financial and life decisions for him temporarily.
Dole and Sanone, meanwhile, denied Ott was suffering from a terminal, neurodegenerative illness up until weeks before his death.
Gill said elder abuse investigations are complex and involve either physical or financial abuse, and there was no evidence Ott, who lived with Sanone in North Ogden, was being physically abused.
Sanone at the time was handling Ott’s bills for him following his first 2013 dementia diagnosis. She fought Ott’s siblings in court to become his permanent caretaker, a case that a 3rd District Court judge dismissed Monday after Ott’s death.
Gill has pushed for legislators to pass a bill to create a framework for counties to remove elected officials who are apparently suffering from illnesses that can’t be treated by medication or other arrangements.
In June, County Council members and Gill met in closed sessions and discussed how to proceed as news outlets began uncovering reports of police encounters with Ott and unpaid bills. He underlined the challenges with an investigation as he saw them.
“It is not against the law to be morally bankrupt. It is not against the law to emotionally betray people who trust you,” he said. “Maybe it should be, but it’s not.”