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Internal police investigation says Salt Lake officers in Palacios shooting acted within policy

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An unnamed protester stands under a mural of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 27, 2020. Palacios-Carbajal was shot and killed by police in May.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An internal affairs investigation by the Salt Lake City Police Department has determined the two officers involved in the fatal shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal acted within department policy.

The decision announced on Thursday falls in line with the findings of the Civilian Review Board and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which determined the shooting was “justified” and no criminal charges would be filed.

The decision was also what the Palacios family expected.

“This (IA) report is obviously not surprising to us or the family. We knew that the police would try and justify what happened,” said attorney Nathan Morris, who is representing the Palacios family.

Palacios, 22, was shot and killed while fleeing from police on May 23. Officers fired 34 rounds at Palacios, hitting him between 13 to 15 times in the back and side. He was a suspect in a pair of armed robberies that had just occurred and was holding a gun at the time he was shot.

The department’s internal affairs report, which is traditionally a confidential document, was released publicly by Salt Lake police due to “the intense public scrutiny” over the officers’ actions, the department stated.

“I have weighed the full investigation from the Unified Police Department-led (officer-involved critical incident) protocol team, the report and justified ruling from the district attorney, the internal affairs investigation and summary, and the Civilian Review Board’s exonerating report and recommendations,” Chief Mike Brown said in a prepared statement. “Decisions like these are not taken lightly and deserve all the time and attention required to fully review and understand the facts. I find the actions of the officers were reasonable, appropriate, and did not violate police department policy.”

The decision reached by the internal affairs team was made in part by reviewing body camera video from the officers as well as surveillance video from a nearby business.

“It is very clear that the officers were in the lawful performance of their duty and the suspect was an imminent threat,” the report states.

The report even noted that officer Neil Iversen, who was chasing Palacios, “used tremendous restraint as he observed the subject drop and pick up an item that made a metallic sound when it hit the ground yet he did not engage the subject until he had repeatedly ordered the subject to drop it and was able to verify that it was in fact a gun.”

Officer Kevin Fortuna also showed restraint “in taking the time to give multiple orders and give the suspect time to comply and drop the weapon,” the report states.

But Morris disagrees.

Fortuna had been listening to the foot chase on his police radio and drove to the parking lot where Palacios was ultimately shot and killed.

“From the time he opened the door to the time he started shooting was 7 seconds,” Morris said. “I beg to differ that 7 seconds shows tremendous restraint.”

He said Fortuna should have taken time to accurately assess what was going on. Instead, Morris said it took the officer just 9 seconds to fire 17 rounds.

“He was shooting his gun longer than the time he assessed the situation,” Morris said. “That is not restraint. That is thinking with your gun first.”

Morris believes Palacios’ mindset that day was simply to get away and not try to engage the officers.

As for the notion that has been brought up in each report that Palacios seemed more interested in picking up his gun rather than running away, Morris argued it’s possible that Palacios simply didn't want to leave any evidence behind. Morris said he is only speculating, but it’s possible Palacios didn’t want to leave behind something with his fingerprints on it that could allow police to identify and arrest him later.

While Morris said he is not condoning Palacios’ behavior or justifying his conduct, he believes it is important for officials to consider the other side rather than rely on “slanted” police reports.

The Internal Affairs report also concluded that there were “minor issues that we can look at for improvement or coaching/counseling.”

The officers could have done more to identify themselves as “police” upon making their initial contact with Palacios, even though Palacios would have known who they were because of the marked patrol cars he ran past and backup officers using their overhead lights and sirens, the report states.

It also states it is worth discussing whether officers had a chance to surround Palacios and contain the area before announcing their presence, though the report notes “containing the suspect in that area could have caused a bigger problem since he may have seen he was trapped and taken a hostage instead of fleeing.”

The report also reminded officers to complete their annual training and follow the guidelines for equipment.

The Civilian Review Board report had recommended officers stick to their training of firing two rounds, then pausing to reassess a situation before shooting again. Morris said that did not happen in Palacios’ case and he was disappointed police did not address that issue.

He said the family will now finalize their work in preparing a civil lawsuit, which he expects would be ready in two weeks.