SALT LAKE CITY – Two teens convicted of killing an officer with the West Valley City Police Department were back on the streets after spending less than four years in custody.
In the end, it was a criminal conviction that technically got them an early release.
In a twist of events, two of the three teens convicted in the death of West Valley police officer Cody Brotherson were able to walk by virtue of criminal assault charges that sent them into the adult prison and court system.
“Cody no longer has the opportunity to live his life, he doesn’t get the opportunity to celebrate holidays,” said Brotherson’s mother, Jenny Brotherson.
Officer Brotherson was killed in the line of duty in Nov. 2016, when the three teens charged him in a vehicle going 80 mph.
“He doesn’t get to be with his family. He doesn’t get to see all the milestones the rest of us hit. We celebrate his birthday at a cemetery, so for us, it’s a life sentence,” said Jenny Brotherson.
It’s a life sentence the three teens convicted in the officer’s death won’t have to experience.
The three teens were charged in the juvenile justice system and were set to remain there — at most — until they each turned 21. But two of them were back on the streets Friday.
“It’s very, very disheartening. I struggle with how that’s even fair. It’s not even about what it does to us — I think they’re a danger to society,” Jenny said, expressing that victim services only notified her of the release of one of the teens.
The two teens are brothers, now 18 and 17 years old. They were expelled from the juvenile justice system after two separate assault incidents.
Court officials confirmed to KSL the two were sent to the adult system and are permanently considered adults in the legal system.
The 17-year-old pleaded guilty in March 2019 to a second-degree felony charge of assault by a prisoner with gang enhancement.
According to court documents, the incident happened in Nov. 2018 at the Millcreek Youth Detention Center in Ogden.
The 17-year-old punched another juvenile at the facility in a coordinated effort with two other teens. “The assault was motivated by a prior gang altercation that occurred earlier in the facility,” court documents stated.
The teen was sentenced to one-to-15 years in jail. He was released on parole on May 28, earlier than his prior release date of Oct. 6. According to the Utah Department of Corrections, the early release was in collaboration with the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole due to COVID-19 safety measures to open up more space in correctional facilities.
The 18-year-old was involved in a separate incident in January. According to court documents, he assaulted another teen in the facility’s gym. The teen was observed punching, striking and kicking the victim. “[He] was also shown resisting against staff members and shoving staff members as they attempted to restrain him during the incident.”
Authorities concluded the act appeared to be premeditated and multiple other residents were involved.
In March, a judge convicted the teen to a third-degree felony assault by prisoner charge. He sentenced the 18-year-old to 120 days in jail — with a 55-day credit. The teen was released on parole on April 17, according to court documents, and was staying with his grandmother in Taylorsville. The teen was also listed as being well known to the Metro Gang Unit.
“When they got into the juvenile system, engaging in a fight, put them eligible to go into the adult criminal system,” said criminal defense attorney Greg Skordas.
Although he’s not involved in the case, Skordas explained how these offenses ironically led to shorter sentences.
“They received punishment that has now allowed them to be paroled. They’re on the street even though — I know it’s sort of odd — had they not committed those crimes, they would still be in the state’s custody in the juvenile system,” Skordas said.
According to Skordas, as Utah’s legal system currently stands, once the teens were taken into the adult system, any sentences in the juvenile system were dismissed.
Brotherson said the situation shows a fault in the system, which should give harsher penalties to underage teens who commit serious criminal offenses.
“It’s time for laws to change,” Jenny Brotherson said. “Especially if you intentionally or recklessly take a life during the act of a crime. There should be adult consequences. You made an adult decision there should be adult consequences.”
The three teens charged officer Brotherson in a vehicle going about 80 mph. Prosecutors had a hard time pushing for a trial in the adult system because they were never able to prove who the driver was.
It was Skordas’ opinion that things would be different and would likely have led to more severe charges in the adult system had they been able to prove who the driver was.