Jeffrey William Hall
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 13, 2020
Contact Sim Gill
The laws justifying deadly force in Utah are more generous to law enforcement officers than to other members of our community. That was a policy decision made years ago, when Utah lawmakers determined that Utah’s use-of-force statute would permit an absolute defense and bar to prosecution of law enforcement officers whenever an officer, having used deadly force, reasonably believed the subject posed a serious threat to the officer or to any other individual.
The same standard applies in most states across the country. It is the very standard that is questioned by millions as the country mourns the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black and Brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement. Yet to use the legal standard itself as a basis to condemn individual officers is unfair. It is legislators, not law enforcement officers, who decide what our public policies and laws should be; the vast majority of officers nationwide comply with those laws consistently and with the honor their profession requires.
That said, the time has come to re-examine and, we hope, re-set the balance of justice in this State and in this country. Put another way, if we want different outcomes, we need different laws.
Our goal with this list of possible reforms is not to present “the answer” to deaths caused by law enforcement—as if only one answer exists—but instead to provide many alternatives and points for discussion and debate in support of a crucial and long-delayed examination by policy makers, at all levels of government, of the appropriate balance between the sworn obligation of law enforcement to protect the public, on the one hand, and the constitutional and human rights of our residents and communities, on the other hand.
We freely acknowledge the reform ideas listed below are both over-inclusive, in that adoption of one may render another unnecessary, and under-inclusive, in that many excellent reform ideas geared more generally to law enforcement and not specifically to law enforcement use of deadly force are not included. We also freely acknowledge there will be any number of important reforms we have not yet considered; no one person or institution, including ours, has a monopoly on good ideas.
We eagerly invite your input, discussion, and engagement in this effort. Differences of opinion are inevitable but not insurmountable. The conversation itself is long overdue and vital both to our very system of government and to the lives of all Utahns. This is the promise of democracy.
The use of deadly force by law enforcement has been under scrutiny for years. As the last two months of protests both here and across the country demonstrate, application of the current legal standards for officers’ use of force has produced outcomes that are questioned, reasonably, by many in our communities. When expectations of the community collide so strongly with what the law requires, a re-examination of what the law is, and a fulsome discussion of where it might go, is not just timely but crucial.
Just as we in the criminal justice system owe it to our communities and stakeholders to seek justice under the law, policymakers owe it to their constituents to think carefully about what those laws should be.
The time is now.
Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney
Attachment:SLCO DA Proposal Officer Use of Deadly Force (July 13 2020)
35 East 500 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Telephone 385.468.7600 - Fax 385.468.7736 - slco.org/district-attorney