SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 9, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Attorneys for the family of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal spoke to the media Thursday about outrage over Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill’s decision to declare two officers’ fatal shooting of the 22-year-old man “justified.”
Palacios-Carbajal was shot and killed on May 23 as he ran from police called in to investigate a robbery. Police say he pointed a gun at them, and a gun was found near his body.
Attorney Nathan Morris of the law firm Eisenberg, Cutt, Kendell & Olson read a statement for the family:
As a family and as a community, we are deeply disappointed and grieved. Mr. Gill’s decision to support the police officers who shot Bernardo at least 34 times reveals a deeply ingrained devaluation of human life, especially minorities, and further erodes the public’s trust in our system of justice.
The D.A.’s unwillingness to prosecute makes a mockery of the protesting public, and contradicts the views of numerous other city and state officials who have described the killing as “unlawful,” “genuinely disturbing and upsetting,” and an “all-too-familiar pattern.”
The D.A. has chosen — like so many national, state and local public officials before him — to find justification in what he called bad law. As a family, we believe the D.A.’s decision not to act is a continuation of a system of oppression and control that is sadly being demonstrated throughout our country. The D.A.’s decision not to act perpetuates an unfair system that has been supported and enabled by politicians who are unwilling to take a stand for equality under the law and to represent the interests of unheard and undervalued people in our communities.
Contrary to Mr. Gill’s public statement today, the language of Utah’s deadly force law expressly authorizes the D.A. to prosecute the officers who shot Bernardo. Mr. Gill chose to ignore that language, and took upon himself the decision to exonerate the officers at the expense of a fair judicial process rather than permitting a jury of Bernardo’s peers to decide the fate of the officers. He did so by speculating on multiple key questions, and giving every benefit of the doubt to the officers.
One of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans is due process when accused of a crime. Tragically, Bernardo was not afforded any due process when Salt Lake City Police Department officers acted as judge, jury and executioner. Bernardo, who never once threatened police officers with force, was scared for his life, and was running from authorities at 2 a.m. on empty streets where there was no risk of harm to the police or public. Officers had many opportunities to use less than deadly force, and chose not to.
Even after shooting Bernardo four to six times from approximately 15 feet away before he fell, the two officers emptied their clips, which contained 17 rounds each for a total of 34 bullets. That is approximately 25 to 30 bullets after Bernardo was on the ground. Police officers repeatedly pulled the trigger for approximately nine seconds.
Courts have consistently held that deadly force is impermissible when any threat of escape has been eliminated, such as when Bernardo was lying on the ground.
The officers’ unlawful, senseless and deeply disturbing decision to continue shooting Bernardo cannot be permitted in our society regardless of the wrongs the person is accused of. Mr. Gill has placed a stamp of approval on these appalling actions.
We are grateful as a family to the numerous members of our community who have supported the family through this painful ordeal, and who have called for justice and accountability. We ask them to continue to peacefully protest the injustices we heard announced by the D.A. today.
As a family, we will not stop in our pursuit of justice for Bernardo through all means that are available to us. We call on the leaders of the Salt Lake City Police Department and other local authorities to continue their internal investigation and to hold these officers accountable.
We demand that the Salt Lake City Police Department policies and trainings be changed so that tragedies like this do not happen again. We ask the legislature to take the promised collective concrete steps to prevent further and future replays of this all-too-familiar pattern.
Bernardo’s death cannot be forgotten, and we pray that justice will be accomplished.
Attorney Brian Webber added that a lawsuit is planned, and Morris added that it would be based on the use of “excessive” force.
Family members shared memories of Palacios-Carbajal. His father remembered Bernardo as a talented artist whose only Christmas wish one year was for good-quality colored pencils.
The mother of Palacios-Carbajal answered questions posed to her in Spanish, sobbing as she spoke, struggling to catch her breath to continue. Afterward, Webber commented that her emotional words really required no translation for their meaning to be felt.