Commentary: In backing Gill, Tribune misses the forest for the trees

(Tribune file photos) Sim Gill and Nathan Evershed

Though The Tribune endorsing my opponent, a Democrat, is hardly a “man bites dog” story, its endorsement of my opponent was disappointing nonetheless.

The Tribune lists several “trees,” if you will — specific charges my campaign has leveled against District Attorney Sim Gill — while totally missing the “forest” of what widespread malaise among employees, a loss of trust from police agencies, and an alarming outmigration of experienced prosecutors escaping a toxic office culture really means to voters.

For example, The Tribune acknowledges the serious “brain drain” in the DA’s office while dismissing its significance. Losing 31 percent of the office employees in two years has been devastating. Veteran prosecutors cannot be easily replaced by newly minted lawyers. As a result, the office has lost credibility and respect in court and with law enforcement.

The Tribune shrugs off the fact that all three Salt Lake County police associations are not only supporting my candidacy, they are actively working to defeat my opponent. The Tribune rightly names officer-involved shootings as a factor, but again misses the point that police discontent is driven as much by process as by outcome.

That Gill usually exonerates officers is not a credit to him, but to the training and professionalism of our peace officers. In fact, Gill has charged officers criminally multiple times, only to have the cases dismissed. In one case, a judge found there was not enough evidence to even meet a probable cause standard and dismissed the charges as unwarranted.

More important, it often takes many months for Gill to make a determination. Police officers are real people, with families and life obligations, as are alleged victims. When both the officer and the alleged victim (and their families) are left in limbo for months on end, it imposes terrible, unnecessary hardship.

As for our former attorneys general, the “forest” The Tribune misses is Gill’s clear pattern of delaying such high-profile matters until they can generate headlines in election season, while final results come long after the vote.

If nothing else, it is a question of competence: If the charges were not valid in the first place, why were they brought? And if they were valid, where are the convictions?

Four years later, we can say with certainty that those banner headlines resulted in vast expenditures of money and resources, yet produced not a single conviction. As Gill says, no one is above the law, and that apparently includes Gill.

The editorial board also criticizes my unwillingness to specify what my fellow prosecutors “did wrong” in these various cases. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on cases handled by others in the office, but it is entirely appropriate for me to comment on the faulty leadership of the office head, Gill, and I did.

The Tribune’s “nothing to see here” approach poorly serves those of us who live this situation day-to-day — my fellow prosecutors and staff; police agencies, associations and so many of their members; retired judges who have observed the erosion of the district attorney’s credibility and now endorse me; and even a large number of defense attorneys, many of who have endorsed, contributed or spoken up for our campaign.

It is no easy thing to launch a political battle with your own boss, nor is it to be taken lightly. Steve Nelson — my former colleague who ran four years ago — lost his election and was first demoted and then squeezed out of his job. With so many of my colleagues openly defying the current administration with their public, outspoken support of my candidacy, I worry more about their futures than I do my own.

The “first rule of holes” is to stop digging. The DA’s office is in a hole. Let’s put down the shovel. Four years ago, with little money or outside support, Steve Nelson lost by only 2 percentage points to a very well-funded incumbent and his banner headlines.

I hope voters will, unlike The Tribune, focus on the “forest” of an underperforming, less than fully functional district attorney’s office and cast their ballots for positive change. Please vote Nathan Evershed for district attorney.

Nathan Evershed

Nathan Evershed is the Republican candidate for Salt Lake County district attorney.