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Rocky's out to get me, officer says

He thinks he's target of panel eyeing cases

Salt Lake Police Sgt. Don Bell doesn't believe Mayor Rocky Anderson when he says that a commission created to review police handling of the Elizabeth Smart case isn't targeting any one individual.

Bell says bad blood has existed for about a decade between himself and Anderson, who announced the names of the five commission members during a Monday afternoon news conference.

"He could have shortened the news conference by just saying he's looking into (me)," Bell said. "He has a vendetta against me. He hates me."

Anderson also announced the commission would look at the murders of four young women in 1985 and 1986. There are significant unanswered questions in those cases similar to the questions raised in the Smart case, he said.

Bell is the lone investigator with ties to all of those cases, according to Anderson. But he denied the investigation was targeting Bell.

"Nobody is going after anybody," he said. "We are not trying to single anybody out."

The mayor added that firing Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse never crossed his mind.

The commission will not investigate the Smart matter until after judicial proceedings against kidnapping suspects Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ilene Barzee are completed, Anderson said. When it does look at the Smart case, the panel will look at the level of attention investigators gave Mitchell compared to Richard Ricci, as well as whether there were any unauthorized leaks during the investigation, Anderson said.

The five-member commission will include: John T. Nielsen, IHC's senior counsel and director of government relations and former Utah Public Safety commissioner; Michael Goldsmith, BYU law school professor; Richard D. Burbidge, a partner at Burbidge and Mitchell; Carol Clawson, former solicitor general; and David Roth, a former 2nd District judge.

The panel will be asked to make recommendations concerning accountability. It will not have the power to subpoena or issue disciplinary action.

"This does not mean police did anything wrong," Anderson said. "Our police deserve to be treated fair."

The formation of the commission was not unexpected. What was a surprise was the mayor's announcement that the earlier murder cases would be reviewed.

Christine Gallegos, 18, was shot and stabbed on a street near the old Derks Field in May 1985. Carla Maxwell, 20, was shot while working as a clerk at a Layton 7-Eleven in April 1986. Tiffany Hambleton, 14, was stabbed to death in a west Salt Lake field in February 1986. Lisa Strong, 25, was shot and killed near Kensington Avenue and 800 East on Mother's Day that same year.

In 1989, investigators from a task force created to look at Strong's murder announced they were confident the murder was committed by Idaho death row inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades, even though another Salt Lake City officer felt otherwise. That officer was eventually fired for insubordination. The task force, which did not include Bell, disbanded in 1991 with no charges ever filed.

It wasn't until the formation of a second task force, this one headed by Bell, that Forrest Whittle was indicted in 1995 and later convicted of Strong's murder. The other three cases remain unsolved, although the same gun was believed to have been used in the Maxwell, Gallegos and Strong murders.

When asked why the commission was looking at certain murder cases only and not other unsolved crimes, such as the murders of Anna Palmer and Rosie Tapia, Anderson said the scope of the commission could be broadened if necessary. Bell speculates that the mayor holds a vendetta against him because of a conversation the two had about 10 years ago while he was on the task force. Anderson, then a private attorney, was providing legal help to the family of Christine Gallegos. When the case was reopened, investigators scheduled a meeting with the families. Anderson called to ask if he could attend, Bell said.

In a discussion that became a bit heated, Bell told Anderson he could not come and hung up on him, Bell said. It was the only conversation the two have ever had, Bell said.

Bell said he hadn't had an active role in the Smart investigation since Sept. 3, when he developed pneumonia and took a month off work. It was only later, Bell said, that he learned the mayor had wanted him taken off the investigation less than a month after it began.

Bell has been with the Salt Lake City police department for 32 years, working on every major investigation in the city since 1979. Some of his biggest successes included the arrests of murderers Arthur Gary Bishop, Joseph Paul Franklin and Mark Hofmann. Bell was the hostage negotiator in the Alta View Hospital siege in 1992.

"I'll stand on my record. You can take any 3 1/2 years out of my time and compare it with the mayor's 3 1/2 years. I welcome the commission. I'm not afraid, not one bit. I have nothing I'm ashamed of," he said.


E-MAIL: preavy@desnews.com