Tiffany James: Public has a right to know the truth about police shootings

James’ son, Zane, was shot and killed by Cottonwood Heights police

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tiffany James, the mother of Zane James, speaks in support of HB0237, on lethal force amendments, in February 2021.

A bill to restrict public access to internal police documents called Garrity statements passed unanimously out of a Utah House committee on Friday. Tiffany James, mother of Zane James, shared this testimony at the hearing.

My name is Tiffany James and I have with me and my daughter Ruby James, who is off from school today.

We are here representing not just ourselves but our family, friends and neighbors that cannot be here.

We are here to ask you all to vote against a favorable recommendation of HB399.

Our case is the perfect case study for why access to Garrity statements should not be restricted.

Our 19-year-old son, Zane James who was struggling with addiction after a severe sports injury, like so many others in our community …

He was killed by a police officer who used multiple uses of lethal force when he had other non-lethal means and other officers available to assist in a routine arrest.

This fact, which we (now) know, went unreported to the OICI (officer involved critical incident) investigators, DA, our family and the public for over three years.

This should never have happened.

We turned to leaders in our city and police department when this happened to ask for a transparent conversation and how we could be supportive in helping prevent this from happening again.

Despite having full knowledge of the circumstances behind our son’s death from the officer’s Garrity statement - these leaders chose not disclose the correct facts until forced.

Or to use the information to sanction the officer for violating both Utah law and city policy.

We had a right to this document to know how our leaders were managing our son’s case - so did the public.

But we were only able to gain access to this information when the Garrity statement was finally brought forward after a very lengthy, painful and costly civil court battle which is still ongoing and that many people would not have the resources available to pursue.

To pass a bill that would make situations like ours the rule rather than the exception would be both a tragedy and miscarriage of government.

There is no public benefit.

It is frankly inappropriate and unacceptable for government to seek ways to hide how they manage a crisis.

This is not good for government or the community.

We all know lessons learned are a powerful thing.

As is assigning consequences and accountability.

Voting against moving this bill forward will keep the intent of this mechanism intact.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Note to readers: On Thursday, prosecutors reopened an investigation into the police shooting of Zane James. This is the first time District Attorney Sim Gill has formally reopened a police shooting case in his 12-year tenure as Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor.