BRIGHAM CITY — A former Unified police officer who believes he was wrongfully convicted of a crime is seeking a new trial after his defense team learned that a juror now claims she was pressured into convicting him.
In May, Lance Bess, 36, of West Jordan, was convicted in 1st District Court of threatening to use a dangerous weapon during a fight, a class A misdemeanor. Judge Brandon Maynard ordered Bess to serve two days in jail, in addition to probation. Bess has since served his jail time.
Because of the conviction, Bess resigned from his certified law enforcement position at the Unified Police Department, but was later hired back as a civilian.
The drawn-out case began on Sept. 3, 2015. Bess was duck hunting with a group of people at the Public Shooting Grounds Waterfowl Management Area in Box Elder County when three shotgun blasts were suddenly fired in their direction.
"I have been hunting for 25 years. These shots were unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was scared for my life. More importantly, I was afraid for the safety of my family members," Bess told the Deseret News. "I was thinking, 'Is this guy drunk? Is he intentionally trying to harm me? Is he going to continue to shoot at us?'"
Bess went to investigate. In doing so, he unholstered his service weapon and held it by his side and held his hunting rifle in his other hand as he approached another group of hunters. Bess "proceeded to shout expletives and yell at the group while holding the gun," charging documents state, and said he was a cop.
"I took it upon myself to investigate, in accordance with my training, to make sure the danger stopped," he said.
The group contended that a 12-year-old boy who was duck hunting for the first time "accidentally peppered" Bess, firing three rounds at a duck that "popped up" without any thought of his backstop, according to a report from the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office. Pellets landed within 10 feet of Bess' group. No one was injured.
Members of that group said they asked Bess multiple times to put his gun away as they tried to explain that the shots were a mistake and that they felt threatened by him, according to the report.
When a deputy responded to the scene, he told Bess he shouldn't have unholstered his gun. "I explained that I understood things where he works are a bit more crazy, in our area we deal with these things differently," the deputy wrote in the report.
The deputy noted that because five to 10 minutes had passed from the time Bess' group was shot at until Bess confronted them, the imminent danger had passed and Bess did not need to draw his gun.
Defense attorney Lindsay Jarvis said that it was later revealed during court proceedings that the shots were actually fired by a 24-year-old man in the group and not the boy.
In his motion for a new trial, Bess argues that not only was the jury not given proper instructions by the judge to consider, but new information has since come to light that one of the jurors felt pressured by the others into casting a guilty vote.
"Most remarkably, it is now clear that there was not even unanimous agreement among the jurors that detective Bess was guilty. Juror (name redacted) states in her affidavit: 'I reluctantly conceded to say I would go along with the rest of the jurors, even though I did not agree with them,'" according to the motion. "'I felt if there was an option for me to disagree with the other jurors, I would have. I felt like I could not stand up for my own gut feeling and I gave into the others. I did not feel the instructions I received afforded me the option to disagree.'"
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.