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KUER’s Southeast Utah Bureau is based in San Juan County. The Southwest Utah Bureau is based in the St. George area. Both initiatives focus on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues, faith and spirituality and other topics of relevance to Utahns.

Local Residents Call For Price Police Chief's Removal, Three Years After Racist Facebook Comments

Rufus and Marsha Ellington
Kate Groetzinger/ KUER News
Rufus and Marsha Ellington stand in front of their sandwich shop in downtown Helper. They say they lose business because they support racial equality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Warning: this report includes offensive language.

Updated 12:18 p.m. 7/8/20

Residents of Price and nearby Helper have revived calls for the Price City police chief to step down, due to concerns that he is racially biased. Calls for his resignation first came in 2017, after Brandon Sicilia, then a sergeant, posted derogatory comments about Black and Muslim people on Facebook, and again in 2019, when he was promoted to police chief. 

In 2016, Sicilia called former President Barack Obama and rapper Busta Rhymes the N-word in a post on Facebook, and he called Michelle Obama a “strumpet monkey” in another. He also called the former president a Muslim and said that’s why Obama hates “pigs”, or cops. 

According to documents provided by the Price City Police Department in response to a public record request by KUER, Sicilia was suspended for two days without pay after the posts became public in 2017, but residents of Price and Helper said that wasn’t enough. He was also put on probation for one year and ordered to complete a Harassment and Discrimination training for police.

In an email obtained through a public records request, Sicilia apologized to his “team” of Price City police officers but said he would not apologize to anyone else who was offended because he didn’t, “really care about those people.”

Screenshot of comments posted on Facebook
Credit Courtesy of Tristan Armstrong
While still a Price police officer, Brandon Sicilia, now police chief, posted derogatory comments about Black and Muslim people on Facebook, and again in 2019, when he was promoted to police chief. 

Marsha Ellington lives in Helper. She said Sicilia came to apologize to her husband, who’s Black, after he was disciplined for the posts.

“He was unapologetic,” she said of Sicilia. “He was just like ‘Well, I’ve got my 20 years in, so it is what it is, if I lose my job, whatever.’ He didn’t apologize.” 

The Ellingtons said they experience racism often in Carbon County, where only 0.6% of the population is Black, according to Census data. And Rufus Ellington said he feels threatened by the police in Price, especially because he said they tend to follow his vehicle around town. 

“Why put a racist in a position of power?” Marsha Ellington asked. She said she thinks it’s because of “other racists who are in a position of power as well, who really don’t care.”

Price City Mayor Mike Kourianos oversaw Sicilia’s promotion to police chief in 2019, and has defended the decision publicly. 

"When somebody makes a mistake, you should be given a second chance," Kourianos told Fox 13 last year.

But not everyone agrees with the mayor. Tristan Armstrong is a University of Utah student who grew up in Helper, and went to high school in Price. He said a friend of his from Price brought Sicilia’s comments to his attention, and they decided to call on the police chief to resign. 

“When everything happened with George Floyd, we saw that as our opportunity to ride the momentum,” Armstrong said. “We thought maybe people would take a second look.” 

Armstrong, whose father stepped down as mayor of Helper in 2013 following a DUI charge, said he was able to meet with Sicilia in June to talk about his concerns. He said the police chief listened to his concerns but did not agree to step down or make any changes. 

“I told him it’s not about crucifying him individually, it's about the institution he represents,” Armstrong said. “We need to hold our law enforcement to a higher standard. And language like that drives a wedge between the police and the community.” 

Meanwhile, an online petition calling for Sicilia’s resignation has garnered over 3,000 signatures, as well as national media attention. Spanish Fork resident Gabrielle Wilson started the petition three weeks ago after learning about Sicilia’s comments for the first time. 

“I’m not like, ‘Defund the police,’” Wilson said. “But when people are protesting, and they’re saying ‘No racist police’, is it really asking that much?”

The kindergarten teacher and daughter of two biracial children said she has reached out to the mayor of Price as well as Gov. Gary Hebert. But neither the Price Police Department, the mayor or Herbert have responded to her.

In a statement to KUER, the city of Price said that it is aware of the petition and has received calls for Sicilia’s resignation from locals and people outside the area, as well as statements of support for the police chief. The city added that it “will continue to listen to all community feedback in these trying, uncertain and ever-changing times.”

 
GRAMA Request Response 7-7-20_Redacted by KUER News on Scribd

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

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