SALT LAKE CITY — Saying that he needs to finish the work he started four years ago, Salt Lake County's top attorney has filed for re-election. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill made his bid for a second term official on Tuesday. Flanked by banners proclaiming "Nobody is above the law" and "Restoring public trust," Gill held a press conference in front of the Matheson Courthouse to officially announce his re-election bid.
"We're moving toward another four years because what we started we have to finish. I really strongly believe in the work that we've done. We still have a lot of work to do. We're involved in some very important issues, and I want to see them through and I want to finish those things out," he said.
In announcing his bid, Gill stressed that integrity, public trust and accountability were the factors that were important to his office, and what he had restored at the district attorney's position.
"In the last four years, we have not shied away from the hard, the unpopular or difficult decisions. A person's status, wealth, privilege or standing is not a free pass to accountability. Nobody is above the law," he said.
Critics of Gill point to his handling of some officer-involved shooting cases. He has reviewed more than 30 officer-involved shootings since taking office. Five officers in four of those incidents were determined to be legally unjustified in using deadly force.
The highest-profile case involved the shooting death of Danielle Willard by West Valley police detectives Shaun Cowley and Kevin Salmon. Cowley was later fired from the department. Gill has not determined whether he will file criminal charges against the two officers.
A probe into the West Valley Police Department's former Neighborhood Narcotics Unit resulted in Gill dismissing more than 100 criminal cases because of credibility issues.
Gill is also reviewing potential charges against former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff. He has already charged Timothy William Lawson, 49, who has been called Shurtleff's "fixer," with retaliating against witnesses, witness tampering, obstructing justice, bribery, falsifying tax information to hide income and failing to pay taxes.
The Salt Lake Police Association has already announced its endorsement of Steve Nelson, a Republican who has been with the district attorney's office for nearly 11 years and currently acts as its violent felonies prosecution unit chief. The group supported Gill four years ago, but said their decision to withdraw that support is about more than just the controversy over the officer-involved shootings.
"It's the fact that it's almost impossible to get cases filed, the process he's put into place. Basically he wants a perfect case before he goes forward," he said. Likewise, the Utah Fraternal Order of Police issued a brief statement Tuesday, saying, "The Utah Fraternal Order of Police is surprised to hear Sim Gill wants to put the citizens of Salt Lake County through another four years of his failed leadership and failed prosecutions."
Gill responded to his critics Tuesday by pointing out that his office has invested $750,000 in technology and programs aimed at improving officer safety, including the purchase of the VirTra V-300 LE simulator, the most realistic police shooting simulator training program available today.
Furthermore, Gill noted that he has only determined that four officer-involved shootings were legally unjustified.
"If agreeing 97 percent of the time isn't good enough and they want someone to agree 100 percent of the time, I am not that candidate. I serve the citizens. I work with law enforcement. I serve the citizens. That's to whom this office belongs. And my commitment to law enforcement is there full and full score and we will continue to invest in them," he said.
Gill said his office has given free lethal-force training to more than 900 police officers in Utah.
One law enforcer who is supporting Gill is Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. Winder said Gill is willing to address difficult issues and communicates well with his department.
"On the whole, when you're dealing with macro here, what I hear some people criticize him for is, 'Why is he making these decisions?' Well, until you know all the facts, it's a little difficult to do that. But at least he's willing to engage and address difficult issues. And for that, I feel he's doing a very good job," he said. Gill was named "Officer of the Year" in 2013 by the Footprinters Association, a group of retired police officers.
Some of the achievements Gill touted from his first term in office include increasing restitution paid to victims, partnerships with the YWCA and Rape Recovery Center and beefing up his civil division.
"The safety of our officers, the safety of our citizens, and the safety of our community are not just mere words, but rather the commitment and motivation of our actions," he said.
There was speculation that Gill might throw his hat into the ring for a shot at the attorney general's office instead of running for a second term. But he said there is simply too much work to finish in his current office.
"It was something that I thought about, I was very flattered," he said. "But when it came down to why I ran the first time and what I want to accomplish for our community. In the end, it was an easy decision (to seek re-election) because what we have started we want to finish."