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Police brutality, Black Lives Matter hit home with the Cardalls

Duane Cardall and grandson Taysen Garner.
Duane Cardall and grandson Taysen Garner.
Duane Cardall

SALT LAKE CITY — From all outward appearances, sitting in an alcove in the front yard of their comfortable East Millcreek home, Mount Olympus framed behind them, Duane and Margaret Cardall would seem to be about as far removed as possible from the protests and social unrest roiling the nation.

They’re tanned, relaxed and calling all their own shots these days. He still gets recognized for the nearly four decades he spent as a reporter and on-air talent for KSL-TV, but he’s been retired from that for 10 years now. For the most part, he and Margaret garden, golf and spoil the grandkids.

And yet, today’s headlines hit them squarely at home.

They hear the words police brutality and they are transported back to the summer of 2009, when their son Brian, 32 years old and about to get his doctorate, died on a lonely stretch of highway in southern Utah at the hands of a police officer in over his head.

Brian Cardall suffered from bipolar disorder. While driving toward the town of Hurricane on June 9, 2009, he had a psychotic episode. With his wife and young daughter in the car, he stopped, took off his clothes and ran screaming into the road.

The irony is, Brian’s wife phoned the police to get help, explaining on her 911 call that her husband had a mental illness. Instead, she got a funeral.

The responding policeman, a school resource officer confronted by an obviously unarmed naked man, hit Brian with his Taser twice. In 42 seconds. Brian went into cardiac arrest and died, handcuffed.

After an investigation, the officer was officially cleared of wrongdoing.

No national outrage followed, no one burned police cars, but the Cardalls mounted their own protest. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit that was settled in their favor, in addition to getting the Utah Legislature to pass a resolution encouraging law enforcement agencies in the state to mandate mental health training for their officers.

As senseless as Brian Cardall’s death was, it paved the way for extensive CIT — Crisis Intervention Team — training throughout the state these past 11 years.

“We hope so,” says Duane, when the Cardalls are asked if lives have been spared because police are now better qualified to deal with mental illness.

“It’s not something you can quantify, but we think that’s a possibility, and not just saving the lives of individuals who would have been victims, but saving the mental and emotional health of officers who would have made terrible mistakes.”

Duane and Margaret Cardall.
Duane and Margaret Cardall.
Lee Benson, Deseret News

Despite the unrelenting pain they carry from having their son precede them in death, Duane and Margaret are not without compassion for the officer who tased Brian.

“I really ache for him,” says Margaret.

“He made a terrible instant decision he was unqualified to make, and he has to live with that; I can only imagine what a challenge that would be,” says Duane. “I can forgive him for the mistake he made. What I can’t forgive is the system that didn’t train him sufficiently and allowed him to be on the street with that Taser in that circumstance. I still harbor anger about that.”

It’s an anger that parallels the outrage fueling the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of a black man, George Floyd, dying under the knee of a white officer in Minneapolis.

The Cardalls can relate to that in a personal way as well.

Duane and Margaret have a son-in-law, Mike Garner, who is African American. He is married to their daughter, Jane. Mike is from South Carolina and has a master’s degree in social work. He met Jane when he moved to Salt Lake City for a job. They have since moved to Texas to raise their family.

Mike has never been tased at the side of a highway, but the Cardalls are well aware of unfair, and not infrequent encounters their son-in-law has had with law enforcement because of the color of his skin.

Like the time when he lived in Utah and was pulled over driving in Provo just to be asked what he was doing in that neighborhood. Or in Texas, where he sometimes gets stopped on his way to work because he commutes at 4 in the morning and police are suspicious what a person who looks like him is doing out and about at that hour.

* * *

Duane is a Facebooker. In successive recent posts he reflected on his son, his son-in-law, his grandson and the uneasy mood of the nation.

After the extended Cardall family hiked up Mount Olympus on June 9 to honor Brian, an avid climber, Duane wrote:

“June 9 is always a tender day for the Cardall family. But especially so this year in view of all that is happening in the wake of George Floyd’s tragedy. … We join the chorus of Americans calling for appropriate reforms in police departments across the nation, especially those that would end qualified immunity for officers who overstep their authority and kill or maim the innocent. We also strongly encourage more widespread and effective de-escalation training with special emphasis on understanding how to calm and help the mentally ill.”

In his next post, Duane posted a picture of him with his grandson: Mike and Jane’s son Taysen.

“We’ve been told we look a lot alike,” he began. “I consider that a compliment because Taysen’s a good-looking kid.

“Sadly, and for reasons I have difficulty understanding, there are confused souls who would say Taysen and I aren’t at all alike. … You see, Taysen’s wonderful dad is black. And even though his mother is racially white, which means Taysen is as much white as he is black, he’s pigeonholed as African American.

“Personally, I don’t view that as a liability, but far too many people in this world do. … Our family has lived with the sub-current of racism since the day Jane married Mike. We know how real and hurtful it is. … I can understand why tens of thousands have chosen to march in protest to call attention to the undercurrent of racism and bigotry that persists in the world. But I cannot in any way see justification for violence and the rampant criminal behavior that dramatically distracts from what I consider to be legitimate concerns and justification for public assembly and protest marches.

“I continue to pray that reason will prevail and that actions will be taken by all segments of society to heal the simmering wounds of racism in all its ugly forms. … I long for the day when my grandson Taysen will not be viewed as black or white or someone of mixed race, but genuinely as just another human being, one of God’s precious children, and that he and his loving dad will never have the worry of being profiled because of the way they look and the pigment of their skin.”