SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of protesters gathered Saturday afternoon near the spot where Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was killed by Salt Lake City police on May 23, demanding justice and calling for Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill to take action against the officers involved in the incident.
The protest is a continuation of civil actions that have taken place In Salt Lake City almost daily since the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police just two days after Palacios-Carbajal died in Utah.
Protests have been largely peaceful since a May 30 gathering in downtown Salt Lake City that turned violent and led to a National Guard callout by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the imposition of citywide curfews by Mendenhall.
Body camera footage of the Palacios-Carbajal shooting, released earlier this month, shows police officers shooting the man at least 20 times as he ran away, holding a gun, after police were called on a report someone was making threats with a gun.
Organizer Sofia Alcala led the crowd in chants of “Erin Mendenhall, fire the killer cops” and “Sim Gill, prosecute and jail these killer cops.”
“His last ... words were, ‘Officer, I don’t want to die,’” Alcala said. “It’s unacceptable to shoot someone in the back when they are running away, after they say those words ... and continue to shoot them when they are on the ground.”
After a series of speakers, including friends and relatives of Palacios-Carbajal, spoke to protesters near the intersection of 900 South and 300 West, the group marched north to the downtown building that houses Gill’s office.
A few members of the crowd painted a section of the street in front of the district attorney’s office with red paint and other protesters stuck “Justice for Bernardo” signs to the entrance of the building.
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Amy Fowler attended the first part of the rally and has taken a more outspoken stance on the Palacio-Carbajal shooting than her fellow council members.
A trial attorney and former public defender, Fowler posted a statement to her Facebook page following release of police bodycam footage of the incident asserting the shooting, which is still under review by Gill’s office, was unlawful.
“I believe Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal was unlawfully killed and I am outraged,” Fowler wrote. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that justice is served. There should be no special treatment for police and they should be held to the same standard as anyone else suspected of a similar act.”
In a Deseret News interview conducted several days after the Facebook post, Fowler acknowledged the legality, or otherwise, of the incident was a matter for Gill’s office to establish.
“Using 20-plus rounds on a young man running away seems excessive and unlawful,” Fowler said. “But that’s also for the process to determine.”
Police shot and killed Palacios-Carbajal, 22, on May 23 after an aggravated robbery was reported at the Trails Gentleman’s Club. The club is adjacent to the Utah Village Motel, 271 W. 900 South, where police first spotted Palacios-Carbajal before he took off running.
Body camera footage shows officers chase after him with guns drawn, one officer yelling over his police radio, “He’s got a gun in his pocket.”
Officers chased him through an alley across 900 South. They yelled at him 17 times to either “stop,” “show me your hands,” or “drop it,” referring to a gun, according to Salt Lake Police Capt. Richard Lewis.
As Palacios-Carbajal reached the parking lot of Granary Storage, he stumbled and fell, got up, then fell again as police closed in. An officer can be heard yelling “Tase him, tase him, tase him!” before a barrage of gunshots is heard, at least 20 rounds.
The footage appears to show Palacios-Carbajal was shot in the back. It does not appear in the videos that he ever pointed a gun at police, nor did he fire any shots. However, police say a gun that Palacios-Carbajal was believed to be carrying was recovered from the scene.
Another demonstration was also taking place Saturday evening with a crowd of about 100 people set to march from the grounds of the Utah Capitol to downtown in protest of the tactics used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Organizers at the Capitol declined to be interviewed but were distributing literature that called for participants to contact the local ICE office as well as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to demand reform of the agency.
“ICE has a long history of separating families, violating human rights, terrorizing communities,” one flyer read. “1,400+ children have gone missing in ICE custody. It’s time to stop its abuses once and for all.”