Due to the recent uptick in violent crime in Salt Lake County — particularly crimes involving guns — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Wednesday that he has a message for those who engage in gun violence:
"You are put on notice starting today, there will be no more plea bargains and we will throw the book at you."
Gill stood with Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera to announce he has instructed his prosecutors to aggressively go after people who are arrested and charged with committing violent crimes with a gun.
"Effective immediately, starting today, no criminal charge arising from the use of a gun or relating to an unlawful use or possession of a gun in the commission of a crime will be reduced as a part of any plea bargain. Put another way, there will be no plea bargains for gun crimes in Salt Lake County," Gill said.
The new policy comes in light of the Utah Department of Public Safety’s recent Crime in Utah report for 2020 which showed a 44% increase in homicides from the year before. According to the state's statistics, there were 93 homicides in 2020. A firearm was used in 67% of those killings compared to 55% a year ago.
Last year, Gill said his office screened 87 murder and attempted murder cases. This year, his office is already at 78 cases as of Wednesday with 2 1/2 months still to go in the year.
Wednesday's announcement comes the same week that police in Taylorsville investigated the shooting death of Gabriela Sifuentes Castilla, 38, better known as Gaby Ramos, a radio personality for a local Spanish-language radio station. An arrest warrant has been issued for Castilla's former boyfriend.
About an hour after Wednesday's press conference ended, Salt Lake police officers responded to Liberty Park on a report of shots fired. Two people were taken into custody and one gun recovered, according to police.
Salt Lake police have already collected nearly 500 guns this year as evidence in investigations, Brown said. Rivera noted that the Metro Gang Unit seized 137 guns during 2020 and has already seized 120 so far this year.
But what police are also finding is that most of the guns being used in the commission of crimes have been stolen during home or car burglaries from lawful gun owners.
"There are too many car burglaries and home burglaries that we are taking reports on and individuals are reporting their guns have been stolen. And we know we're going to see those guns out on the street," Rivera said.
The Department of Public Safety report found home and car burglaries were up in Utah during 2020. And police believe it's no coincidence that more guns are being found on the street. That's why both Rivera and Brown made a plea to Utah gun owners to safely secure their weapons inside their homes, and never leave their guns unattended in cars.
"I can't stress enough how many cases we take of people saying, 'Somebody broke into my car. My gun was in there last night.' We had an AR-15 stolen out of a car. Why are you keeping an AR-15 in your car? This is what we're trying to send a message (about)," Rivera said.
Gill said in a recent officer-involved shooting case that his office reviewed in which the arrested person shot at police, two firearms were seized. One of those guns was stolen from a residence and the other was stolen from a vehicle just three days prior to the confrontation with officers, he said.
Rivera said while police are trying to keep their communities safe, residents need to step up and do their part to help.
"We are struggling out there with these violent crimes and we don't want to see any more victims," the sheriff said.
"It takes people saying, 'Enough is enough and not in our community,'" Brown added.
Rivera said she believes the district attorney's new policy will make a difference and help curb the problem of a "revolving door" at the Salt Lake County Jail.
Under Gill's new policy, if a plea bargain is the only way to insure a conviction, it must first be approved by a chief deputy in his office.
"Absent a legal obstacle, a gun crime charge will either be resolved by a guilty plea as charged to the offense, or a trial will be commenced on that gun charge," he said.
"Going forward, if you're going to commit crime in Salt Lake County with possession of a gun in a violent crime, you will be aggressively prosecuted."