Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Growing up, Cody Brotherson aspired to be a police officer and keep his family safe, a stark contrast to the gang involvement and illegal activity the three teenagers who killed him were caught up in.
"(They) are the exact opposite of everything Cody was and everything he stood for," the slain West Valley officer's mother, Jenny Brotherson, said through tears Monday.
While her son was working, protecting the community he loved and saving money for a new home, the three teens who ran him over in a stolen car and killed him were out stealing, fighting and supporting gangs, Jenny Brotherson said.
"They decided Cody's life was worth less than a stolen car," she said.
Saying it would be unsafe for the teens to be released, the mother called on 3rd District Juvenile Judge Kim Hornak to commit the boys to a secure youth facility, where they could remain locked up until they turn 21.
The judge agreed, calling on Utah's Juvenile Justice Services to keep the teens in custody "as long as possible."
As she handed down her decision, Hornak told each of the boys what she had learned about 25-year-old Brotherson's personality, goals and committment to his job from letters submitted to her by his family and fellow officers, and by looking at the portrait of him smiling in his fresh police uniform.
"It's rare for me to see a photograph of a police officer that looked more joyful than officer Brotherson," Hornak said.
As part of her decision, the judge ordered each teen to look at Brotherson's picture and read letters about him, and to think of him whenever they see other police officers doing their duty and when they are faced with any gang-related activity.
The three boys — brothers age 14 and 15, and a friend who has since turned 16 — pleaded guilty in juvenile court last month to charges related to the officer's death.
Prosecutors did not seek to transfer the cases to the adult system.
Investigators say the teens were fleeing from West Valley police just after 3 a.m. on Nov. 6 in a car they had just stolen — not their first of the night — when they hit and killed Brotherson near the intersection of 4100 South and 2200 West.
Brotherson was attempting to lay down spike strips to stop the car his fellow officers were chasing. At least one officer saw the teens' vehicle swerve toward Brotherson, striking him and likely killing him on impact.
As they spoke Monday, members of Brotherson's family described the young officer's loyalty, kindness and love for family.
Tari Turner, Brotherson's aunt, wept as she described hearing Brotherson readying for what would be his final shift as a police officer. As a child he would daydream about building a special compound where all of his family members could live together and be safe, she said.
"We have had our family protector taken from us," Turner said.
Turner also admonished the teens' illegal behavior, saying that while Brotherson will be remembered as a hero, they won't be.
"There is no bravery in being a gang member, there is no courage in being a criminal," Turner said.
Jessica Le, Brotherson's fiancee, called the officer the love of her life and told the judge of the long talks she and Brotherson had shared as they made plans for their life together, including a home, children and vacations.
"We loved each other with our entire souls," Le told the judge. "He was my rock, my confidant, and I was his."
Le said Brotherson had become a police officer in hopes of making the world a better place, committing himself completely the job.
"He loved being a police officer, and I loved that about him," Le said, adding, "I would give anything to do his laundry again and have to put his uniform together again."
Speaking to the boys, Hornak noted that Brotherson's family had spent what should have been his 26th birthday last month mourning him in a cemetery.
"He died trying to protect the safety and well-being of citizens, citizens like you," Hornak said.
All three boys involved in the crash were originally charged with murder with gang enhancements, a first-degree felony; car theft with gang enhancements, a first-degree felony; and failing to stop at the command of a law enforcer, a class A misdemeanor.
While none of the boys was identified as the driver, the 16-year-old admitted to the most serious charge, pleading guilty to murder, reduced to a second-degree felony.
The 14-year-old, who prosecutors said was seated in the back seat of the car urging the driver to keep up the flight from police, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a second degree felony.
The 15-year-old did not admit to any charges directly linked to Brotherson's death, but pleaded guilty to stealing the car that hit and killed the officer, a second-degree felony.
The other two boys also pleaded guilty to car theft, and all three boys admitted to charges stemming from a gang-related fight two days before Brotherson's death.
As the teens were sentenced Monday, only the 15-year-old offered an apology, stumbling over his words as he quickly read a letter he had brought, saying he knew the Brotherson family likely wouldn't forgive him for what he'd done.
"I wish I could go back in time to erase all this pain I have caused to you guys and your family," the boy said. "I wish you guys could forgive me in the near future, I will live with this pain for the rest of my life. … I am not saying this just to say this, it is coming from my heart."
While secure care had originally been recommended for the 15-year-old, Hornak noted she had received a new assessment suggesting he instead be placed in an at-home or community-based treatment plan. However, prosecutors argued that the teen would have "zero supervision" at home, and the judge chose to go against the recommendation and keep the boy in custody instead.
Attorneys for the other teens spoke on their behalf, telling the judge the boys are remorseful, though it may not have been apparent as they face nerve-wracking court appearances. They also expressed their hopes that the teens can receive counseling and treatment in secure care to help them improve their lives.
Defense attorney Steve Miller, who represented the 16-year-old boy, told Hornak his client was in need of treatment for substance abuse and mental health, asking the judge to "do the best thing for him" and order him to receive counseling while in custody.
As the attorney finished his statement, a tearful woman who identified herself as the boy's grandmother stood in the courtroom gallery, telling the Brotherson family she couldn't imagine the pain they have experienced.
"We are suffering a loss as well," the woman said, asking that her young grandson not be written off as irredeemable. "I don't want his life to be over."
As the 14-year-old was sentenced, his attorney, David Brown, told the judge the boy has maintained since his arrest he didn't know that the stolen car he was in had hit an officer until police told him, believing instead it had struck a fire hydrant. When the teen learned Brotherson had been killed, the attorney said police video shows he "bawled his eyes out."
The attorney also said the teen had told him in a letter, "I understand your feelings toward me may not be positive, but I am truly wanting to change."
Brown told the judge his client has anger issues and is aware he needs to deal with them.
"He needs help, he needs really good help," Brown said.
However, in her statement, Jenny Brotherson argued she has never seen remorse from any of the three teens as they appeared in court, emphasizing that the 14-year-old had at times rolled his eyes or resisted instructions to stand up when the judge entered the courtroom.
"He shows zero respect for authority, he is violent," Brotherson said of the boy, noting that at the time he admitted to participating in her son's death, the teen also admitted to charges from two separate altercations while he has been in juvenile detention.
Prosecutor Sandi Johnson noted that, while his older brother claimed to have only associated with gangs but said he didn't participate in them, the 14-year-old had clearly and actively had problems with gangs and drugs since the fifth grade.
Johnson also said the boy's gang involvement was supported by his mother, saying evidence was found the woman had sent a message to her son telling him she would not disrespect any members of his gang.
"They are your family, they have your back," Johnson said the woman wrote.
The mother of the two boys declined comment as she left the courtroom, while a group of teenagers accompanying her grinned at news cameras and one boy posed making gang signs for photographers.
While the Brotherson family has suggested they will seek changes to Utah law that would force juveniles into the adult system if they are accused of deliberately killing a police officer or taking an officer's life during the commission of a crime, Brown suggested a different kind of "Brotherson Law" should be established instead.
The attorney suggested that dashcam footage of the stolen car striking Brotherson should be released and that individuals convicted of fleeing from police should be required to watch it.
If lessons can be learned and lives can be changed as a result of this case, Brown said, "then officer Brotherson didn't die in vain."