Thursday, July 24, 2014

Was deal in City Creek shooting plot yanked over political pressure?

By Emiley Morgan, Deseret News

Published: Mon, April 14 2:45 p.m. MDT

 Jack Harry Stiles

Jack Harry Stiles

(Salt Lake County Jail)

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for a man accused of plotting a mass shooting at City Creek Center are asking whether a broken plea deal was the result of political pressure from police and officials with the shopping center.

Defense attorneys say prosecutors revoked a plea bargain that involved treatment and dismissal of the case against Jack Harry Stiles after they received "communications" from Salt Lake police and attorneys for downtown's City Creek Center. The defense wants more information about these communications.

"This is extremely awkward, because I freely admit this might have not happened," Stiles' defense attorney, Neal Hamilton, said. "If not, it puts Salt Lake police and City Creek in an untenable situation. … It was clear that those communications were the basis for the state backing out of the agreement, but if the state made up these communications to justify a change of heart or were bending to political pressure … I don't know."

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office will not discuss plea agreements, but he reiterated that Stiles made disturbing threats that the office took seriously. In all cases handled by his office, Gill said, input is considered from all parties involved.

"In terms of anything with Salt Lake City Police Department and City Creek, … it's like any other case," Gill said. "We have to take into account all other information from alleged victims and people involved and faction that out. Sometimes you can have a meeting of the minds, and sometimes you can't."

On Aug. 12, a West Valley police officer was called to Pioneer Valley Hospital by a crisis worker working with Stiles. The 43-year-old man had apparently outlined "specific, detailed plans to engage in a mass shooting" on Sept 25, the anniversary of his mother's death, according to the charging documents.

His targets included City Creek Center, where he planned to "just randomly shoot and kill people" during lunch time and Sugarhouse Movies 10 where he had already scoped out the exits in the theater and planned to "shoot people's heads off" from the back of the room, the charges state. His final target was going to be a UTA bus or TRAX train where he allegedly planned to place a bomb under the bus and have it detonate on Main Street right when it went under the pedestrian walkway at City Creek Center.

Hamilton said he understands why the crisis worker who spoke with Stiles might have been concerned and called police, but he believes the ultimate result should have been treatment, not prosecution.

"These were not threats. These were symptoms," he said. "Jack called 911. He asked for police and fire, he asked to be hospitalized. … Jack did not like what was going on in his head, so he blew the whistle and sought treatment."

Hamilton noted his client didn't own a gun and said police have confirmed that "if he tried to buy a gun, he would be unable to buy a gun."

Hamilton pointed out in court documents that it took several weeks for charges to be filed. Once assigned, he said he and fellow defense attorneys put together a "dream team" of mental health professionals who determined Stiles was "low risk," and a treatment plan was prepared.

"This treatment plan quickly became a part of negotiations, and an offer was made that, once the treatment plan was finalized, the state would enter into an informal diversion agreement with Mr. Stiles," according to a motion filed in 3rd District Court.

The agreement allowed for dismissal of the criminal case "when a benchmark in treatment was reached" and the release of Stiles from jail in the interim, court documents state. But the night before the scheduled release, the state pulled the offer.

"In explaining its decision, the state explained that it had received communications (including emails) from officers with the Salt Lake City Police Department and from Kirton/McConkie, counsel for City Creek Center, regarding the anticipated resolution and dismissal of Mr. Stiles' case," defense attorneys wrote in a motion filed last week. "Defense counsel was told that in light of these communications the state would no longer be honoring the informal diversion agreement."

State prosecutors allegedly told the defense that police and City Creek officials would rather see the state lose the case at a preliminary hearing than dismiss it, the motion states. If the case was dismissed as part of the plea deal, "press conferences would be held assigning liability on the (district attorney's) office and (Salt Lake Legal Defender Association)."

"The state clearly represented that it was under pressure to not dismiss this case, and that in light of the publicity a different resolution needed to be reached," the motion states, adding that it was also suggested that police somehow threatened Stiles.

The motion requests additional, specific information from prosecutors about these communications. Hamilton said he tried to be discreet about the issue in an initial motion as they understand the potential sensitivities and tried to avoid publicly discussing plea negotiations, but eventually had to outline the defense's request to obtain the information as the case moves forward.

"If these representations are true, then this is information that is essential for my client to have a fair trial," Hamilton said. "I don't know if these representations are true or not. I have to look into that and see if the representations made by the state regarding these statements are accurate.

"We are confident about what the state told us, but, unfortunately, we can't be confident about whether that's accurate."

Gill said an informal diversion agreement is "legal fiction." Generally, it is common for there to be a number of discussions about possible plea agreements, he said, but the prosecution team handling each case makes the ultimate decision.

Defense attorneys have also filed a motion to disqualify Gill's office, alleging that "newly assigned prosecutor" Heather McGinley violated state law by obtaining confidential information about Stiles from treatment providers and then sharing that with others in her office as well as other third parties.

Gill said McGinley is on his office's mental health court team and is working on the case with the lead prosecutor, Jeff Hall. He said his office will address the motions in court filings and before a judge.

"They're entitled to make their motions … and we will address them in court," Gill said.

A hearing has been set for June 6. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for the following week.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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1. procuradorfiscal
Tooele, UT,
April 14, 2014

Re: "The state clearly represented that it was under pressure to not dismiss this case . . . ."

Yeah. That's called victim advocacy. And, it's not only perfectly legal, the law requires that prosecutors communicate with victims of crime, and take into account their concerns in making prosecutorial decisions.

This is an absolute non-issue, though the criminal defense bar, which is not bound by the same code of ethics as prosecutors, will often attempt stunts such as this, to influence public sentiment in the hope of tainting the jury pool.

Sadly, callow journalists, anxious for a story, often fall for it.

2. I know it. I Live it. I Love it.
Provo, UT,
April 14, 2014

Lock him up for life.

I'm about as forgiving as it gets (at least in principle) in terms of the law and how we ought to punish criminal behavior. But to plan something like this is an amount of mental instability that I wouldn't risk or wager our safety on.

If you refuse to live peacefully in society, then you should be removed from society. My dad used to say "take them to an island and leave them there". I dismissed such as old fogey talk, but now I actually agree with him. We need to protect ourselves from within and not enough is being done about it.

3. play by the rules
SOUTH JORDAN, UT,
April 14, 2014

Crazies like this on the loose is all the more reason for conceal and carry.

4. FatherOfFour
WEST VALLEY CITY, UT,
April 15, 2014

Hamilton noted his client didn't own a gun and said police have confirmed that "if he tried to buy a gun, he would be unable to buy a gun."

Sure he could. I have bought four different guns (one in a gun store and two at a gun show) with nothing more than cash and a handshake. Usually I prefer to go through the classifieds in the newspaper. It is much easier to deal with a private owner, there is no paperwork, and they are usually willing to bargain or trade. I gave a mountain bike for a .357 S&W once. Most pawn shops will work with you a lot too. I bought a Springfield 30-40 Krag (I love old war rifles from the 1800's and early 1900's) and didn't even have to show ID. Yes there are laws they are supposed to obey, but many of them are pretty easygoing once you talk to them.

@play by the rules,

A Taurus Judge is my daily concealed carry. Bought it at a gun show in Louisiana with a handshake and a smile.

5. Kia Kaha
St George, UT,
April 15, 2014

Blaming this poor guy for scaring away the shoppers from City Creek Center. There were no shoppers at CCC to scare away. Friday nights were dismal before this man came on the scene. The Church is paying the stores at City Creek to stay closed on Sunday. It was never designed to recoup the billions in development costs. It was sold or given away to Taubman for $76 million, not $(5)76 million. Our poor brother has become a convenient scapegoat for the brilliant financial and development minds at PRI.