SALT LAKE CITY — The thought of his officers shooting a 13-year-old autistic boy nearly brought Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown to tears as he discussed it publicly for the first time since the shooting happened six days ago.
“This is a tragic, tragic event,” he said in an interview with KSL Newsradio hosts Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic on Thursday morning, emotion clear in his voice. “Any time a person in our community encounters our officers and an incident like this unfolds, it tears at the fabric of our community. And me, as a father of three young boys, it’s hard. This is very difficult right now.”
Golda Barton called police on the night of Sept. 4 and she said she told dispatchers she needed help getting her son, Linden Cameron, to a hospital as he has Asperger’s syndrome, is autistic and was having a mental health crisis.
Police arrived and the boy ran from them, and officers shot him. No additional details about what happened have been released by police. But Barton says her son was shot multiple times and now remains in serious condition with several injuries that could subject him to long-term medical issues.
According to a GoFundMe account set up to raise money for Linden’s medical bills, Linden suffered “injuries to his shoulder, both ankles, intestines and bladder.”
Brown said, at this point, it’s too early to answer the questions everyone is asking.
“I don’t have those answers right now,” he said when asked how something like this could happen to a parent summoning help.
He noted there will be three separate investigations into the shooting: One by an outside police agency, one by the district attorney’s office, and an internal investigation into whether there were any policy violations.
“All three of those will be taken into consideration when the time comes,” Brown said,
Additionally, he said the Citizen Review Board will also review the shooting.
But former Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank, who appeared on the Dave and Dujanovic show immediately after Brown, said police could be more transparent if they wanted to, and it wouldn’t compromise investigations.
“This is the mistake being made across the country time and time again. The nation has stood up and said, we have a problem and we need to discuss this. And the response from policing locally and across the nation is, ‘Well, we’re going to talk about it, investigate it, and we’ll tell you about it later.’ That is not satisfactory.”
Brown said he understands the frustration with the silence, but he can’t answer the most critical questions until the investigations are complete.
“Because the investigation is being done right now, through Sim Gill and his purview and his authority to investigate these situations,” Brown said. “I don’t have those answers right now. And I know transparency is a big part of what we’re trying to do and what we’ve done for years here in Salt Lake City. One of the things that we will do is within 10 business days, we will release the video that we have, and I think that’s a big step in transparency. ... As these investigations unfold, we will inform the public as to the findings, and we hope that this goes very swiftly.”
Brown declined to say whether or not a weapon was found at the scene of the shooting. Police told reporters immediately after the shooting that they responded to a call reporting a juvenile having “a violent psychological issue.” Salt Lake Police Sgt. Keith Horrocks said that night that the boy “had made threats to some folks with a weapon.” But he also said he didn’t believe any weapon was recovered from the scene.
In addition to sharing the officer’s body camera video by Sept. 21, he promised they would release any new information they could as the investigations progress.
Burbank’s frustration — and criticism — echoed that of many in the community who’ve been calling for significant policing reform.
“If we cannot respond, as a police agency, to a 13-year-old child who has autism, without shooting him, I don’t know if we should be in this business,” Burbank said, frustration evident in his voice. “And that sounds like a very harsh condemnation. But this goes on time and time again, I’m tired of having this discussion. It is time to change the rules, change how we do business, and change how we investigate this. Give the public some information about what is taking place. It does not sacrifice the outcome by any means.”
Burbank said the best way to prevent incidents like last week’s is to “change the criteria by which officers use deadly force.”
He said the statute in Utah needs to change, and he said officials need to look at the “totality of the circumstances, not just that two or five seconds when the trigger is pulled. What led up to that? Why are we even there in the first place?”
He said there needs to be a massive change in the policing “system.”
“I’m not necessarily condemning the police alone, right? We make that mistake,” Burbank said. “This system that we have in place, this law enforcement system throughout the nation, functions exactly as we put it in place, in society. So it is time for all of us to change what the expectation of law enforcement is, and hopefully change the outcome.”
Burbank said police take too long to release information, something they don’t do when the shooter is a civilian.
“It allows mistrust to take place,” he said. “We should demand, as the public, that we get that information. There is no compromise in an investigation whether you release the video in a day, two hours, or 10 days. The video is the video. ... Look at it from the public perspective. But we publish the video if that were two people shooting at each other and not involved the police officer, that video would be out, the moment it happened. There would have been all sorts of commentary.”