SALT LAKE CITY — Chants of "stop police abuse" and "we demand the truth" sounded outside the Capitol on Monday during a protest against lethal action by police officers.
In addition to demands for greater police accountability, an unusual message sounded during the two-hour protest: Improve training so officers use options other than lethal force, and increase pay for police as incentive for better performance.
Dozens of people attended the protest in support of the families of three unarmed individuals who were shot and killed by police officers in Utah in the past six months.
Melissa Kennedy, mother of Danielle Willard, traveled from Washington state for the protest. West Valley police shot and killed Willard, who was unarmed, on Nov. 2 in the parking lot of the Lexington Park Apartments, 2293 W. Lexington Park Drive (3710 South).
To date, Kennedy still has few details about her daughter's case. Friends and family of Willard donned hot pink shirts, her favorite color, and in one case, a partially painted hot pink face.
In similar fashion, family and friends of Corey Kanosh wore his favorite color — purple — and gathered on the Capitol steps to join the movement.
Kanosh was shot and killed by Millard County sheriff's deputy Dale Josse on Oct. 15 in the foothills above the Paiute Indian Reservation. An investigation by Millard County Attorney Richard Waddingham cleared the deputy and ruled that the deadly shooting was justified.
Kanosh, who had been drinking, was unarmed, but had grabbed Josse by the throat following a car and foot chase. As the deputy stumbled backward, he feared Kanosh would kill him if he forced him to the ground, the report states. He fired two shots from his hip position and Kanosh fell on top of him and died.
Kanosh's family has filed a civil lawsuit against the county. Private investigator Christian Warmsley said he's looking into Kanosh's death.
"There is no reason why Danielle Willard or Corey Kanosh should have died if (the police) had followed procedure," Warmsley said.
Police are imperfect, he said, and if they do something wrong, they need to be held accountable. "We need them," Warmsley said, "but we need them to step up to the plate and be responsible."
He suggested a pay increase to provide an incentive for police to be better officers and avoid corruption. He also called for a fundamental shift in the training that officers receive.
Gari Laferty, Kanosh's aunt, said police should accept responsibility for their actions and not hide behind their badges. Throughout the protest, she carried a sign on bright green poster board that read, "Not a badge to kill."
Other protesters had signs attached to the backs of their shirts with the message: "I'm Kelly Simon's (sic). Don't shoot me in the back!"
Kelly Fay Simons was shot and killed by a South Salt Lake police officer on Jan. 9. Simons was suspected in a series of robberies, including one at Scaddy's restaurant that morning. According to police, she repeatedly tried to run over officers with her truck.
But Kristi Critchlow, Simons' cousin, believes her death may have been preventable.
"Basically they just shot on assumption. It's devastating that they just saw and shot," Critchlow said. "We just want to make sure that other families don't lose their loved ones because the training is awful. They just get to kill when there are other options available."
Simons' father, Scott, said he's become good friends with Kennedy as they've worked to create greater accountability within the police force.
"The police have been able to form policies and laws that exempt them from normal forms of justice," he said.
An investigation determined that detective Joe Sutera, who was working on the Joint Criminal Apprehension Team when he shot and killed Simons while she tried to flee from police, was legally justified in shooting Simons. "(Sutera) had a reasonable basis to believe that deadly force was necessary to defeat Simons' escape from arrest," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said last week.
An investigation into Willard's shooting is still under way. West Valley Deputy Police Chief Mike Powell said Monday there was no additional information available about the Willard case and no deadline for its conclusion.
"It's impossible to have a standard time frame," Powell said. "Our focus is in conducting thorough investigations."
Gill said he agrees that such investigations are complex, but they still need to move forward.
"Of course we want them to do a thorough investigation, but at the same time, we want them to finish," said Gill, whose office is working in conjunction with West Valley City police. "It's a complicated and complex issue. I understand and respect that."
Kennedy said she considers her daughter's death to be a murder, and she wants the officers responsible to be charged. However, she does not even know the name of the officer who shot Willard.
Gill said the answer to reducing such incidents lies in more effective training and response to police shootings, not in reducing the power of the police force. Because of this, his office has taken efforts to meet the demands of the public.
"If our commitment is to safety," he said, "and if our commitment is to the safety of our citizens as well as officers, then we need to put our money where our mouth is."
Gill said his office has paid for improved training for police officers in Salt Lake County. The goal is to train about 300 officers per year, which so far has been met, he said.
Because police work in a dangerous and unpredictable environment, Gill said it is impossible for them to avoid using lethal force entirely. However, he believes they can and should use it more judiciously — something he hopes can be addressed by the training.
"The more information they have — knowledge is power — the more safe they can keep themselves so they don't have to put themselves in a situation where they have to use lethal force," Gill said.
In addition to that training, the district attorney's office is in the process of making improved simulator training available. Instead of the usual focus on shoot or don't shoot, the training aims to teach officers about threat assessment.
Finally, Gill aims to create an objective task force made up of officers from various police departments throughout Salt Lake County to respond to officer shootings.
"You want the use of force to be used specifically in those conditions where it is right and justified," Gill said.
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