David James Bell, the man who was recently acquitted of child kidnapping and burglary charges, announced Monday that he and his live-in partner plan to sue their former neighbors for beating the two men in what Bell termed a "hate crime." Both are gay men.
Bell, 31, told news reporters at the Gallivan Plaza that he and Daniel Fair intend to file civil lawsuits against various people who once lived next door to them in a South Salt Lake neighborhood.
Bell also has not ruled out possibly bringing a lawsuit against the South Salt Lake Police Department.
Both Bell and Fair were badly beaten after neighbors mistakenly believed the men had kidnapped two of their children, according to Bell's criminal defense lawyers.
Bell said that on July 4, 2008, he had been looking for his lost cat, stopped at the next door neighbor's house where an outdoor party was going on, had some drinks and sang with people there, then went home for more Kool-Aid to which he would add alcohol.
He said he saw two young children standing in the neighbor's yard who asked for "juice" and he told them he could not give them what was in his glass, but went to his house to get two smaller glasses of Kool-Aid that did not contain alcohol. The children followed him and stood in a doorway and drank the Kool-Aid he gave them. "I told them, 'Hey, let's go find your mommy,' " he said.
But almost immediately Lulu Latu, the mother of one of the children, came rushing in, began screaming at him and smacked him repeatedly, knocking him into the refrigerator.
Bell said Latu grabbed the kids and, in a profanity-laced tirade, suggested he lock the doors because he and his partner "were dead" once her family found out the children had been there.
People from the party rushed into his house and began beating him and Fair, according to Bell. Bell said he was dragged outdoors, had his face smashed repeatedly into the concrete of his carport and was cut with shards of glass on his neck, chest and one foot. He said he has a permanent hearing loss in one ear, suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and even pulled up his shirt and took off a sock to display scars.
Bell said he ran away but was chased by partygoers, who beat him again until he was unconscious. "I believe it turned into a hate crime," he said.
Susanne Gustin, one of the defense attorneys at Bell's trial, said South Salt Lake police did a poor job of investigating these assaults as well as the alleged kidnapping.
She faulted the police for not sealing the two houses off as crime scenes, not calling out the crime scene unit, not gathering enough physical evidence or conducting sufficient interviews.
"They investigated this like it was a candy bar stolen from a 7-Eleven," she said. "What they put this young man through for 15 months is unacceptable."
Roger Kraft, another defense attorney for Bell, agreed and said charges should not have been brought against Bell.
"In fairness to the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, they were handed a case that had a shoddy investigation," Kraft said.
South Salt Lake police issued a press release in response to the news conference saying the kidnapping charges resulted from an investigation and met all the elements required by law.
"Due to another ongoing investigation by the Salt Lake district attorney's office, I cannot discuss the case further," said South Salt Lake police detective Gary Keller.
Kraft said Bell does not expect a windfall from the civil lawsuits that Bell and Fair will file but said the two men do want some justice.
Both Kraft and Gustin said Bell would be willing to cooperate with a prosecuting agency to bring criminal charges against those partygoers who were involved in the beating, but both attorneys said it should be an agency other than the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office because it has a conflict of interest.
Kraft and Gustin plan to advise civil attorneys who will be handling that litigation.
Bell's sister, Emily Gammell, who lived in Bell's house with her husband, and Chris Swan, another roommate who was not there when the melee broke out, both said South Salt Lake police turned down their requests for help and refused to stop the neighbors from continuing to threaten them.
"I have a lot of cops in my family," Swan said, "so it's strange for me to say, but I don't feel safe in Utah. I don't trust the police here. It's strange because I spent my whole life looking up to cops."
Fair was not at the press conference and also was not present at Bell's trial, which ended in an acquittal Sept. 25.
Kraft said Fair had been working at his job the entire year before and prosecutors only began to seek him out two days before the trial.
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