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ACLU of Utah Continues To Press For Release Of Video Footage Showing Police Shooting

Abdi Mohamed RallyThis article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2016 Fall Newsletter >>

The ACLU of Utah is disappointed that Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) and Salt Lake County continue to refuse to release body camera and surveillance video footage of the February 2016 shooting of then-17-year-old community member Abdi Mohamed.

 In a press conference on August 8, District Attorney Sim Gill announced that his office had concluded that the shooting of Mr. Mohamed by two Salt Lake City police officers was “justified” under state law. Mr. Gill also said the county would continue to withhold from the public all body camera and surveillance video footage of the incident. In addition, Mr. Gill announced that the County is charging Mr.  Mohamed with several serious crimes, including aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony that carries a potential life sentence in prison, and will attempt to prosecute him as an adult.

 In July, the SLCPD and Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office refused a request for the video footage the ACLU of Utah made under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).  In doing so, the agencies argued that the footage was related to an ongoing investigation into the shooting of Mr. Mohamed. On August 8, the agencies again declined, asserting that they are now withholding the footage because of the criminal prosecution of Mr. Mohamed. On September 2, the Salt Lake City Police Civilian Review Board made a finding that the officers’ actions were not within policy.  Despite the Review Board’s demonstration that narratives of the film differ, as well as further publicizing a description of the footage, the agencies continue to withhold the public records.  The ACLU of Utah has appealed the initial denials and continues to press the County and SLCPD to reverse their position.  The final administrative appeal will take place at an October 18th hearing at the county building. 

 The shooting of Mr. Mohamed highlights several issues related to law enforcement accountability and government transparency, including: the importance of the timely and fair release of public information related to critical incidents involving violence between police and community members; the need for independent investigations of critical incidents by investigators who will not be engaged in possible future criminal prosecutions of community members injured by police; and the need for wholesale cultural reform among law enforcement more generally, including shifting from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality.

The ACLU of Utah is committed to continuing its multi-faceted work on these issues. This includes on-going efforts with the Salt Lake City Police Department to improve law enforcement conduct directed toward, and in collaboration with, community members. We will also continue to push for state-level policy improvements that increase transparency, accountability and fairness in police practices throughout Utah.

 Find out about this and other law enforcement issues at www.acluutah.org/police-practices

Photo: Family and community members gather in support of Abdi Mohamed outside the SLC Police Department on March 19, 2016.