Drop the Charges | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Opinion

Drop the Charges

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Among the biggest blessings in my life is that I have very few friends who are politicians. I've known some men and women for years with whom I'm friendly who are also politicians—you know, casual friendships that revolve around the narrow conversations regarding best arthritis liniments, whispers of this or that insider rumor and zucchini bread recipes. Barely a smidgen among them know my inner workings, such as that I prefer not understanding the French language more than I do misunderstanding Greek, and I don't always practice catch-and-release fishing as a good Democrat should. I keep deep and dark secrets like those for only my very best friends—warehousemen, mule skinners and camp chefs.

I like it that way since, over the many years of publishing this newspaper, there remains a universal law that no matter how much faith I have in a politician, said politician will eventually do something that will cause me to wonder why I ever believed in him or her in the first place—not all of them and certainly not the majority. Still, I have a healthy reticence about hanging out with politicians. For the most part, I simply believe that a good many politicians are honorable and honest people who eventually become afflicted with a notion that they know more about doing good deeds than you or I. In that way, a politician is like a preacher—they eventually come to believe not only what they preach, but they know what you should believe as well.

So it is that one of the politicians I have come to like over the years is Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. I met him before he was elected to the position in 2010 when he unseated the Lohra Miller. I don't know him well, nor he I, but have always liked him. Not only did he bring the position back to the Democratic Party, but he, along with Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, respectively charged former state attorneys general, John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, with corruption and bribery claims. If you were around in that era, you remember that allegations of high-level shenanigans were rampant. Gill was seen as the person who stood up against that.

That both Swallow and Shurtleff were later found not guilty barely registered on the Sim Gill popularity scale, which was burnished by his work on mental health and drug issues plus his efforts on behalf of veteran and domestic abuse matters. Gill is regarded as being of the people and always accessible to public forums plus he is not shy about appearing on popular local radio programs, such as Radio From Hello on X96, or any of a slew of KRCL programs including the popular RadioActive program.

Thus, I've been wondering why in the hell his office leveled such preposterous charges against persons alleged to have defaced the District Attorney's Office building during anti-racism protests in downtown Salt Lake City. The ebb and flow of those protests were fueled in early July when Gill ruled that the police shooting on May 23, 2020, of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was justified.

Much evidence came from police reports and video from police officer body cams. On May 23, police officers were called to the scene of an armed robbery in the area of 900 South and 300 West. Palacios-Carbajal fled when spotted by police. Over 30 bullets were fired at Palacios-Carbajal who was struck by nearly half of them. What happened and why in those quick seconds will be decided in the courts because the Palacios-Carbajal family and attorneys dispute certain aspects of the official version, principally whether lethal force was really the best or only option for responding officers. Justified or not, Palacios-Carbajal is dead. In an era that's increasingly witness to disproportionate use of police force on persons of color across the entire spectrum of the United States, it can be of little surprise that making such a ruling in the midst of protests that originally derived of marchers supporting Black Lives Matter (protesting the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis) would of course cause more unrest. The ruling was gas to a flame.

I believe four things for certain regarding these events: 1. I can't begin to imagine the circumstances that put Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal in the position of using a handgun to commit a crime against another person. I won't judge him, and I won't judge that circumstance; I merely can't imagine it. 2. I can't begin to imagine what a police officer feels or thinks when called into that situation, when he or she has to decide if the $60,000 annual salary is worth it. I couldn't do it for any amount of dollars, so I can't judge; I merely can't imagine it.

3. I believe most cops are good cops (I also believe there's a cop problem in Cottonwood Heights.) 4. I believe it's obvious that Madalena McNeil is being hosed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney office. Should Palacios-Carbajal have been arrested and convicted of armed robbery, he would have faced a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison. Yet McNeil, along with three others accused of vandalizing the DA office, face up to life in prison thanks to some kind of baloney charge intended to curb gang violence, not to curb the protected First Amendment right to gather. Did someone toss paint and break windows and make a royal red mess? One that was cleaned up pretty quickly, I might add? Yeah. That calls for a time out, not a life sentence.

Do the right thing, Sim. It's not your building. It's not personal. It's our building. Drop the charges against Madalena McNeil.

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net

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