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2 Utah County sheriff’s detectives exonerated after allegations of excessive force



UTAH COUNTY, Utah, March 26, 2020  — Two detectives with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office have been exonerated after concerns were raised that they used excessive force during two drug investigations in early 2019.

A news release from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office said that on Jan. 30, 2019, undercover narcotics detectives from multiple agencies were conducting an investigation involving a wanted fugitive who had threatened officers and who was suspected to have been involved in a recent armed robbery.

“They followed a car believed to be driven by this fugitive to a gas station in Orem where they blocked the car to prevent him from driving away,” the news release said. “As detectives approached the car, they ordered the driver to get out of the car. The driver repeatedly refused to get out of the car. Detectives opened the driver’s door to take him out of the car, but the driver fought with them and resisted arrest.”

During the struggle detectives noticed a large knife on the suspect’s lap which they were able to knock onto the seat, the release said.

“As they pulled the suspect out of the car he refused to go to the ground. Due to the positioning of the car to the gas pump, only one detective was able to attempt to control the suspect.

“The suspect continued to resist arrest and tried to re-enter the vehicle toward the knife. At that time a detective used the magazine of a rifle to strike the suspect on the shoulder in an effort to get him to the ground. After this the suspect went to the ground and detectives took him into custody.”

In another case, on Feb. 4, 2019, shortly before midnight, undercover narcotics detectives from multiple agencies along with a deputy with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office were involved in an investigation involving illegal narcotics, the news release said.

“The deputy attempted to make a traffic stop on a car, driven by a 43-year-old Cedar Hills man, as the driver turned from westbound Center Street in Orem onto northbound I-15,” the news release said. “When the deputy turned on his emergency lights the driver increased his speed and refused to stop for the deputy. When the deputy saw that the driver was not stopping, he turned off his emergency lights and stopped along the side of the freeway to terminate the pursuit for the safety of other drivers.”

The suspect, driving erratically and at speeds in excess of 90 mph, got off the freeway at the Pleasant Grove interchange, ran a red light, and got right back on northbound I-15. The suspect then got off the freeway at the 500 East off ramp of northbound I-15 in American Fork and drove south on 500 East. At the intersection of 500 E. 1100 South the suspect tried to make a left turn when he lost control and high centered his car on the edge of the road.

“As detectives and the deputy arrived where the suspect’s car was stuck, they ordered him to get out of the car, but he refused to comply,” the news release said. “Detectives ordered the suspect to get out of the car, but he yelled back, telling them he was not getting out.”

One detective used a utility tool to break the passenger side front window, the news release said.

Another detective reached in to get the suspect out of the car, but he resisted and punched that detective in the face, knocking off his glasses.

“Because the suspect was known to these detectives, they were familiar with his history of carrying concealed weapons, resisting arrest, and evading police,” the news release said.

Detectives struggled to get him out of the car and “while trying to place handcuffs on him he continued to fight and kick detectives.”

As the suspect was face down on the ground, he kept his hands under his stomach and would not allow detectives to cuff him. In an attempt to get him to comply and eliminate the threat of the suspect producing a weapon, the detective who was straddling him used a knee strike in the back of the suspect’s leg, “between his knee and his hip.”

“At the same time another detective delivered a knee strike and several toe kicks to the suspect’s left shoulder and upper arm,” the news release said.

“Strikes such as these are sometimes used against large muscle groups to weaken the muscles, making it easier, as in this case, for detectives to gain control of the suspect’s other arm.

“The suspect was then secured with handcuffs.”

Criminal charges filed against the suspect include:

  • Assault against peace officer, a third-degree felony
  • Fail to stop or respond at command of police, a third-degree felony
  • Possession of a controlled substance, a third-degree felony
  • Obstructing justice, a third-degree felony

“During a use of force review conducted by the sheriff’s office, concerns were raised regarding the level of force used in these cases,” the news release said.

“To insure a fair and broad evaluation of the circumstances, Sheriff Smith initiated an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation regarding the incidents. He also asked a police chief from a non-involved agency to review the case.”

Both of those investigations cited policy violations, but exonerated the detectives of excessive use of force allegations.

The Utah County Attorney’s Office then referred the matter to the Iron County Attorney’s Office to review the case for possible criminal charges against the detectives.

On March 18, Iron County Attorney, Chad Dotson, responded, saying his office would not bring charges against the detectives. “The declination to file criminal charges in this matter is based on the review of the evidence, applicable law, and the relevant burden of proof,” Dotson wrote.

Although it was not required the case was also referred to Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), who have the authority to suspend or revoke police officer certification. This case is currently under review.

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