Family of man who died in custody sues Salt Lake police

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

The chief said his department conducted a thorough investigation and the officers involved were placed on administrative leave until they were eventually cleared by his office to go back to work.

He also disagrees with Bessonette's claim that the next day she was taken to police headquarters and interrogated for 90 minutes by an officer who yelled at her to try and get her to change her story.

"I'm very disappointed," Burbank said Thursday after hearing that story for the first time, noting that his disappointment was with the story and not the actions of his officers. "I did not see any wrongdoing on the part of our officers or the department."

Sykes, however, is equally confident in his witness.

"Shame on the Salt Lake City Police Department for trying to intimidate a 78-year-old woman out of her testimony, trying to change her testimony, trying to change the facts. Shame on the Salt Lake City Police Department for trying to do that. That was despicable," he said. "I don't know why the officers would make that up at the scene, it goes against their interest. … But they said it twice."

Sykes believes that not only are people within the department lying, but they're hiding something because they have refused to release any police or autopsy reports to the family, arguing that the case is an "ongoing investigation."

"We believe that's an indication of mischief afoot here. They're trying to cover up something," Sykes said.

Powers, 23, said Bessonette had no reason to make up her story as she doesn't have any stake in what happened.

But Powers said he wasn't ready to call Salt Lake police "liars." The lawsuit, he said, was more about getting answers than placing blame.

"I'm not here to badmouth people. I'm here for justice, whatever that may be. That's what I want. I wake up every morning with an emptiness in my heart and in my stomach not knowing what happened," he said. "Nobody deserves to go through what my family's been going through. It's uncalled for, unnecessary. And all for what? Nobody's answering anything, no questions are being answered.

"I'll wake up every morning, not knowing what happened to my father."

As for police reports not being released, Powers said, "I think I have a right to know what happened."

Burbank said his office had not released any autopsy information as of Thursday in part because the state medical examiner was still waiting for toxicology tests to be completed.

The lawsuit names Salt Lake City, John and Jane Doe officers 1-10, police supervisors and Taser International Inc., the manufacturer of the Taser, claiming that the corporation has misrepresented the safety of using the device.

"Tasers are not supposed to be used as a tool of convenience," Sykes said.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, >Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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