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PM News Brief: Salt Lake City Police Cleared, Fox Squirrels & Christmas Tree Invasive Species

Veit Irtenkauf
The Natural History Museum of Utah is hoping people will help them learn more about fox squirrels — the big, orange, fluffy tailed rodent whose population has been growing across the Wasatch Front. This story and more in Friday evening's news brief.

Friday evening, December 4, 2020


Utah’s COVID-19 Update

Utah health officials announced 3,005 new cases of COVID-19 Friday. The state’s positivity rate has risen to 25.2% up from 21.3% a week ago. Officials reported eight more people have died from the disease — six of them were Salt Lake County residents. — Ross Terrell

Watch Out For Invasive Species In Christmas Trees

State officials are asking Utahns who choose real Christmas trees this year to check for signs of invasive species. In a statement released Friday, the Utah Department of Agriculture urged people to examine live trees before they take them home. Because many of them come from out of state, they could carry pests like gypsy moths or pine shoot beetles. Officials said invasive species account for more than half of crop loss every year. According to the department, no pine shoot beetles have been found in Utah so far, and only one gypsy moth has been found in the last couple of years. Gypsy moth larvae dry out their host trees, which can make already bad drought conditions even worse in the West. The pine shoot beetle damages trees by burrowing into the wood. — Roddy Nikpour

Northern Utah

Seeing Fox Squirrels? The Natural History Museum Wants To Know

The Natural History Museum of Utah is hoping people will help them learn more about fox squirrels — the big, orange, fluffy tailed rodent whose population has been growing across the Wasatch Front. Ellen Eiriksson is the museum’s Citizen Science coordinator and she said what attracts squirrels to city life is what attracts anyone: access to green spaces, trees, proximity to water. “All of those things are incredibly appealing to a squirrel who is looking for food,” she said. Eiriksson said that while they aren’t native, fox squirrels are part of the ecosystem now and learning more about them will help us live with them. The museum is inviting people to fill out surveys about the animals starting Monday. — Elaine Clark

Two Salt Lake City Police Officers Cleared For Shooting, Killing Andrew Preece

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled Friday two Salt Lake City Police officers were justified in shooting and killing 34-year-old Andrew Preece in July. Body cam footage shows Officers Seyedsherwin Mansourbeigi and Dorothy Rose Wilde giving multiple commands to Preece to drop his knife — which he was holding against another’s person’s throat. When he didn’t comply they fired 11 shots at him. Gill says his investigation found the officers first drew their tasers but felt the threat level grow when Preece refused to drop his knife, so they pulled out their guns instead. Both officers declined to give Gill a statement for the investigation. — Emily Means

Another Salt Lake City Officer Won’t Face Charges For Shoving Elderly Man

Prosecutors say a Salt Lake City police officer who shoved and knocked over a man who was walking with a cane during a protest will not face criminal charges to respect the victim's wishes. Officer Val Brown was captured on video pushing a man to the ground during a June protest in downtown Salt Lake City. District Attorney Sim Gill said the victim did not support filing criminal charges. The victim would prefer that Brown's misconduct be addressed through disciplinary action from his employer. Gill said his office would have filed charges if the victim was in favor. — Associated Press

Fraudster Sentenced To Four Years In Federal Prison

A Highland, Utah man who pleaded guilty to money laundering and bank fraud has been sentenced to four years in federal prison. Theodore Hansen made his plea in May after being charged in connection with a financial fraud scheme. He must also pay more than $1.4 million dollars in restitution. Hansen persuaded someone to give him $1 million so he could buy the Seven Peaks Water Park in Provo. He also promised to make the person part owner. Instead, he used the money to buy personal items like a $28,000 purchase from a used car dealership. — Ross Terrell

Southern Utah

Southern Utah Counties Asking For More Hotel Tax Leeway

Counties in Southern Utah are asking state lawmakers to grant them more leeway for spending hotel tax dollars. They want to use the cash to offset the impacts of tourism and develop infrastructure. Right now, counties that impose the 4.25% tax on lodging must spend almost half of the money it raises to promote tourism. The rest can be spent on mitigation, which includes everything from law enforcement to road work. But a number of Southern Utah counties say that’s not enough. Read the full story. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff


More Evictions = More COVID-19 Cases According To A New Study

States in our region that allowed their eviction moratoriums to expire saw increased COVID-19 cases and deaths. That’s according to a new study by researchers at University of California, Johns Hopkins University and other institutions. They looked at cases and deaths from March until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention enacted a national moratorium in September. The study is not yet peer reviewed but researchers say they wanted to publish the info before the CDC moratorium expires at the end of the year. — Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

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