|"Comply or Die is Not the Law": Relatives of police victims speak at Oct. 4 rally in Salt Lake.
After 72-year-old Robert Warren was shot in the face at the front door of his home in West Valley City, Utah, the police quickly identified and arrested the likely shooter and three accomplices. Two days later, while the victim was still recovering from surgery, the alleged assailant, suspected gang member Raymond Marquina was back on the streets, because the West Valley PD hadn’t provided sufficient evidence for an indictment.
“I would say we are just as surprised as anyone else that this case wasn’t charged the first time around, but we’ll do everything we can to get him back into jail,” insisted West Valley PD Public Information Officer Roxeanne Vainuku. The Fraternal Order of Police was quick to defend the West Valley PD, describing the “accidental release” of the suspect as an “understandable” mistake on the part of the police – while blaming Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill for creating “an extreme public safety risk” by refusing to charge Marquina.
“We know there is enough evidence to support filing charges against the other three suspects, as they remain in custody and have been charged,” asserted the FOP in an October 31 press release. “Why will DA Sim Gill not address the real reason why the man who pulled the trigger was released?”
The “real reason” for Marquina’s release is the valuable and often-ignored constitutional provision called the habeas corpus guarantee, under which a suspect must either be charged or released within a very brief period of time. Marquina was arrested on October 22 and released a week later because, as Gill explained, “under our Constitution we simply can’t hold people because we want to, no matter how much I may have wanted to hold him.”
Not satisfied with mere innuendo, the FOP claimed that “the evidence to charge Raymond Marquina was there [and] the DA’s office was aware of this”; this is supposedly documented in email exchanges for which the police union has filed a public records request.
Although “a mistake is understandable, DA Sim Gill’s covering up of the mistake is not,” declared the FOP, demanding that Gill act on its public records request “without delay.” For his part, Gill said that he welcomed the release of the emails and that his office had “nothing to prove other than to do our job diligently and work with our local law enforcement on this issue.”
Gill’s concept of diligence might differ from that of at least one member of his team – Steve Nelson, who is Chief of the Violent Felonies Unit. The attempted murder of Robert Warren certainly qualifies as a violent felony, which means the case would fall within Nelson’s area of responsibility – and it’s reasonable to expect that his name would figure prominently in any interoffice email traffic dealing with it.
Of even greater interest is the fact that Nelson, a Republican, is running against his Democrat boss as the preferred candidate of the FOP, which seeks to remove Gill as punishment for his unsuccessful manslaughter prosecution of former West Valley City Narcotics Detective Shaun Cowley, who killed Danielle Willard two years ago.
Nelson’s vita depicts him as the flinty-eyed nemesis of gang-bangers, boasting of his 2008 “Gang Prosecutor of the Year” award, his 2010 RICO prosecution of the Tongan Crip Gang, and a long string of professional plaudits, crowned with “an award of special recognition from the director of the FBI.”
It is inconceivable that Nelson would not have been in the loop in the Marquina case. Indeed, nailing a Surenos gang associate for the attempted murder of an elderly man two weeks before the election would certainly play well with voters – assuming that Nelson could take credit for the bust, rather than his rival, who also happens to be his boss.
The FOP carefully avoided any mention of Nelson’s possible role in Marquina’s “accidental release,” choosing instead to advance its characterization of Gill as a “cop-hating,” criminal-coddling outsider.
Flogging a nauseatingly familiar theme, the Utah FOP and its supporters denounced Gill’s decision to prosecute Cowley as a threat to that most precious of all things, “officer safety”: By holding Cowley accountable for shooting a terrified, unarmed young woman in a parking lot when he faced no credible threat to his life, Gill would cause other officers to “hesitate” rather than killing out of reflex.
“My concern is that a guilty verdict in this case will jeopardize the safety of the community by making police officers fearful of defending themselves against criminals who are threatening deadly force,” explained former federal judge Paul Cassell (who later acted as defense counsel for Cowley) in a letter to FOP attorney Brent Rawson.
Neither Cassell nor Rawson explained how the “safety of the community” is enhanced by preserving the lethal impunity that police officers currently enjoy. This is because the only segment of the “community” whose safety matters to Cassell, Rawson, and their ilk are police officers and their faithful “partners” in the criminal “justice” system.
This explains why the entire “justice” establishment in Salt Lake County has turned against Gill with the vehement hostility of True Believers dealing with an apostate. Could Maquina’s release have been a product of something other than incompetence?
Marquina’s arrest and indictment wouldn’t generate positive headlines for Nelson. His supposedly inexplicable release without charges generated negative headlines for his opponent. Viewed from the perspective of cynical political self-interest, Nelson had more to gain by blowing the case, because the proverbial buck doesn’t stop on his desk. But if the evidence wasn’t sufficient to hold Marquina, the fault doesn’t reside with Nelson any more than it would with Gill. This means that the delinquency, or deliberate sabotage, occurred in the West Valley PD, a department that – even more than most – is run like a street gang.
“Either the FOP and the WVCPD botched this because they are incompetent, or they botched it because they’re corrupt,” declares Utah attorney Ed Flint, who until recently was a prominent a criminal defense lawyer in Salt Lake County and knows all of the principals very well.
Emphasizing that he was “just putting two and two together,” Flint believes that the fault doesn’t lie with Gill or Nelson (whom he describes as a “quality trial lawyer” tragically in thrall to the police), but with the DA’s enemies in the police union.
“The cops and the Fraternal Order of Police are slimy, corrupt, and out to get Gill,” Flint elaborates. “Gill says he can’t charge [Marquina] on `made-up’ evidence. The [West Valley] PD knew what they needed to do, they didn’t do it…. They brought the evidence for the accomplices, but not the [would-be] murderer, because it makes a bigger headline, and a bigger last-minute-before-the-election slimy smear on the DA they’ve decided is not their puppet.”
Gill was supported by the FOP during his last campaign, which made the foreign-born Democrat politically palatable in conservative, Republican-heavy Salt Lake County. Flint reports that the controversy over Marquina’s release is having a measurable negative impact on Gill’s image. Flint describes how a close friend, “a staunch Democrat,” is thinking about supporting Nelson out of the belief that Gill “needs to come clean” about something that most likely is not his fault.
“Who do you think screwed up?” Flint continues. “The DA for refusing to abuse the Constitution, or the cops for refusing to provide sufficient evidence on one of [the] suspects to sustain probable cause?”
Asked if he thought that the FOP possess sufficient amoral deviousness to arrange the release a violent criminal in order to obtain political leverage against an independent DA, Flint was unequivocal: “Absolutely. They are that evil, and that Machiavellian. No doubt.”
Marquina is a “known gang associate,” which means that the cops can keep “a close eye on [him] so he won’t be too far away to grab, and for them to grab the publicity of re-arresting the [would-be] murderer that Sim let go,” Flint predicts. This would most likely happen after the election, however it turns out.
The Utah FOP has doubtless taken alarm over the growing public disaffection with the police, which has been propelled by outrage over the Danielle Willard case and dozens of others similar to it.
On October 4, hundreds of Utah residents – many of them relatives of people who had been killed by police -- congregated outside the Scott Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City. Invoking the theme of the protest, Sandy resident Edward Peltekian, a former civilian police volunteer, declared: “`Comply or die’ is not the law. We are not subjects, we are citizens.”
The concluding speech at the rally was offered by former Davis County Sheriff William Lawrence. In 1974, Lawrence helped organize one of the state’s first SWAT teams. On September 22, 2008, his son-in-law, Brian Wood, was killed by that SWAT team outside his home following a 12-hour standoff.
After suffering a breakdown of some kind, Wood called 911 to report (falsely) that he had beaten and raped his wife. SWAT operators used chemical weapons to force Wood from the pickup truck in which he had taken refuge, then treated him to a barrage of rubber bullets, projectile bean bags, and pepper-spray rounds, in addition to tear gas and flash-bang grenades. While Wood was prone and helpless, he was shot with a Taser at least eight times by one officer, and an unknown number of times by a second — before being shot at point-blank range by another officer wielding a .308-caliber rifle.
One witness described the onslaught as “horrible — just like someone tormenting an animal in a cage.”
In his speech at the October 4 rally, Lawrence pointed out that in recent decades, law enforcement officers have been marinated in the conceit that they are a caste apart from, and superior to, the population they supposedly serve. Whatever else can be said about Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill, he apparently agrees with those concerns.
For the FOP, it is unacceptable for a prosecutor to take the side of the Mundanes in any case involving the use of lethal force. The union had motive, means, and opportunity to “botch” the Marquina case as an election-eve dirty trick at Gill’s expense.
Setting a would-be killer loose did create, as the FOP acknowledged, “an extreme public safety risk” – but that’s a trifling price to pay to punish an enemy of the police union and preserve the privileges of Salt Lake County’s coercive caste.
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Dum spiro, pugno!