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Marshals who don’t wear bodycams take issue with D.A.’s comments about them

U.S. Marshals Office calls comments political and inappropriate

SHARE Marshals who don’t wear bodycams take issue with D.A.’s comments about them
The new Salt Lake City Federal Courthouse, Wednesday, April 9, 2014.

Salt Lake City Federal Courthouse

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Marshals Office says there is no place for politics in the officer-involved critical incident reports issued by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

“His job is to call balls and strikes. That’s his job,” a fired up Matthew Harris, head of the U.S. Marshals Office in Utah, said of District Attorney Sim Gill during a press conference Monday.

“It diminishes his report. It diminishes the setup of his office when he gets political, both in writing and thereafter in his public comments.”

On Friday, Gill released his report finding that an officer with the Department of Homeland Security and a Herriman police officer were legally justified in using deadly force against a violent fugitive who was armed. and will not be criminally charged. Both were working with the U.S. Marshal’s Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team that night.

But Gill also noted in his report and in comments to the Deseret News that officers are prohibited from wearing body cameras while working with the federal apprehension team — even if the local police departments that they work for require them.

“In this day and age, and the time we’re in with the technology available and the commitment expressed to use it, to consciously not use that seems problematic,” the district attorney said.

Gill said he couldn’t understand the rationale for not using body cameras. Such video can help investigators understand what occurred in situations such as police shootings.

Harris said he was blindsided by the comments and he takes issue “with the seemingly political positions.”

“The D.A.’s office should not be lobbying the state Legislature on how the task force operates, especially in the body of an officer-involved shooting report. We also question the motivation in trying to drive a wedge between the federal and local partnerships during this critical time in history,” Harris said. “There is a time to inject discussion on whether body worn cameras is good public policy. But to inject this discussion within the findings of an officer-involved shooting report is regrettable.

“My position, and the position of my office, is there is a time and place for that discussion. Not in the body of a report that exonerates an officer involved in a critical shooting. It’s not appropriate,” he said.

The Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team is comprised of 90 officers from 19 federal, state and local agencies. Harris said 70% of what the team does is for the benefit of state and local agencies. They arrest an average of 800 of some of the state’s most violent fugitives each year, he said.

The team is also prohibited by the U.S. Department of Justice from using body cameras — something Harris said local officers know when they agree to participate in the task force.

In November, the Justice Department announced a pilot program being tested in several U.S. cities where federal officers, including task force members, use body cameras. Harris said Salt Lake police, who are not part of the apprehension team, are part of that working group with another federal agency.

Harris also took issue with the notion from Gill that if the federal agency is going to use state resources and officers who use equipment paid for by state taxpayers, they should follow local policies.

“His assertion is the task force operates using state and locals resources. It’s the contrary. This task force operates at the request of state and local agencies who don’t have the money, who don’t have the time, who don’t have the resources to do it themselves,” he said.

Gill’s office responded by sticking to its report and comments.

“Nothing we said publicly is factually incorrect,” the office said in a prepared statement. “It seems that the marshal’s office is trying to make noise to distract from their own misguided policy.”

Harris praised the relationship between his agency and local departments, and said it would continue.

“We don’t get political, we put bad guys in jail. And we don’t care how we do it. But we want to keep this community safe,” he said.