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Public perception of police affects justice system

Public perception of police affects justice system

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WEST VALLEY CITY — A bad cop, multiple bad cops, suspected bad cops. They may be isolated cases. They may not be. Some of the facts may not be sorted out.

Either way, lawyers say the recent West Valley police cases and others are having a ripple effect that extends to the justice system.

"I think that juries maybe have a hard time believing the police now," said criminal defense attorney Clayton Simms.

Simms said regardless of the facts, the public's perception of police has changed. He said lawyers and others are scrutinizing the police more now, and lawyers are less likely to give them a pass.

Juries maybe have a hard time believing the police now.

–Clayton Simms, criminal defense attorney

"Normally you don't need to look into the criminal history of the police because there's none," he said. "I think it's going to specifically impact West Valley cases the most, but it will impact all cases in Utah."

Fired Utah Highway Patrol trooper Lisa Steed's case is also prominent. Accused of making wrongful DUI arrests, her credibility gets attacked by other lawyers when her cases go before judges.

Defense attorney Greg Skordas has represented Steed and numerous other police officers. While he could ibkt disclose his representation of Steed for the purpose of this story and did not discuss her case, he said — in general terms — minor mistakes are amplified much more for police than they are for average citizens.


"Police integrity is as high as it's ever been, and maybe that's a reflection on the fact that we're holding them to a higher standard," he said.

Long-time prosecutor-turned-defense attorney Kent Morgan said he could only recall a similar climate in Utah's justice system one other time: in the 1980s.

He pointed to then-Salt Lake County Attorney Ted Cannon, a rising legal and political star who ultimately went to jail for misconduct.

Just like that time, Morgan said it may take years for public perception to recover from these recent, highly-publicized cases.

"We have to pick ourselves up, do it over again, then do it right, do it better each time," he said.

We have to pick ourselves up, do it over again, then do it right, do it better each time.

–Kent Morgan

Meanwhile, Morgan pointed to the heroic actions of police in Boston as reason for faith and trust. Officers there risked their lives to apprehend the suspects accused of the Boston Marathon bombings.

They were applauded after apprehending Dzokhar Tsarnaev.

Morgan said those deeds are perhaps why the bar is raised so high, and why the few cases of misconduct should also be put into perspective.

"You're going to find people who fail, and they do," Morgan said. "That doesn't make all the policemen bad."

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