Salt Lake County district attorney candidates spar over police brutality, medical marijuana initiative

This article originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here

At the Salt Lake County district attorney debate on Wednesday evening, Republican candidate Nathan Evershed touted his experience as a career prosecutor and aimed to paint his opponent and boss, two-term incumbent Democrat Sim Gill, as an ineffective leader who puts politics above justice.

“I am running because the district attorney’s office is, at it stands now, broken, and I believe that I am qualified and prepared to fix it,” he said, arguing that the office has lost experienced attorneys and staff, the public’s trust and the respect of law enforcement under Gill’s leadership.

Gill aimed to fend off attacks and position himself as the candidate with a proven track record of fiscal and social responsibility as well as with a broader focus and vision for the office needed as it works to address future criminal justice challenges.

“As a prosecutor for more than 20 years, I’ve advocated for smart prosecution over zero tolerance, therapeutic justice over incarceration where appropriate, and jailing those who are a risk to our community than merely those suffering from disease of addiction and mental illness,” he said.

Before a full house in the University of Utah, the debate — which was organized by the ACLU and Alliance for a Better Utah — was energetic and, at times, heated, with a member of the audience interrupting Gill during one of his answers to make a point. The candidates sparred for an hour and a half on a range of issues, including the right approach to officer-involved shootings and views on a Utah ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

It’s been less than a week since Gill’s office declined to file charges against a Salt Lake City officer who fired his gun at a man fleeing officers into an occupied downtown office building. During his time in office, Gill has been criticized by advocacy groups for not pressing charges in a number of such shootings.

But he argued Wednesday that his office has worked to improve procedures and transparency around these cases by establishing an objective, independent task force that ensures officers from the same police agency are not investigating their colleagues.

“This is a very important issue,” he said, but noted that “the use of force against individuals, unfortunately, has been shrouded too often in secrecy. And this is a challenge that unfortunately impacts communities of color and communities in poverty disproportionately.”

This article originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here

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