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Cottonwood Heights says alleged Zane James shooting video does not exist

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A protester holds a sign for Zane James, a Cottonwood Heights resident who was killed by the police in 2018, during a protest against police brutality at the Cottonwood Heights Police Department in Cottonwood Heights on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020.

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for the Cottonwood Heights Police Department say no body camera video of the fatal shooting of Zane James exists.

“The city has investigated this claim and thus far found it to be untrue,” according to a prepared statement from attorney Heather White, who represents Cottonwood Heights.

On Monday, White filed both a motion in federal court opposing the latest motion filed by Aaron and Tiffany James, and issued a press release stating all but one city official — Councilwoman Tali Bruce — have made sworn declarations in court that they have never seen such footage.

Zane James, 19, was shot and killed while running away from Cottonwood Heights police on May 29, 2018. He had just robbed two stores at gunpoint with a realistic looking Airsoft gun, according to police.

Officer Casey Davies, who no longer works for Cottonwood Heights, spotted James fleeing on his motorcycle as Davies was headed into work.

As James sped through a residential area near 6675 S. 2200 East, he hit a speed bump and crashed just two blocks from his house.

According to a report on the officer-involved shooting from Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, James began running away from the officer, and while doing so, kept putting his hands near his waistband.

In the front yard of a home at 2209 E. 6675 South, James was shot twice in the back. 

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Zane James with his parents, Tiffany and Aaron James.

Family photo

The investigation concluded that Davies was not wearing a body camera that day because he had not yet been to the office to pick it up. Body camera video has been publicly released from other officers who arrived shortly after the actual shooting.

On Aug. 13, Aaron and Tiffany James, Zane’s parents, filed a motion in court stating they had information from reliable sources that body camera video of the actual shooting did existand was shown in a closed-door meeting of City Council members two years ago.

But in her motion filed Monday, White stated that information was not true. In her press release, White included a still image captured by another officer’s body camera of Davies on the day of the shooting. The picture shows Davies wearing the plate that is supposed to hold the body camera, but the camera itself does not appear to be in it.

Cottonwood Heights has also spoken with anyone who may have had information about the alleged secret video, including Police Chief Robby Russo, the current and former city manager, the mayor, all current and some former council members, and the city recorder, according to White.

In sworn statements submitted to the court, all of them say they have no knowledge of such a video. Russo said he has not seen a recording of the actual shooting, and in fact has never had a formal conversation with Tiffany James.

“I have never told Ms. James that Cottonwood Heights has or had video footage of the actual shooting of Zane James. I am not aware of any such footage and do not believe such footage exists,” Russo said in his declaration.

In his sworn declaration, Davies again states he was not wearing his body camera at the time James was shot.

“I am not aware of any such footage of the shooting of Zane James and do not believe such footage exists,” he said.

The only person who did not sign a sworn declaration was Bruce, who has a conflict-riddled history with Russo. Bruce is named in a lawsuit filed against the city by Russo, who alleges she improperly worked with others in city government to try to oust him.

“Tali Bruce has informed the city she believes she saw video footage of the actual shooting of Zane James during a closed session of a city council meeting. However, Councilmember Bruce declined to provide a sworn declaration to that effect. Moreover, the city understands that Ms. Bruce does not have any information about the source of that video and is unable to explain why none of the three other City Council members, the city manager, the mayor, the city attorney, and the city recorder, who all would have been in attendance at the closed session, recall seeing the alleged video,” White said in her statement.

The city believes those who claimed to have seen the video were getting it confused with a separate shooting by a Cottonwood Heights officer following a high-speed chase in September 2017. 

The city now wants a judge to dismiss the James family’s motion for a default judgment to be entered in their favor, or make Cottonwood Heights prove they don't have the video.

“The foundational premise of that motion — that Cottonwood Heights has wrongfully withheld and falsely denied the existence of video footage of the shooting of Zane James — is not only lacking evidentiary support but is ultimately inaccurate. No video of the actual shooting of Zane James exists,” according to the city’s motion in response.