A federal judge on Friday dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a gang member shot and killed at his 2014 trial at the then-brand new federal courthouse in Salt Lake City.
However, Judge John E. Dowdell also ordered video of Siale Angilau’s shooting to be released. That might happen Monday.
David Price, a records manager at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, said his staff was seeking clarifications on the ruling before providing the video to the news outlets who intervened in the lawsuit to unseal the video.
The rulings represented mixed results for both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Angilau family. The Justice Department maintained the marshal who killed Angilau protected the courtroom that day and that disclosing the video would further inflame gang members who had threatened retaliation against law enforcement after the shooting almost four years ago.
The Angilau family contended the marshal used excessive force on a man armed with only a pen. They supported journalists’ efforts to see the video.
Dowdell granted the Justice Department’s motion for what is called summary judgement — a finding that the case should be dismissed before trial. Dowdell said the facts made clear that Angilau’s actions necessitated the marshal’s deadly response and that Angilau’s rights were not violated. The marshal has been identified only as “Doe” in court filings.
“Having carefully reviewed the video of Mr. Angilau’s swift flight from counsel table,” Dowdell wrote in his ruling, “his vault over the witness stand with pen in hand, and his attempt to violently attack the shackled witness, the Court has little difficulty determining that Doe’s use of force to immediately stop Angilau’s attack was objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.”
The Angilau family attorney, Bob Sykes, said he had not yet had an opportunity to discuss an appeal with his clients. Sykes acknowledged it was a tough case for the judge, but said he was disappointed in Dowdell’s ruling.
“He reviewed the videos himself and came to a different conclusion than I did,” Sykes said. “I think they show an unnecessary shooting.”
The version of the video Dowdell ordered to be unsealed is somewhat redacted. Faces of the marshal and jurors are pixilated to obscure their identities. The news outlets that pursued release of the video include The Salt Lake Tribune, print and broadcast outlets from Salt Lake City, the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and The Associated Press.
McKenzie Romero, the president of the SPJ’s Utah chapter, applauded the decision in a news release Friday night, saying the group is “delighted to see the First Amendment prevail.”
“The Headliners have maintained throughout this process that we take no position on whether the shooting of Siale Angilau was right or wrong, but have sought to defend the public’s right to know what happened that day,” Romero wrote.
On April 21, 2014, Angilau was a racketeering defendant in the first trial at Utah’s new federal courthouse, 351 S. West Temple. According to witness accounts, he picked up a pen from the defense table and ran toward the trial’s first witness — a former Tongan Crip Gang member who was testifying about how the gang operates and recruits.
A marshal shot Angilau four times as he reached the witness stand.
Angilau, a member of the Tongan Crip Gang, later died. The witness backed out of the witness stand before Angilau could strike him, and no one else was injured.
A magistrate judge ordered the pixilated video released in November, but gave the Justice Department an opportunity to appeal to Dowdell. Dowdell’s order Friday upheld the magistrate’s ruling.
Audio of the shooting was made public in August of last year. In it, someone is heard yelling, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” before four gunshots are heard in quick succession. After the shots, orders are given to Angilau to remain still and drop the pen.