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Shooting of Bernardo Palacios ruled 'justified' by Salt Lake County DA

Shooting of Bernardo Palacios ruled 'justified' by Salt Lake County DA (Photo: Salt Lake County DA / screengrab from presser)
Shooting of Bernardo Palacios ruled 'justified' by Salt Lake County DA (Photo: Salt Lake County DA / screengrab from presser)
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Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting death of 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal by police is "justified under Utah law."

During a press conference on Thursday, Gill announced no charges would be filed against the two officers who fired gunshots at Palacios-Carbajal on Saturday, May 23.

An officer can use deadly force if they believe "the suspect has committed a felony offense involving the infliction or threatened infliction of death or serious bodily injury," "preventing the escape" of a suspect and/or "the suspect poses a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to others," according to Utah law that Gill cited during the conference.

Police were originally called at approximately 2 a.m. to Utah Village Motel on 900 South and 300 West on a report of an armed man. They encountered Palacios-Carbajal, who fled from them. Police pursued on foot as another officer raced to the area to assist from a squad car.

Body camera footage shows police pursue Palacios-Carbajal down an alley and into an area of storage units. The police department said Palacios-Carbajal dropped an object, later identified as a gun, and picked it up before the fatal shooting. Gill says Palacios-Carbajal took a couple steps and fell, dropping the object again. Officer Iverson could not tell what the object was, Gill said.

The officer told the DA's office during an interview that he had "every reason to believe...and everything was telling me that he had a gun," according to Gill.

(Click here or below to read the entire DA report on the shooting.)

Palacios-Carbajal fell, dropping the gun again. Officer Iverson then confirmed the object was, in fact, a gun. Iverson saw Palacios-Carbajal raise the gun to his waist. Iverson said there's only one reason a man fleeing from police would drop and pick up a gun three times. Gill said Iverson showed "incredible restraint" because Palacios-Carbajal had pointed the gun at him before the officer later fired.

The two officers, Iverson and Fortuna, fired their weapons after Palacios-Carbajal picked up the gun third time, from approximately 15 to 20 feet away.

Just before shooting, and after, police can be heard on camera yelling at Palacios-Carbajal to show his hands and "drop it."

Gill showed surveillance video from a storage unit, which was not released to the public before Thursday's press conference. Palacios-Carbajal is seen rolling over after he was shot and reaches for the gun at his waist.

Gill said, “The desire to retrieve the gun was greater than the desire to run away.”

A total of 34 shots were fired by the officers.

Police say the officers called for medical assistance and rendered medical aid until EMS arrived. A handgun was recovered from the scene and Gill said it was fully loaded with a round in the chamber.

Gill said both officers told him that they would not have shot at Palacios-Carbajal if he had left the gun on the ground and continued running.

Salt Lake City police released more body camera footage of the shooting on Thursday night after Gill's ruling and during protests in downtown Salt Lake City.

The two officers who fired shots were placed on administrative leave, per protocol, and the shooting investigation was handled by the Unified Police Department.

During the course of the investigation, protesters have gathered and signs have been placed outside of the district attorney’s office asking for justice for the 22-year-old.

Many people have called for “Justice for Bernardo” after the Salt Lake City Police Department released body camera footage of the shooting on June 8.

Some Utah lawmakers, including Sens. Luz Escamilla and Jani Iwamoto, along with Reps. Angela Romero, Karen Kwan, Sandra Hollins, and Mark A. Wheatley, previously sent a letter to Gill asking for “clarity and closure."

On Thursday, the group of leaders released the following statement:

We appreciate the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s decision to expedite and prioritize this decision. While we have grave concerns about the manner of Bernardo’s death, we also recognize that state statute defines what is and is not considered a justifiable killing. Current laws on the books make it highly unlikely that police officer-involved shootings are ever criminally prosecuted, even if they unjustifiably use deadly force.
We also understand that Salt Lake City will continue to conduct its own, internal investigation. We hope and expect the city to continue to be transparent and proactive during this process.
In the meantime, justice for Bernardo must be achieved at the state level. We urge advocates for police reform, protesters, and everyone calling for systemic change to help us to pass meaningful reforms through the legislative process. Achieving this will require engagement, persistence and tenacity. We all want to feel safe with the police that serve our communities, and we want the police to feel secure with the standards that govern their actions. As legislators, we are committed to addressing these troubling systemic issues and achieving positive and lasting improvements to our criminal justice system.

Since Gill took office in 2011, he has reviewed 99 officer-involved shootings. Records obtained by 2News show a total of seven were ruled unjustified by Gill, and three of those resulted in charges being filed.

Black Lives Matter issued the following statement pledging to get Gill out of office:

"Black Lives Matter Utah is disappointed in the continued injustice that Sim Gill serves to the public. Sim Gill does not hold police accountable for their actions. He instead justifies every shooting and ignores blatant police brutality. We would ask for his resignation, but instead we will just help him to resign when we vote him out of office in the next election. Black Lives Matter Utah will do everything in our power to ensure that he is not re-elected, including canvassing for his opponents and donating to the campaigns of his opponents."

Palacios-Carbajal’s siblings previously told 2News they think the situation could have ended differently.

“He could still be here right now. That officer that said, 'tase him.' He could have easily... tased him," Freddie Palacios said.

His sister Elsa Palacios added, “He would still be here, like things could have been done a lot different. He was running.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued a statement Thursday afternoon:

I want to first offer my sincere condolences to the family of Bernardo Palacios Carbajal. No matter the circumstances, the loss you have experienced is tragic. It’s something no parent or sibling should experience, and I am sorry.
In the case of the Salt Lake City Officer Involved Critical Incident that resulted in the death of Bernardo Palacios Carbajal, District Attorney Sim Gill’s findings provide significant evidence of the justifiable actions of Salt Lake City police officers. This evidence shows that our officers acted according to their training and the state law regarding use of lethal force. They acted quickly and methodically in a very difficult situation to stop what they perceived as a deadly threat, which is exactly what we ask of them and what we expect them to do to protect our city, every day.
Nonetheless, I know that with the announcement by the District Attorney, the family and friends of Mr. Palacios Carbajal are still grieving the loss of their son, brother, and friend. I know that for some, today’s decision does not feel like justice. It has become increasingly apparent in our city and across the nation that there is a difference between what so many feel is morally correct, and what is considered appropriate and justified under the law.
Mr. Gill has done his job according to the system we elected him to work within, and he has determined that the officers involved did their jobs according to the system we hired and trained them to work within. This gives me great confidence that as we work to reform for greater justice and a more equitable city, our police department will continue to follow their training and the law as those standards evolve.
The evidence in this case now moves to the Salt Lake City Police Civilian Review Board and Internal Affairs to make recommendations to Chief Brown on whether the officers acted in accordance with city policy. I have requested both bodies to expedite their reviews so the Chief can quickly make his decision, and I anticipate a conclusion of each process by the middle of next week. I also ask for the public’s patience with these processes that require time and thoughtfulness in order to render due process, which these officers are entitled to under the law.
Finally, I ask this of all of us: my fellow elected officials, city employees, public safety officers, Salt Lake City residents — open your hearts to one another right now. We can all be more understanding of where others sit in this moment. Our ability to look beyond our own experiences and empathize goes hand in hand with our capacity for change. I look forward to continuing this work with every one of you as we work for systemic reforms in our city.
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To read more about the family's press conference, click here.

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