Commentary: The Tribune has a Sim Gill problem

On Friday, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke spent his inches seeking to redeem Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill in the wake of allegations that Gill failed to protect at least four victims of sexual assault.

Gehrke imagines the women’s case is “politically motivated.” Quite the charge — and a red herring.

I take Gehrke’s concern to be genuine, but it prompts a serious question. Why is he so slow to recognize the political motives of Gill himself? Especially considering neither Gehrke nor The Tribune’s editorial board has ever considered Gill’s politically charged prosecutions — during election years — might indicate the very political motivation he critiques.

The relationship between The Salt Lake Tribune and Sim Gill is a long and unbalanced one, and it should be no surprise that Gehrke feels compelled to carry water for Gill, despite eight years of continual failure to perform.

In December 2013, The Tribune named Sim Gill its Utahn of the Year for pulling “back the sheet” on “abuses of power” – namely Gill’s investigations into former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, and separately for ruling an on-duty shooting by West Valley City Police detectives unjustified. Months later, Gill eventually lodged criminal charges on all three — consistently collecting wide praise in The Tribune, without even an acknowledgment that perhaps, just perhaps, the charging decisions were calculated to benefit Gill’s re-election campaign that year.

When a district judge found Gill’s case against Detective Shaun Cowley did not even meet the simple test of probable cause, did Gehrke lead with an announcement that politician Gill had hoodwinked The Tribune?

Unfortunately, he did not.

How about when the cases against Swallow and Shurtleff failed? Surely The Tribune editorial board rethought its position and admitted that perhaps there had been political motivation which the board rewarded. Naturally, we might expect The Tribune to note that Gill’s political ambitions had strung too long a bow for his prosecutorial skill. After all, Gehrke was a crucial player in the investigation that forced John Swallow to resign. Surely he was dismayed to see Gill’s mistakes sink the criminal case.

Unfortunately, they did not.

I have political motives, and The Tribune has not been shy to note those motives in the past. I do not fault The Tribune or its editorial board for analyzing the political purposes behind headline stories. However, when the editorials consistently ignore the political motivations of the politician at the center of those same stories, while casting aspersions on everyone else, it raises the question of political loyalty in The Tribune editorial room.

The Tribune should stop carrying Gill’s water. He is an eight-year incumbent without a single successful program to back up his promises. There are fewer women in positions of management now then when Gill took over the office. Gill is such a hot-headed, politically charged boss that more than 30 percent of the office he leads has left in the past two years alone. Gill disciplined his human resources director for daring to surface that fact.

Don’t just ask cops — they are biased, maybe even politically motivated. Instead, ask prosecutors. Ask defense attorneys. Ask victim advocates. Ask firefighters. Ask judges. Ask the victims Gill has failed. Or are they all politically motivated as well? Does only Gill stand in the middle, unsullied by such base considerations as the political motivations that garner the political approval of institutions like The Salt Lake Tribune; motivations that have given him eight years of power and prestige, and the ability to reward his top political appointees well over a million dollars a year in salary?

It is far past time that The Tribune’s editorial board find a new political star to circle. I urge them to see past my blemished political motivations in urging them to do so.

Ian Adams | Executive Director Utah Fraternal Order of Police

Ian Adams is executive director of the Utah Fraternal Order of Police