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Ex-police chief says shooting video should be released, but D.A. says no

Former Salt Lake City police chief Chris Burbank discusses his new role as director of law enforcement engagement at the Center for Policing Equity during an interview at KSL in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015.
Former Salt Lake City police chief Chris Burbank discusses his new role as director of law enforcement engagement at the Center for Policing Equity during an interview at KSL in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's former police chief believes the video recorded on the body cameras of two officers involved in the shooting of a 17-year-old boy a week ago should be shown to the public.

Chris Burbank, who is now the director of law enforcement engagement for the Center for Policing Equity, says if he were still head of the department, he would have already released the video. By making it public, he said, it shows that the police department is being transparent.

"Most importantly it says we have nothing to hide," Burbank said, adding that the video gives a factual representation of what took place, even if it is interpreted differently by others.

But Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says in this case, he "respectfully disagrees" with his longtime friend.

"I think he's wrong," Gill said Thursday. "Presenting evidence out of context may end up inflaming a situation and making it worse than it is."

On Feb. 27, Abdullahi Mohamed, 17, was shot by two Salt Lake police officers after allegedly beating another man with a weapon, possibly a metal broom or mop handle, not obeying officers' commands to drop the weapon, and then "advancing" on officers with the object still in his hands, according to police.

The teen remained hospitalized Thursday. The shooting has sparked an outcry from some who believe the officers used excessive force. The police department, the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office, and Gill's office have all promised full investigations.

The officers involved in the shooting were wearing body cameras at the time of the incident. Interim Police Chief Mike Brown says he has seen the video but has declined to comment on whether he believes it shows his officers were justified in using deadly force.

The police department, at the instruction of Gill's office, has also declined to release the video to the public.

Burbank, however, believes the video should have already been released. He does not buy into the notion that releasing the video would blemish the criminal investigation being conducted by the district attorney's office.

"You can still investigate it, and I would argue it does not hamper an investigation," he said.

Gill, however, disagrees. The body camera video is like any other piece of evidence, whether it be a bloody piece of clothing or a recorded confession in a major crime. He claims those types of evidence would not be released prior to a case being adjudicated, and the video should be no different.

"Let's stop making this into a political argument and talk about legal responsibilities," he said. "I believe past investigations of my office have been needlessly complicated, and sometimes compromised, when evidence was released prematurely, often against my advice and over my objection."

Gill said the due process of all parties involved, both the teenager who was shot as well as the officers, needs to be protected.

Burbank, however, believes withholding the video builds mistrust in the public, whereas releasing video "tends to put everyone at ease" even if it doesn't please all sides, he said.

Burbank said another reason to release the video at this point is because Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has already seen it.

"It's not evidence if you allow a public official to view it. That becomes very problematic. That opens you up to criticism. The most important thing is transparency in this issue," he said.

Burbank said once Biskupski viewed the video, she becomes someone who could be subpoenaed.

The mayor's spokesman, Matthew Rojas, said Biskupski viewed the evidence in an official capacity.

"The mayor viewed the video in her role as the leader of city government, including the Salt Lake City Police Department, and not as a member of the general public. The mayor must walk a fine line between transparency and ensuring due process under law for all those involved," Rojas said.

He said Biskupski will defer to Gill's decision and not release the video at this point in the interest of due process.

Contributing: Alex Cabrero, Katie McKellar

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam