Police acted with bias, failed to analyze shooting scene after Provo protest, attorney says

A Salt Lake man charged with shooting a man during a Black Lives Matter protest in Provo in 2020 is asking a judge to dismiss the case against him, aring that police did not properly gather evidence necessary for his case.

A Salt Lake man charged with shooting a man during a Black Lives Matter protest in Provo in 2020 is asking a judge to dismiss the case against him, aring that police did not properly gather evidence necessary for his case. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

PROVO — Defense attorney Shane Johnson said Provo police took only 26 minutes to look at evidence inside a car driven by Ken Dudley, a man who was shot during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 19, 2020, before giving the keys back.

Johnson, an attorney who represents the Salt Lake man accused of taking the shot, Jesse Taggart, said there is a chance that evidence in that Ford Excursion could have shown his client was justified in using deadly force during that Provo protest. Now they don't have that evidence to be able to show it to a jury.

"The investigators went in with a particular mindset. … They were not going to entertain any evidence that would contravene that idea. But I think the evidence is actually more clear that it was an inherent bias on the part of the officers to essentially pick a winner between Mr. Dudley and Mr. Taggart," Johnson said Tuesday during a hearing on a motion to dismiss the charges against Taggart.

Taggart, 35, is charged with attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm with injury, second-degree felonies; and riot, a third-degree felony. Taggart pleaded not guilty to those charges and filed a motion in December to dismiss the case against him.

Fourth District Judge James Brady did not issue a decision Tuesday, but said he expects to make a ruling within the next two weeks after taking time to consider the arguments.

Johnson claimed that Dudley could have been charged with multiple crimes, according to an officer's testimony at a preliminary hearing in Taggart's case, but police or prosecutors chose not to file any charges against him.

Jesse Taggart, who is charged with shooting a man during a Black Lives Matter protest in Provo in 2020, is trying to get the charges against him dismissed.
Jesse Taggart, who is charged with shooting a man during a Black Lives Matter protest in Provo in 2020, is trying to get the charges against him dismissed. (Photo: Utah County Sheriff's Office)

Taggart and others who were at the protest or viewed video of the incident have argued that he was attempting to use his car to force protesters to move by driving through them. Other reports say he simply was trying to get past the crowd and then hit the gas pedal to try to leave after being shot.

Johnson said he thinks there is "undeniable prejudice" in the case and says police acted more than negligently in not processing the crime scene inside Dudley's SUV thoroughly.

He listed multiple things that police said in previous court hearings that could be interpreted as bias, including one officer who said they had nightmares about Black Lives Matter protests coming to Provo, another officer who said Black Lives Matter protesters came to the community with "ill intent," and another who said Dudley was "shot and victimized."

Deputy Utah County attorney David Sturgill said he thinks Johnson is mischaracterizing the evidence and argued that there is no evidence that the items Johnson says he would like to investigate further would have helped Taggart's case.

"Whether it's exculpatory or even helpful or relevant is entirely based on speculation," the prosecutor said.

In his response to the motion to dismiss the case, Sturgill said Dudley was turning right onto Center Street in Provo when someone shot into his car, hitting his elbow, with a second bullet hitting his steering wheel. Dudley then drove to the hospital where he was questioned by police.

Sturgill said the car was photographed thoroughly at that point. He argued that the motion to dismiss should not be granted and that the items sought by Taggart would not add significant evidentiary value to the case.

He also claimed that it is wrong for Johnson to say police were acting with bias and said officers could not have anticipated at the time each of the defenses that Taggart would bring to court, and should not be expected to.

"The issue, I believe, that has been raised by the defendant is without merit. It fails at the very beginning," he said.

The specific items Johnson said he thinks should have been documented by police more closely include:

  • Whether there was blood on the portion of Dudley's gun that would be covered by a holster, showing whether he took it out of the holster. This could confirm Taggart's claim that he saw Dudley waving an object that looked like a gun.
  • Whether there was a bullet chambered in Dudley's gun, which could show he was prepared to take a shot. Johnson said Dudley reported that his typical practice is not to leave a bullet in the chamber of a gun.
  • Whether all of the bullets were in Dudley's gun.
  • Location data from Dudley's cellphone showing whether Dudley was on his way to Home Depot as he said, or whether he had circled a block to see the protest, which Johnson says one video may suggest.

Johnson argued that the police not collecting complete evidence should be grounds for Taggart's case to be dismissed and asked for the charges against his client to be dropped.

A man drives an SUV through a Black Lives Matter protest in Provo on June 19, 2020. The attorney for Jesse Taggart, who is charged with shooting a man in this vehicle, claimed Tuesday that the charges should be dismissed because police did not take sufficient evidence from the vehicle at the time.
A man drives an SUV through a Black Lives Matter protest in Provo on June 19, 2020. The attorney for Jesse Taggart, who is charged with shooting a man in this vehicle, claimed Tuesday that the charges should be dismissed because police did not take sufficient evidence from the vehicle at the time. (Photo: Jay Hancock, KSL-TV)

"It was not for lack of resources that we did not collect and process this evidence forensically, it was lack of want," Johnson argued.

He said police not only had the vehicle in their possession, they had permission from Dudley to analyze the vehicle, but they returned the phone and the keys quickly.

Without evidence to show that Dudley brandished a gun or was not completely honest about where he was driving, Johnson said the only way to get that evidence before a jury would be to have his client testify on the stand — making it almost necessary for Taggart to testify in his own trial and creating a "battle of believability." However, he said if the evidence were processed correctly they could simply rely on the evidence.

"Those investigators spent 26 minutes processing the crime scene that … will play a heavy part in determining whether or not Mr. Taggart goes to prison for the rest of his life," Johnson said.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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