When Tyrone Medley was working as a Salt Lake County prosecutor, he dashed into Albertsons one night after work to pick up some pork chops for dinner.
As he was leaving the story, he noticed a man following him. As Medley got closer to the cash register, the man closed in.
Medley confronted him. "I asked him if he was following me. He said, `Yes, I'm following you.' I asked him why. He basically said, `Continue to get smart with me and I'll arrest you right here.' "
Medley had done nothing wrong.
But he was black.
The security officer, he recognized Medley as the man who had prosecuted several of the store's shoplifting cases.
The chief apologized for the officer's conduct.
At another time, a local suburban police officer pulled over a car with three Hispanics in it because the registration on the car was expired.
Instead of citing the driver for the expired registration and sending her on her way, as would be typical, he ran a warrants check on all three passengers in the car.
He discovered that the man in the back seat had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court and arrested him.
As the man was being handcuffed and put into a partol car, a reporter overheard the officer quip to a colleague: "So many Mexicans. So little time."
Justice for all. The concept took a national beating two years ago when Rodney King did.
It has been much slower to recover. Race relations and the American justice system have been under scrutiny since rage over the King incident sent Los Angeles up in flames nearly a year ago. Rioting broke out in the city when the four officers who beat King were acquitted on criminal charges.
The perception that sparked the riots: Racial minorities don't get a fair shake in the justice system.
Similar allegations have echoed in Utah. They rang out when William Andrews was executed last summer. They ran louder when a Salt Lake County duputy shot an unarmed Hispanic a few weeks later.
They have reverberated in recent court affidavits alleging brutality by Salt Lake police officers. Of the six beatings recounted by two former officers in affidavits, four of them were said to be inflicted on minorities.
But if there is a real evidence of racial bias in Utah's justice system, it isn't in the hurled accusations.
Rather, it is a silent condemnation found in satistics. Prison statistics. Probation statistics.
They all point to the same thing: Racial minorities are treated more harshly by Utah's justice system than whites are.
Blacks in Utah man up 0.7 percent of the state's population. But they are 9.3 percent of Utah's adult prison population.
The sharp imbalance between the state's population and the prison population exists for other minorities as well. Less than 10 percent of Utah's population is composed of racial minorities. Yet nearly a third of those in prison here are minorities.
The explanation has been that minorities commit more crimes than whites do. But that has never been proven, and the persistenc of the unproven excuse may underscore the problem.
In fact, national studies on American juveniles show that minority juveniles do not commit more crimes or more serious crime than white youths. Yet, they, too, are incarcerated longer and more often than white youths.
The same is true for Utah's youths. Minority youths here are more likely to be incarcerated and are incarcerated longer than white youths, according to 1992 study by Dan multinado, program coordinator for the 3rd district and 3rd circuit courts.
Statewide, white youths in juvenile facilities were kept there an average of 8.35 days, compared to 10.6 days for minorities.
Minorities didn't stay longer because their crimes were more serious, the study said. Both whites and minority youths committed similare crimes during the period studied.
"There is virtually no reasonable explanation for the difference in the length of stay other than disparate treatment," the study concluded.
Equally troubling, minorities entered the justice system at a younger age and for fewer crimes than white youths, the report shows.
Multinado's study outlined serveral steps that could be taken to ease the problem. However, none of those steps have been implemented.
In fact, some court observers say the study has been virtually ignored.
A comparison of adult prison statistics and probation statistics suggest whites are more likely to receive probation for their crimes than racial minorities. The minorites appear more likely to go to prison.
Blacks account for more thant twice the share of the Utah prison population than the state's probation propulation, according to Utah Department of Corrections statistics. Blacks are 9.3 percent of the prison population but only 4.3 percent of the probation population.
The percentage of Hispanics in prison is nearly four times greater than the percentage of Hispanics on probation. Hispanics are 16 percent of the prison population but only 4.3 percent of the probation population.
American Indians and Asians also make up a greater percentage of the prison population than the probation population.
Only whites seem to get probation more often than they go to prison. Whites are 68.6 percent of Utah's February prison population but 79.6 percent of the probation population.
The figures suggest judges are likely to order the gentler probation for whites and prison for minorities.
But no one can say for certain wheter that is actually the case. The matter hasn't been studied.
If there is anything startling about the question of racial bias in Utah's justice system, it is how little anyone knows about it.
Ask Utah's judicial leaders if justice in Utah may be biased against racial minorities, and they will tell you they don't think so. but they aren't certain. It has never been studied.
"It hasn't been a squeaky wheel," said Cheryll May, public information officer for the state court administrator's office.
Minorities say suck lack of awareness is almost as much a barrier to racial equality as outright bias.
And that bias - whether stemming from unawareness or outright prejudice - is real, they say.
"After 17 years of practicing law, I have concluded that the best way to get my client sentenced like a white person is to make himas white as I possible can. It's tragic, but it's true," said defense attorney Ronald Yengich.
The problem is complex and overwhelming. It may start with a racial rage that builds in police officers worn by years of dealing with difficult minorities.
If police conclude that minorities commit more crimes, they watch minorities more closely. Hence, they see minorities commit more crime.
The problem is exacerbated by the virtual absence of any minorities in the justice system.
"Most of the judges here are white males. They can't help but look at the person in front of them and compare him to their own lives," Yengich said.
When judges decided whether someone gets probation or prison they evaluate a person's family, his education, his job and his criminal past.
Whites in Utah generally have better family lives, more education and better jobs than minorities do, Yengich said. They live in neighborhoods where they are less likely to be scrutinized and arrested by police than more minorities are. So they are incarcerated rather than put on probation.
Despite recent minority appointments, minorities still see a sea of white faces in Utah's justice system, said Michael Martinez, president-elect of the Utah Minority Bar.
"Decker Lake (a juvenile detention facility) is 50 percent minorities, yet we have very few probation officers there that speak Spanish.
"We don't have any minority juvenile judges, yet the juvenile courts are crowded with minorities.
"A thrid of the the prisonors at the Utah State Prison are minorities," Martinez said. Yet, corrections officials say there is only one minority in prison administration.
Utah has 5,000 lawyers, but only 60 of them are minorities, Martinez said.
Justice officials say more minorities in the justice system - from the police officer to the judge - will help break down biases against minorities.
Police departments and Utah's two law schools are recruiting more of them. Minority enrollement at Brigham Young University's law school more than doubled in the past few years. In the late '80s, minority enrollment hovered at 5 percent to 6 percent.
Now it is routinely 13 percent to 16 percent.
The school works with a federal program that spots minorities who wold likely succeed in law school and gets them there even if their undergraduate grades may not have been good enought to qualify them, said Scott Cameron, associated dean of the law school.
The U. law school is working with the Utah Minority Bar to create its own similar program for local minorities. Martinez said.
But the same white justice system that sends more minorities to prison also keeps minority lawyers from succeeding.
"Minority lawyers in Utah have traditionally been discriminated against," Martinez said.
Minority attorneys have not been able to land government jobs or positions in large law firms, he said. Such jobs are springboards for judicial leadership.
"A few large firms have hired one or two minorities recently. But those lawyers are being used in the foreign trade or immigration practices, which again, is a stereotype. But at least they are getting in the firm."
The problems are vast. But for the first time, there are signs that the state's judiciary is ready to tackle them.
The Utah State Bar and government officials have been eager to cooperate with the Utah Minority Bar, Martinez said. His ex officio appointment to bar commission highlight the incrased sensitivity, he said.
Former Gov. Norm Bangerter was recently honored by the minority bar for appointing two minority judges immediately after the bar pleaded for more diversity.
The state court administrator's office recently began crafting a racial awareness program for court employees. It will be presented to judges and staff next fall.
The office is alos planning a long-term inservice program.
"I realize that a one-shot program can't cure all poor attitudes about diversity," said Diane tolman, director of education for the state courts.
Neither can a few minority appointments. "This problem isn't a political sound bite. It can be cured that easily," said 3rd District Judge Glenn Iwasaki.
But everyone agrees: These steps are at least a start down a road too long untraveled.
Salt Lake County Chief Reuben Ortega's plan to improve relations between his department and the city's minorities:
-Aggressively recruit minority officers. Ortega is combing the budget for money to hire a firm that will help him recruit minority officers here. he hired a similar consulting company for that work in Phoenix. "If you set a goal to incrase minorities in a police department, you can do it. That's one of my top priorities in the next six months."
-Make certain the ration of each racial minority in the department matches or exceeds the race ration in the community. "We've done an excellent job of meeting the ration of blacks in the community. But our ration of Hispanic officers does not meet the ration of Hispanics in the community. Nor does our ration of Asians and Native Americans."
-Move qualified minorities up through the ranks of the police department. Currently, the departments highest department's highest-ranking minority officer is a sergeant.
-Include racial minorities and women on all panels that review officers for promotion.
-Teach new police officers about minority relations as part of their formal training with the city.
-Make it clear that bigotry will not be tolerated. Ortega plans to address each class that graduates from the city's police officer training program.
"My message to them will be very simple: I hope you don't have any prejudices. But if you do, leave them at home. Because the minute you hit here, those prejudices had better not surface. We will not tolerate them."
-Offer a similar class in minority relations for existing officers.
-Meet with minority leaders in the community.
-Ortega plans at least two half-day community workshops with about 30 officers and an equal number of citizens, mostly minorities. The first workshop will review the department's use-of-deadly-force policy.
Salt Lake police department make-up
Chief 1 Hispanic
Lt. Colonel 3 Whites
Captain 5 Whites
Lieutenant 10 Whites
Sergeant 44 Whites 2 Hispanics
Officers 255 Whites 9 Black 10 Hispanic 13 Asian Islander 1 indian
Racial breakthroughs in Utah's justice system during the past 2 1/2 years:
-October 1991: The Utah Minority Bar is formed to unite the 60 minority attorneys in the state and lobby for more minority progress in the justic system.
-June 1992: Attorney Michael Martinez is named an ex officio member of the Utah State Bar Commission. He is the first minority appointed to the commission.
-July 1992: Glenn Iwasaki is appointed to the 3rd District Bench. He is only the second minority to be named a district judge and the first in eight years. Raymond Uno was elected to the bench in 1986.
-August 1992: Samuel Alba is appointed U.S. Magistrate. The appointment makes Alba the first minority to serve on the Utah's federal bench and the first Hispanic judge in the state.
-November 1992: Reuben Ortega is selected as Salt Lake City Police Department's new chief. The appointment makes Ortega Utah's first minority chief and the state's highest-ranking minority government official.
When Glenn Iwasaki was 5, his parents promised him and his older siblings they would save enough money to buy a home within five years.
Iwao and Haruye Iwasaki had been raising their three children in apartments in Nihon Machi, a small Japanese community within Salt Lake City that stood where the Salt Palace is now.
In their bid for a home, the Iwasakis worked relentlessly. In five years, they made good on their promise.
The Iwasakis wanted a good home in a good neighborhood.
But they got a shock when they went with a real-estate agent to look at homes. Minorities could not live in some parts of Salt Lake City.
Real-estate agents knew exactly how far to the east and north minorities could go.
"The Realtor would not show my parents any homes above that line," Iwasaki remembers. "If my parents wanted to buy there, they had to go to the neighbors and ask them if they would mind. Well, my parents said to hell with that."
Instead, the Iwasakis bought a home behind the Capitol "as high up as we could go," he said.
That incident and a dozen smaller slights fired Iwasaki's ambition. "I wanted to excel, to succeed, essentially, to show the bastards."
He decided in elementary school that he wanted to be a lawyer and never wavered from that dream.
He graduated from the University of Utah law school in 1971 and started working as a defense attorney in private practice.
He became a Salt Lake County prosecutor in 1974 and worked there until 1978. After four years as a prosecutor, he swung back to defense work, this time with the public defender's office.
"I wanted to experience both sides, the prosecution and the defense."
He went back to the Salt Lake County Attorney's office in 1986 for another stint as a prosecutor.
When he left his county post to become a judge, Iwasaki was the team leader of the special victims unit, which prosecuted sex crimes against children and adults.But missed grabs for the brass ring taught Iwasaki that excellence isn't enough when you are a minority in a white town. He applied for a circuit court judgeship 10 years ago. "I was so naive I thought it was enough that I was qualified."
It wasn't. Iwasaki didn't know the right people - white people - who could grease the appointment process for him.
"You can't just rest on good qualifications and competence," Iwasaki said, looking back on the experience. "You have to have contacts with the right people."
That lack of contacts holds minorities back, he believes. "When I graduated from law school, I knew one lawyer here: Raymond Uno." Too many other talented minorities know only other minorities in their field, he said.
Utah is a Republican, Mormon state, he said. That means the people in power are likely white, conservative men who may not be sensitized to minority causes. To succeed, minorities have to connect with those people and win their support, he said.
After that first, failed bid for the bench, Iwasaki pursued dual goals: continued excellence and making the right contacts. This year, it paid off.
-December 1992: Tyrone Medley is appointed to the 3rd District Court Bench. He becomes Utah's first black district judge and the third minority to sit on the district court bench.
% percent of % of Utah Prison % of Utah probation
Utah population Population Feb. 93 Population Feb. 93
Caucasian 93.8% 68.6% 79.6%
Black .7% 9.3% 4.3%
Native American 1.4% 3.7% 2.5%
Asian 1.9% 1.6% 1.3%
Hispanic 4.9% 16.0% 4.3%
Other 2.2% .8% 8.2%
Juveniles in prison (See microfilm for this chart.)
Sam Alba: Hispanic judge thinks system isn't quite geared to handle minorities.
When Samuel Alba was young he and his buddies used to drive to Richmond, Cache County, to catch a movie. His smaller Idaho town didn't have a theater.
But Alba learned quickly that if a Hispanic talked to a girl in that all-white farming community, he could find himself if a fistfight.
"It was hard at first. I got in a couple fights."
Other white girls in his own town of Franklin, Idaho, wanted to go out with the popular Alba. But they knew their parents would not approve of their dating a Hispanic. So the girls would ask Alba to pict them up at a friend's house.
Despite the bigotry prevalent in rural Utah during the '60's, Alba thrived. he became sophomore class president in a school where the only other minorities were his brohters and cousins.
He also got outstanding grades. He was accepted to Utah State University on a scholarship without even finishing his senior year of high school.
"I was going to prove through my grades that there wasn't going to be anyone else better than I was. There wasn't going to be anyone who bested me in athletics. That was my way of showing them."
After getting a degree from Utah State, he attended the law school at Arizona State University, also on scholarship.
Later, he helped create Phoenix's first Hispanic law firm.
Like Iwasaki and Medley, Alba worked both sides of the justice system. He returned to Utah in 1980 to take a job as an assistant U.S. attroney here. He stayed in the job for 7 1/2 years, working his way up to chief of the criminal section.
Alba left the post in 1987 for a partnership in the Princes, Yates & Geldzahler firm and a chance to do criminal defense work again.
Ten years ago, Alba started taling about judgeship. There weren't enough Hispanic judges in Arizona, he believed. When he worked in Phoenix during the '70's there wasn't a single Hispanic judge among the 40 judges in the metropolitan area, he said. There have been none in Utah.
"You always hope if you are opening door, you are opening it for someone else. But I don't consider myself a standard bearer....I would not want this appointment to be based on race. It should be on merit alone."
Alba grew up with rage over the way his people were treated. "I felt like we were looked upon as second-class citizens wherever we went."
But Alba isn't sure an overt bias exists in the justice system. Rather, "the justice system isn't quite geared to handle the minorities. Many minorities don't have the educational background and economic background to really do well in the justice system. I think that's unfortunate.
"But judges are charged with the responsibility of judging each case individually. if we don that and do it fairly, we should come up with the right result."
Ruben Ortega: New police chief says his non-Hispanic looks helped him advance quickly.
Ruben Ortega was a junior in high school when he found out that people expected less of him because he was a minority.
Ortega worked hard in school and maintained an A- grade average. Day after day, he listened to his teachers urge their students to aim for college.
He dreamed of going.
But when the high school counselor met with Ortega to discuss his future, the counselor told him, "You ought to consider plumbing or carpentry. I think you'd be very successful at it," Ortega remembers.
"I was devasted. I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or go into business and make a lot of money. I took his remarks to mean I couldn't be successful. I couldn't understand it because I though the beginning of success was top grades, and I had those."
Ortega believes his counselor recommended blue-collar work because Ortega was Hispanic. In the counselor's mind, that's what Hispanics did.
The sone of migrant farm workers, Ortega spent his youth in the onion, cotton and carrot fields of Arizona.
He would get up at 4 a.m. to pick crops before school.
But his mother fired his ambition for more. "She kept telling us, `You don't want to do this the rest of your life,'" he remembers.
So when Ortega found out that Phoenix would pay for its police officers' college education, Ortega signed up to be a cop.
He became hooked on police work and got his degree in police science.
He moved up through the ranks of the department quickly. Partly because he was able and partly because he looked white.
"I don't look lie a minority. Therefore, it didn't become an issue. But I know it was an issue for others. There were minority officers in the department - outstanding officers - who didn't move through the ranks."
Ortega remembers a Hispanic friend on the department who fought to make sergeant. `He was an excellent officer and he finally made sergeant. But in 20-plus years on the force, that's as far as he got.
"he had dark skin and spoke with a heavy accent. There is no doubt in my mind that if he had looked like me and didn't have the accent, he would have had more opportunity to advance."
Tyrone Medley: Blacks' successes, failure stand out starkly in Utah, 3rd District judge says.
Utah was a shock to Tyrone Medley.
He had never been in a place that had so few black people.
A New Jersey native, medley came to the University of Utah on a basketball scholarship.
He didn't like it here.
"It was difficult to find food I'd become accustomed to, hair products, music that I liked."
It was more difficult to find acceptance. medley ultimately loved Utah enough to stay here, but the racism still angers him.
Like most minorities, he has his tales of outrage.
His senior year at the U., he and a black friend decided to rent an apartment off campus. One landlord lied to two men, saying a vacant apartment had already been rented. When the two returned to the rental office, the landlord had again listed the apartment as vacant. Another landlord slammed the door in their face when they asked about renting an apartment.
As a Salt Lake County prosecutor, Medley learned that minorities were scrutinized more closely by enforecemtn than whites. Closer scruting meant more arrests.
"There is no question that thgere is bias and prejudice," he said. he remembers being out in Midvale prosecuting a drug possession case. "I asked the police officer why he orinally stopped this man. The answer I got: because it was dark and the man was Mexican. To me, that's a form of prejudice."
Medley remembers a strict upbringing.
"Camden is basically an inner city with serious crime, alcohol and drug problems. I sure my mother and grandparents felt that because of that environment, it was important taht my personal environment be disciplined,"
After high schoo, Medley saw the U. basketball scholarship as a ticket to an education. He grabbed it. After getting his bachelor's degree at the U., he went on to law school there.
It's tough being a black in Utah, he said. In some ways, it's tougher than being another minority. For starters, there are so few blacks here. The state has twice as many Asians and native Americans and more than five times as many Hispanics as it does blacks.
Their scarcity focuses attention on the achievements and failures of high-profile blacks here, he said.
"It's an extra pressure. If I don't make the grade, it's more than Tyrone Medley not making the grade. It's that black judge' didn't make the grade," he said. "In the minds of some, it will be `that black judge who probably shouldn't have gotton his job anyway because he's black' didn't make the grade.
"That pressure helps motivate me. I'll tell you, though, i often wonder if that pressure explains why so many other minorities fall along the wayside.
"Those pressures cn be very intense. Very frustrating. But because of the values my family and sports taught me, I'm one of those people who says I'm going to win or I'm going to die trying."