SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City councilwoman, after watching police body camera footage showing the shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, is calling his death “unlawful” and demanding justice.
“I believe Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was unlawfully killed and I am outraged,” Salt Lake City Councilwoman Amy Fowler, a trial attorney and former public defender, posted Saturday on Facebook. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that justice is served. There should be no special treatment for police and they should be held to the same standard as anyone else suspected of a similar act.”
Other Salt Lake City leaders have called for an expedited and thorough investigation of the police shooting of Palacios-Carbajal — but Fowler has set herself apart from the pack and taken a stronger stance.
Fowler, in an interview with KSL on Monday, said the over 20 shots fired by Salt Lake police as Palacios-Carbajal ran away was “excessive” — but she also knows it’s up to the review process to determine the legality of his shooting.
“Using 20-plus rounds on a young man running away seems excessive and unlawful,” Fowler said. “But that’s also for the process to determine.”
Police shot and killed Palacios-Carbajal, 22, on May 23, after an aggravated robbery was reported at the Trails Gentleman’s Club. The club is adjacent to the Utah Village Motel, 271 W. 900 South, where police first spotted Palacios-Carbajal before he took off running.
Body camera footage shows officers chase after him with guns drawn, one officer yelling over his police radio, “He’s got a gun in his pocket.”
Officers chased him through an alley across 900 South. They yelled at him 17 times to either “stop,” “show me your hands,” or “drop it,” referring to a gun, according to Salt Lake Police Capt. Richard Lewis.
As Palacios-Carbajal reached the parking lot of Granary Storage, he stumbled and fell, got up, then fell again as police closed in. An officer can be heard yelling “Tase him, tase him, tase him!” before a barrage of gunshots is heard, at least 20 rounds.
The footage appears to show Palacios-Carbajal was shot in the back. It does not appear in the videos that he ever pointed a gun at police, nor did he fire any shots. However, police say a gun that Palacios-Carbajal was believed to be carrying was recovered from the scene.
Palacios-Carbajal’s death came just two days before the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which has sparked international protests against police brutality, excessive use of force, and systematic racism.
The footage showing Palacios-Carbajal’s shooting was released Friday amid all-time high tensions between police and the public, especially communities of color. Protesters have held daily demonstrations on the streets of Utah’s capital, and just as they’ve called for justice for Floyd, they’ve also called for justice for Palacios-Carbajal. His family, after seeing the footage, have said they want officers “behind bars.”
Fowler said she “immediately started crying” after she watched the footage of his shooting.
“I still can’t think about it and not cry,” Fowler said. “I spent all day Saturday with those images going through my head.”
Fowler said she was struck by one officer in the footage shouting to “tase” Palacios-Carbajal, which would have been a “nonlethal” response. She questioned, if he was too far away to be stunned with a Taser, why did he need to be shot?
“Do we need to shoot him at that point?” she said.
Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown also read a brief statement after the footage was released, without addressing the incident himself, saying he “trusted” Salt Lake police, their training and the investigation process.
In response to a request for comment about Fowler calling the shooting of Palacios-Carbajal unlawful, Brown issued a prepared statement.
“Now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions,” the chief said. “Now is the time to listen, learn and bring all parties to the table in order to ensure equity of change.”
On Sunday, the Major Cities Chiefs Association — a national police chiefs organization for which Brown is the second vice president — issued a news release calling for an “informed approach to reform” as the public demands change following Floyd’s death.
“All reforms must be vetted to ensure they are sustainable and will be the meaningful impact our communities are calling for,” the release states. “Knee-jerk reactions and absolutes are irresponsible and, as we look towards legislation, we need to take care that the needs of our diverse communities are reflected in the policies put forth. Again, this is a time to listen, learn and to act.”
As cities across the nation begin to consider police reform, Salt Lake City is also taking steps to begin that conversation.
I still can’t think about it and not cry. I spent all day Saturday with those images going through my head.
–Salt Lake City Councilwoman Amy Fowler
After a lengthy public hearing last week in which hundreds of commenters demanded Salt Lake City slash its police department funding by $30 million, the Salt Lake City Council has scheduled on its agenda for Tuesday a discussion on the police department’s budget.
For a police department that already has a Civilian Review Board, has won national awards for de-escalation tactics, already bans chokeholds and knee holds, and already funds de-escalation and implicit bias training, it’s not yet clear how Salt Lake City leaders plan to implement changes in the police department, though City Council leaders have expressed eagerness to explore any areas of improvement.
For Fowler, she said she’s interested in looking more into more police training, as well as how often officers are able to get that training. She wondered whether the city is offering overtime pay to police who want to do additional training, and if there are more opportunities for police to “go out into their communities and be a part of community events, and not just to regulate” those events.
Fowler also wondered if the city’s Civilian Review Board has teeth, and “are those teeth big enough, or do we need to give them more teeth?”
“It’s time for some real change, and not just lip service,” Fowler said. “We have an opportunity now where this conversation has really gotten deep, and we have an opportunity to make systematic changes, and to make real changes I think we have to be bold, we as elected officials and we as residents.”