Updated 6:11 p.m. MDT 7/9/2020
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled Thursday morning that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified in the shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal.
Police responded to a call of an armed man near 300 West 900 South in downtown Salt Lake City on May 23. Palacios-Carbajal ran from police and a chase ensued.
During the chase Palacios-Carbajal tripped and dropped a gun at least two times while running away. Officers ordered him to show his hands before opening fire. After initially being shot, nearby surveillance video shows Palacios-Carbajal on the ground, but raising his right arm. Gill said he still had a gun in his hand at the point and was posturing as if he would shoot at officers, that led to them firing several more shots.
Gill announced Thursday that 34 shots were fired. There were 13-15 trauma wounds, though, it’s not yet clear yet if those are distinct bullet wounds or a combination of entry and exit points.
The two officers named were Neil Iversen and Kevin Fortuna, and Gill said as far as he knows, they are still employed with the Salt Lake City Police Department.
During a press conference, Gill said officers recovered a gun and also attempted to quell rumors that Palacios-Carbajal’s body was desecrated after the shooting. Some people on social media had claimed that his fingers were missing when his body was buried.
Photos from the autopsy showed they were all still attached to his hand, though with injuries.
Both Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Police Chief Mike Brown released a statement supporting Gill’s decision.
“District Attorney Sim Gill’s findings provide significant evidence of the justifiable actions of Salt Lake City police officers,” Mendenhall said. “This evidence shows that our officers acted according to their training and the state law regarding use of lethal force.”
Brown reiterated his support for the police, saying they are asked to do “an impossible job, and often receive little thanks for it.”
Nathan Morris, an attorney representing the family, said at a press conference after Gill’s decision, the investigation favored the officers, and that the case should have been considered by a jury.
Morris said Gill had a chance to prosecute Fortuna and Iversen.
“Our disappointment is that history had its eye on Mr. Gill,” he said, “and he did not step up and do his duty under the law. He took the easy road.”
Palacios-Carbajal’s family was tearful as they reflected on the situation and his memory. His brother, Freddie, described him as someone who played with his niece and nephew and took care of his mother. He was also an artist.
“When we wouldn’t go to work, he would sit in his room for hours with his little sketch book and just draw and draw,” Freddie said.
Palacios-Carbajal’s sister, Karina, said she wants the officers to be held accountable.
“We would like there to be consequences for the officers that killed my brother,” she said.
Utah’s ethnic and racial minority lawmakers, including Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, also released a statement. In it, they thanked Gill for his decision to expedite the investigation, but said Utah’s laws make it unlikely that any officer would be charged in any shooting.
“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,” the statement said.
Protests calling for justice are planned for Thursday evening.
Ross Terrell is an editor for KUER News. Follow him on Twitter @RossTerrell7