The parents of 19-year-old Zane James, who died after being shot by a police officer in 2018, said that they are not anti-police but called Cottonwood Heights officials' statements about last week's settlement with the family "tone-deaf."
In the first time the family has spoken out following the $4 million settlement with the city's insurance provider, Zane James' father Aaron said during a press conference held Tuesday afternoon that he took exception to the city's response to the reason behind the settlement.
"The city's response is similar to other cities' responses … essentially saying it was a business decision," Aaron James said. "I think personally we felt it was a little tone-deaf especially given the national attention to policing and policy. … I think they suggested it was something to the effect that there is an anti-police sentiment. Our family is not anti-police. We have never been anti-police, and for them to suggest that not us, but that other people in Utah will be anti-police, and that will somehow benefit our cases, it was hurtful."
Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Weichers released a statement Friday stating that the city "did not support the decision to settle these lawsuits, as we believed the cases in both federal and state courts were on a trajectory to be dismissed," but that it respected the insurance company's decision to "bring closure to this matter and to eliminate risks associated with a potential jury trial influenced by current anti-law enforcement attitudes in society today."
The shooting of Zane James by police officer Casey Davies after Davies responded to reports that James had robbed two stores at gunpoint was ruled legally justified in 2018, but Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced in May that Davies' use of his patrol car to knock James down as he was trying to speed away on his motorcycle was not justified. However, Gill declined to charge Davies after it was "determined we lacked proof of all the elements of a criminal charge," Gill said then.
Tiffany James said Tuesday that the settlement allows their family to move forward, citing other legal action that has happened as a result of their son's death.
"We're really grateful to have taken this step for our family and for Zane," Tiffany James said. "I believe it is a vindication … It allows us to move forward right now past this really intense civil litigation. We also have to defend our son Gabriel in September for charges that he received after being attacked during the memorial march for Zane on Aug 2, 2020. We still have a little bit of a road to go."
Aaron James also spoke about the memorial walk in August 2020 that ended with him being arrested along with Zane's brother Gabriel Pecoraro.
"If the law or policy is broken in this city and a police officer does it, they don't get punished or reprimanded, but if I step in the street with my family, I get sent to jail on felony charges that I have to fight my way through court," Aaron James said. "It's expensive. It's emotionally taxing. Somebody tell me where the fairness is in that, please, because it's not happening here."
Hope for others like Zane
Tiffany James spoke about her late son, admitting that he was recovering from opioid addiction. She said that the penalty for her son's struggles should not have been death.
"We all have rights," Tiffany James said. "It doesn't matter if you have an addiction. It doesn't matter if you have mental health challenges. It doesn't matter if you committed a crime. That penalty should not mean death. We have a justice system to manage those things."
"The week before he died, he said, 'Mom, I feel like nobody thinks I'm trying.' (Zane) said, 'I've never faced something so hard.' Opioid addiction and recovery is something that this community in particular struggles with … and he fought it every step of the way. It was painful. It was hard to see him pick himself up, but he did every time, and he would have this time, and he'd be with us right now."
Tiffany James said that she hopes the settlement will give hope to other families who might be in their situation.
"We really really hope that this gives other families in our situation the platform to be able to also have similar results, and law enforcement and other cities to realize that it's no longer acceptable to behave this way," she said.
"The hardest part is seeing a really good person being ravaged by addiction and his own personal challenges, and then to see what happened, and to see a city that has all the power in the world … and for them to look at us and say, 'Not in our city. We're not going to do an investigation. We're not going to admit any wrongdoing.' It's really wonderful to put all this out in public. It's time for the charade to be done. That's what has happened with this settlement, and that's what's going to happen moving forward."
The family said that they are setting up a foundation to help people like their son to recover from addiction and other life challenges, and to be a resource for those seeking help.