Angry and grieving, family members of Utahns killed by police in recent years gathered Saturday in downtown Salt Lake City to denounce a law-enforcement culture that they believe has become authoritarian and overly militarized.
Roughly 120 people attended the protest outside the Matheson Courthouse, including Melissa Kennedy, the mother of Danielle Willard, who was shot and killed in 2012 by a West Valley City officer who has since been charged with manslaughter.
That is the anomaly. Willard’s death is the only one prosecutors have found to be not justified since 2010. In that time, a Salt Lake Tribune review has identified 43 people fatally shot by police.
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“It is ‘do what they tell you to do or die,’ ” Kennedy said. “The slightest idea you might have a gun, or might have a knife, and they will shoot.”
Former West Valley City narcotics Detective Shaun Cowley, who has proclaimed his innocence and is fighting to get his job back, has been charged with second-degree felony manslaughter in the shooting.
Speakers called for the removal of military-grade weapons and gear from police. They also want to expand the use of body cameras worn by officers and mandate that civilian boards review police shootings and potential misconduct.
Among those in the crowd were Kim Haywood, from Salt Lake City, and her three boys, ages 15, 11 and 5. She believes police long have been too willing to resort to deadly force. Haywood said she has talked to her sons, who are half Mexican-American and half African-American, about how to respond if they are stopped by police. She wants them to keep their hands up, speak respectfully and show no signs of aggression.
Sandy resident Edward Peltekian used to volunteer with the police department in Saratoga Springs, but has since become disillusioned with law enforcement after son Ryan was charged for having his dog off leash and forced to appear in justice court. The charges were dismissed. He believes police look at residents not as fellow Americans but as people to control.
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“Comply or die is not the law,” Peltekian said, using a rallying cry of the protest. “We are not subjects, we are citizens.”
Last week, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled that Salt Lake City police officer Bron Cruz was justified in shooting and killing an unarmed 20-year-old, Dillon Taylor, because the officer had a legitimate fear for his personal safety. Taylor lifted his hands out of his pants and raised his shirt. Cruz, based also on information from a 911 caller, believed he was reaching for a weapon.
“Maybe he didn’t comply the way [the officer] wanted him to comply,” Taylor’s aunt, Magna resident Gina Thayne, said Saturday. “But he was prosecuted and executed before he had a chance to do anything.”
In another high-profile shooting, Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor has yet to make a ruling in the death of Darrien Hunt, 22, who was killed by police in Saratoga Springs last month.