Was deal in City Creek shooting plot yanked over political pressure?

Published: Monday, April 14 2014 2:45 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for a man accused of plotting a mass shooting at City Creek Center are asking whether a broken plea deal was the result of political pressure from police and officials with the shopping center.

Defense attorneys say prosecutors revoked a plea bargain that involved treatment and dismissal of the case against Jack Harry Stiles after they received "communications" from Salt Lake police and attorneys for downtown's City Creek Center. The defense wants more information about these communications.

"This is extremely awkward, because I freely admit this might have not happened," Stiles' defense attorney, Neal Hamilton, said. "If not, it puts Salt Lake police and City Creek in an untenable situation. … It was clear that those communications were the basis for the state backing out of the agreement, but if the state made up these communications to justify a change of heart or were bending to political pressure … I don't know."

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office will not discuss plea agreements, but he reiterated that Stiles made disturbing threats that the office took seriously. In all cases handled by his office, Gill said, input is considered from all parties involved.

"In terms of anything with Salt Lake City Police Department and City Creek, … it's like any other case," Gill said. "We have to take into account all other information from alleged victims and people involved and faction that out. Sometimes you can have a meeting of the minds, and sometimes you can't."

On Aug. 12, a West Valley police officer was called to Pioneer Valley Hospital by a crisis worker working with Stiles. The 43-year-old man had apparently outlined "specific, detailed plans to engage in a mass shooting" on Sept 25, the anniversary of his mother's death, according to the charging documents.

His targets included City Creek Center, where he planned to "just randomly shoot and kill people" during lunch time and Sugarhouse Movies 10 where he had already scoped out the exits in the theater and planned to "shoot people's heads off" from the back of the room, the charges state. His final target was going to be a UTA bus or TRAX train where he allegedly planned to place a bomb under the bus and have it detonate on Main Street right when it went under the pedestrian walkway at City Creek Center.

Hamilton said he understands why the crisis worker who spoke with Stiles might have been concerned and called police, but he believes the ultimate result should have been treatment, not prosecution.

"These were not threats. These were symptoms," he said. "Jack called 911. He asked for police and fire, he asked to be hospitalized. … Jack did not like what was going on in his head, so he blew the whistle and sought treatment."

Hamilton noted his client didn't own a gun and said police have confirmed that "if he tried to buy a gun, he would be unable to buy a gun."

Hamilton pointed out in court documents that it took several weeks for charges to be filed. Once assigned, he said he and fellow defense attorneys put together a "dream team" of mental health professionals who determined Stiles was "low risk," and a treatment plan was prepared.

"This treatment plan quickly became a part of negotiations, and an offer was made that, once the treatment plan was finalized, the state would enter into an informal diversion agreement with Mr. Stiles," according to a motion filed in 3rd District Court.

The agreement allowed for dismissal of the criminal case "when a benchmark in treatment was reached" and the release of Stiles from jail in the interim, court documents state. But the night before the scheduled release, the state pulled the offer.

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