Bill advances to close the ‘loophole’ that allowed for early release of brothers involved in the death of a Utah police officer

West Valley City Police Officer Cody Brotherson was killed in the line of duty in 2016. His mother says passage of this bill is a step toward justice.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) A photo of West Valley City Officer Cody Brotherson during a memorial ceremony at Fairbourne Station Plaza in West Valley City, Nov. 6, 2017. Brotherson's mother was on Utah's Capitol Hill on Wednesday testifying on behalf of a bill that would close a loophole that resulted in her son's assailant being released early.

Speaking through tears to a Utah House committee on Wednesday, Jenny Brotherson described the pain of learning in 2016 that her son, West Valley Police Officer Cody Brotherson, had died in the line of duty.

Four years later, she said her family was “victimized a second time” as they found out that two of the teens who’d pleaded guilty to striking the 25-year-old officer with a stolen car as he laid down a set of spike strips had been released from custody early.

When the boys were sentenced in July 2017, the juvenile court judge recommended they be held for “as long as possible,” until they turned 21. But a gap in state law led to their premature release after they committed additional offenses in juvenile custody.

“It was both shocking and painful to be told that both brothers had essentially been rewarded for their additional crimes,” Brotherson told lawmakers Wednesday. “Had they not committed these crimes in juvenile detention, both of them would still be incarcerated today.”

Brotherson appeared Wednesday to testify in favor of a bill sponsored by Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, that he says would address this “loophole” in state law by ensuring that young adults who commit crimes are “held accountable” for their juvenile sentence even if they commit an additional offense.

While the situation isn’t common, it has happened in “several cases across the state” other than this one, according to Monica Diaz, director of the Utah Sentencing Commission.

HB67, which received unanimous approval in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, would prohibit a judge from terminating a juvenile disposition if the defendant was convicted of a separate offense, instead allowing the judiciary to determine whether the additional sentence should be served concurrently or consecutively.

The bill now goes to the full House for further consideration.

Hall says Christopher Boggs, who was 18 at the time he drove the car that struck and killed Brotherson, and his brother, Lawrence Boggs, who was in the car, should have been held in custody until they were 21. But the brothers were transferred to the adult correctional system after being charged with assault by a prisoner in separate incidents — Lawrence in November 2018 and Christopher in January 2020.

Both pleaded guilty, “and once they were in the adult system, the original sentence kind of went away and they received the sentence for the second assault that they committed while they were in the juvenile system,” Hall explained in an interview. “And so that made them eligible for parole at that point,” which led to their early release.

Christopher Boggs was released last March, while Lawrence Boggs was released in May.

Shortly after they left custody, Hall said the brothers were involved in a shooting at a hotel in West Valley City that happened “because they were let out early because they committed additional offenses in the juvenile system.”

“It’s just an absurd scenario,” he said. “And this bill makes certain that this kind of scenario doesn’t happen again.”

Brett Peterson, director of the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services, spoke in favor of Hall’s proposal, noting that while the agency believes in rehabilitation, “part of that is accountability.”

“That’s part of how we change lives but also keep the community safe,” he added. “So this bill is making sure ... that that accountability can still be had in the juvenile system [while] not mitigating anything that may be in the adult system as well.”

After committee passage of the bill on Wednesday, Jenny Brotherson said she saw the proposal as a step toward justice and was “super excited” about the unanimous vote, though she’d still like to see harsher penalties for juveniles who commit violent crimes.

“We have long been fighting to make some changes related to this murder,” she said, “and this is one step in the right direction.”