The Utah Attorney General’s Office and several Utah media organizations have embarked on an ongoing legal battle between West Jordan Police and the Salt Lake Tribune, filing opposing briefs.
The entities are engaged in a dispute over whether internal documents related to a 2018 western Jordan police shooting should be made public.
Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office sided with West Jordan Police, arguing in a recent court filing that the files should be kept under wraps. Media organizations – including the local Society of Professional Journalists, Deseret News, KSL, FOX13, and The Utah Investigative Journalism Project – are advocating for the files to be published.
The Tribune is seeking interviews with two officers who West Jordan Police said shot Michael Glad, 23, in May 2018, after police said Glad robbed a store, pointed a gun at officers and stole a patrol vehicle. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting was justified in October 2018, but noted that the two officers who opened fire, Sgt. Tyrell Shepherd and Officer Joshua Whitehead, cited their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and did not speak with prosecutors.
The officers did speak with their department’s internal investigators, however, due to a 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Garrity v. New Jersey. Anything an officer says in such “Garrity statements” cannot be used against officers in criminal court, but an officer who lies in such internal interviews or refuses to give one can be fired, according to the law. decision.
The Tribune requested Garrity’s statements from the officers in January 2021. The request was part of the news agency’s year-long investigation into the police shootings in Utah.
The Tribune received dozens of similar documents from other state police departments and the State Records Committee in May 2021. decided that West Jordan should release the files. The West Jordan Police Department refused to release them.
Instead, the department took the case to the 3rd District Court, arguing in a filing that the records were private and that their disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the two shooting officers because they had been had said their Garrity statements would be kept private. Lawyers for the police department also argued that disclosure of the records could mean officers will be less likely to speak candidly about police shootings in the future and put them at risk of losing their jobs.
The attorney general’s office in its case echoed these concerns.
“According to the Tribune, every shot involving an officer is a potential violation of public confidence and, therefore, the public has a right to all information relating to it, including statements from Garrity,” the lawyer wrote. Sarah Goldberg.
Goldberg said West Jordan Police and other law enforcement entities have already released “sufficient information” related to the case, such as video footage and other reports, which explains why Shepherd and Whitehead opened fire on Glad. She said releasing Garrity’s statements would constitute an undue invasion of agent privacy and have a “chilling effect” on agents in the future.
This could mean, Goldberg continued, that chiefs will have to make tough decisions about “whether to fire an indispensable officer” who does not provide a statement from Garrity, as the officer may fear the statement will eventually be released. .
“So it is not only law enforcement officers or agencies who have an interest in maintaining the confidentiality of these statements by Garrity,” Goldberg wrote. “The public has an interest in ensuring that nothing compromises the ability of law enforcement agencies to effectively manage and govern their services.
“It’s not a private matter”
Jeffrey J. Hunt, an attorney representing the coalition of media organizations, said West Jordan’s arguments for keeping the statements private “actually promote access.” He wrote that Garrity’s interviews may differ from what is made public and that officers’ jobs are at risk if they lie or do not participate in such interviews.
“Since officers could face serious consequences from what happens in the interview, it is all the more important that there is public accountability for what happens in the interview – to both to protect officers from unfairly punitive treatment in the investigation and to protect the public from unfairly lenient treatment, ”Hunt wrote.
Hunt added that Utah law does not specifically classify Garriy’s documents as private and that without reviewing these interviews, the public cannot properly assess the shooting.
“Such statements tell what happened from the officer’s point of view,” Hunt said. “And what happened – the use of lethal force by a public officer in the exercise of his public functions – is not a private matter. Nor is the internal review of the incident by a public body.
Tribune attorney Mike Judd said Monday he was “disappointed” that the attorney general’s office has taken a position that “interferes with public access to these records.”
“They admit in their brief how important transparency is when it comes to these matters,” Judd said, “and there is no denying that making Garrity’s statements inaccessible to the public will mean that police conduct is less transparent. “
The Attorney General’s Office launched an effort in 2019 to examine the growing number of police shootings in Utah after The Tribune reported that police shot 30 people the previous year – more than any other year in memory recent. As of 2021, the office still had not completed its scan as it struggled to get police reports for its database.
Office training director Scott Carver hopes to complete it within the next six months. He recently told The Tribune that the office is still not done, but has obtained the documents for all shootings between 2016 and 2020 and is creating a searchable database.
“I used to think, ‘Oh, this will take about six months,’ Carver said. “It was about two years ago.”
Lawyers for West Jordan declined to comment.
The Tribune and West Jordan will respond to the documents before the end of this month. A hearing in this case could be scheduled as early as February.