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tv   Frontline  PBS  November 23, 2021 10:00pm-11:01pm PST

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>> ...drop the gun! drop it! >> narrator: in utah, a record number of police shootings. >> he's got my gun! >> let go! let go! >> shots fired, shots fired. >> it's not just a problem in salt lake city. it's a problem throughout our whole state. >> narrator: "frontline" and "the salt lake tribune" investigate training. >> do not hesitate. >> gun gun! >> narrator: accountability. >> you want your officers to be the frontline defense for mental illness going untreated in the community? well, then there's going to be some bad outcomes. >> the bar of lawful conduct, in which you can use a lethal force is very low for law enforcement, but it is very high for prosecution for the purposes of
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accountability. >> narrator: and racial disparities. >> no justice, no peace! >> utah is 1.5% black, but in the last 10 years, our database shows black people made up 7% of poice shootings. >> narrator: now, as part of "frontline's" local journalism initiative... >> ...shots fired. suspect down! >> narrator: "shots fired." >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support is provided by the ford foundation: working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide. at additional support is provided by the abrams foundation, committed to excellence in journalism... the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more at park foundation: dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues... and by the frontline
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journalism fund, with major support from jon and jo ann hagler. and additional support from koo and patricia yuen. additional support for “shots fired” is provided by the hollyhock foundation and the john. and james l. knight foundation. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: in the summer of 2020, a group of murals went up in salt lake city. they included faces of people killed by police over the past decade. they went up amid the growing reckoning over police violence around the country and after salt lake city police
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officers killed 22-year-old bernardo palacios-carbajal. "frontline" reporter taylor eldridge retraced his steps from where police had been called to a nearby motel over reports of an armed robbery. >> officers stopped here. >> the officers see bernardo right there. >> narrator: the officers shouted to him. >> hey! >> show me your hands! >> narrator: and then ran after him. >> we have a male on foot, running fast. show me your hands!
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>> narrator: a sergeant arrived. >> drop it, drop it, drop it! >> show me your hands! he's got something in his pocket! >> narrator: the officers spotted something that turned out to be a gun. (officer running, shouting) >> so bernardo comes around the corner here, and the chase ensues down this alleyway. >> 521, white path, white lower coat over black coat! >> narrator: palacios-carbajal ran across the street. >> he's got a gun in his pocket, he's reaching in his waistband. drop it, drop it, drop it! >> as he's running, he trips on this curb here. >> show me your hands! >> narrator: he stumbled, dropped the gun, and picked it up three times. more officers arrived. >> drop it! >> narrator: the sergeant yelled to tase him. >> tase him, tase him, tase him! >> drop it! drop it! >> narrator: but instead... (multiple gunshots firing)
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34 shots. (sirens wailing) >> drop it, drop it! show us your (bleep) hands! (sirens wailing) >> 3420, we got shots fired. ♪ ♪ >> justice for bernardo! justice for bernardo! >> no justice! >> no peace! >> no racist! >> police! >> no one deserves to have their life taken away. they shot bernardo down like he was nothing! more than 30 shots to his body. 30 shots as he ran away! >> narrator: the killing of bernardo palacios-carbajal ignited outrage in salt lake
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city. >> what do we want? >> justice! >> when do we want it? >> now! >> (chanting): shame on you! >> why did they have to shoot him that many times? th was, like, my main thing that i kept, like, wondering, or asking, like, why did it have to be that many... that many shots? >> this is unfortunately where bernardo was shot down by the police. nobody deserves to die at 22. >> he left this world alone. like, he was laying on the ground, it was just him, by himself, just surrounded by cops. >> it's time for a change! (crowd cheering) >> new developments in the officer-involved shooting... >> that took the life of 22-year-old bernardo palacios-carbajal. >> narrator: the killing was ruled justified. >> the use of deadly force by salt lake city police was ruled justified. >> ruled the shooting was justified.
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>> narrator: the case became a tipping point here. >> this has been a case that we've seen a lot of public outcry. (people shouting) >> narrator: at the time, utah was on pace for a recordumber of police shootings, something the state's largest newspaper had been documenting. >> after bernardo was killed, it hit this tipping point where people were upset and they wanted answers. they were hungry for more information about how these shootings are happening. >> narrator: jessica miller covers the police for the "salt lake tribune." >> there are a lot of police shootings that happen in utah every year. we've seen this increase over time. it's not just a problem in salt lake city. it's a problem throughout our whole state. >> narrator: miller, her colleague paighten harkins, and others, had been building a unique database of every time officers fire their weapons at someone, even if they miss. >> in 2014, one of my colleagues did a story that showed over a
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five-year period, fatal police shootings was the second leading cause of homicide in our state. the police were killing more people than drug dealers and gang members. and then 2018, we had this record-breaking year, where the police shot at 30 people. those were big numbers. >> narrator: with cases mounting in the state, "frontline" and the "salt lake tribune" teamed up, and began trying to understand the patterns and factors that go into when police fire their weapons, fatally or not. >> bernardo was the 11th person who was shot so far this year. last year in 2019, we had three shootings by this time. >> narrator: there is no source in utathat tracks police shootings statewide. >> well, right now most of our data, right, is coming from the police reports. >> narrator: "frontline" and the "tribune" led hundreds of records requests. ♪ ♪ >> what record are you looking for? >> i requested a bunch of police shooting stuff. >> narrator: the team combed through court documents, 911 transcripts, internal
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investigations, media reports, examined body camera footage, and spoke to law enforcement officials, experts, and families. >> no warning to my son, he shoots him. >> narrator: 226 shootings, more than half of them fatal, over the past ten years. in some cases, the available data is incomplete and the numbers too small to draw broad conclusions. but as we began looking at the cases, the vast majority had one thing in common: they were ruled justified, just like the palacios-carbajal shooting in 2020. ♪ ♪ >> we declined to file criminal charges against either officer for his use of deadly force. >> narrator: no one has ruled on more of these cases than longtime salt lake county district attorney sim gill. after ruling on the palacios-carbajal case, gill
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reached his own tipping point, and called for reforms to state laws on the use of force. >> we need to start thinking about why we are shooting at our citizens. and to narrow the conditions under which we do that. there are times, many times, when those, they may be legally justified, but were they absolutely necessary? but those are not the questions we get to ask. >> narrator: instead, gill said he has to focus on a key question that arises in almost every shooting. >> if a law enforcement come across somebody, and the situation rises to a level where they feel threatened or feel that somebody else is going to be harmed, the law creates a justifiable use of that lethal force. >> narrator: out of more than 100 police shootings he has reviewed, he has filed charges against officers three times, though none of them led to convictions. ♪ ♪
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when district attorney gill declined to bring charges in the palacios-carbajal case, many in salt lake had had enough. >> what happened to bernardo is a nightmare. and it's the formula. black lives matter! >> narrator: lex scott is the founder of utah's black lives matter chapter. >> when black lives are under attack, what do we do? >> stand up, fight back! >> narrator: she has spent years raising concerns about police shootings, especially among people of color. >> it's the same exact process every time. the police officer claims he fears for his life. sim gill holds a press conference where he shows bits and pieces slowed down of the shooting. and then he justifies the shooting. and then it happens again, over and over. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: some of the cases that gill has reviewed and
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ruled justified include people who turned out to be unarmed. like the shooting of dillon taylor in 2014. >> it's a constant heartache no matter what, but when somebody dies of such a violent, horrific way, you can't make sense of it no matter how hard you try. >> narrator: dillon's brother jerrail was with him the day he was killed. >> me, dillon, my cousin adam, we were heading to see my mom and dad's grave. >> narrator: as the men were walking, a woman called 911, saying she saw one of them flashing a gun.
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>> narrator: officer bron cr responded to the call with two other officers. >> we walked in the 7-eleven. grabbed a couple of tall cans. and we walked out. >> narrator: cruz and the other officers were waiting for them in the parking lot, their body cameras running. >> we didn't think they were there for us. we didn't broke the law. adam went one way, dillon went the other. they went after my brother, who had his earphones in his ears. >> narrator: according to officer cruz's account later, dillon refused to stop or heed commands. >> get your hands out now!
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>> dillon doesn't think they're going to shoot him. we've had guns drawn on us our whole life, you know? so, nine times out of ten, nobody shoots, including the police. >> narrator: then dillon turned around. >> get your hands out! >> narrator: he made a move with his hand that cruz mistook for drawing a gun. >> get 'em out! >> narrator: cruz fired. (gun fires, people shouting) >> shots fired, shots fired. get me medical here now. hands, give me your hands. >> after he handcuffed him, he's patting him down and doing all that. >> what the hell were you reaching for, man? >> you can hear the nervousness on the body cam. >> i don't know where e other shot went, i can't, i can't find a weapon on him. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: that dillon didn't have a weapon wasn't in dispute when district attorney gill reviewed the shooting. the question was whether officer cruz had grounds to believ there was a threat, whether he feared for his life or others'.
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officer cruz declined to be interviewed. in his interview with investigators after the shooting, he repeatedly talked about the fear he felt during the encounter. >> the way he pulls his hand, he lifts his shirt up and brings his hand out. and the officer says that, "i reasonably believed that he was making a drawing motion." and, and at that point, the question was, was that reasonable for him based on the totality of the circum...? that was a very close call. and we said at that point, given what he knew, that it, that it was not unreasonable for him to fear for his life. >> but dillon didn't actually pose a threat. >> well, the officer certainly perceived it based on the information and the conduct that he was engaged in. he said, "this is the threat i perceived," so the question became for us, can we objectively say that that didn't happen? i'm not saying that he was right, what i'm saying is, i cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he's unreasonable in
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that belief. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: dillon's family filed suit against officer cruz and the department, but a judge dismissed the case, finding the use of deadly force "objectively reasonable." the shooting still troubles the salt lake police chief at the time, chris burbank, who has become an advocate for police reform. >> we failed. now, i'm not saying officer cruz failed. what i'm saying is, the salt lake city police department should have done better because a young man lost his life. >> narrator: of the 230 people we found who were shot at over the past decade in utah, 132 had a gun, 84 had some other kind of weapon, and 14, like dillon taylor, had no weapon at all, according to the law enforcement documents we reviewed.
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we asked former chief burbank about concerns over police shootings, now and during his tenure leading the state's largest department. >> if you start to evaluate shootings on whether or not they're necessary, you could argue that the majority of shootings are not necessary given the totality, right, the overall event and every circumstance, and why are we showing up? why are we not holding law enforcement ourselves to this question of, why are the police there in the first place? why are we calling them? why are we involving them? but we've established a culture that if for any reason you make me feel uncomfortable, i can call the police and the police come and deal with you. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: the issue came into sharp focus just a few months ago with the case of a man named chad breinholt, who had
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been killed in police custody. the shooting happened in the basement of the west valley city police department in 2019. >> how could it have happened inside the west valley police department? >> narrator: at the "salt lake tribune," reporters began questioning what happened. >> the police department releases the bodycam footage of this incident, and it's this, like, very highly edited nine- minute video. >> there's a gun in my shoe. >> okay, sit down. >> you will now see portions of the video that include officers taking the shoe from mr. breinholt. >> there's so much context that is missing, like, what led up to this? and it was just so different than any other shooting that we've covered. >> and the officer fires a single shot. >> we decided that we wanted to get the entire bodycam footage. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: after six months of appeals, the department gave the newspaper several hours of footage leading up to the
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incident. >> we just got the video for chad breinholt's case. the police are called to this long-term care facility where breinholt was at-- his girlfriend worked there. (car door shuts) >> the girlfriend tells the police that breinholt told her that, that he took all these pills so that he would die. >> they were just concerned about him being safe. >> but then officer atkin and officer matt lane decide to do a breathalyzer test. >> very quickly, the tone changes. it's not just, can we help this person? now this is a dui instigation.
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>> then they take him to the police department for a more accurate breathalyzer test. >> (sobbing) this is bull(bleep). >> they ask him for his name and he gives a fake name. >> ooh. >> they just keep threatening him with more and more charges. after about 45 mintues he falls to the floor. >> (coughs) >> narrator: the officers left breinholt on the floor for more than ten minutes as they waited for a medical crew to arrive.
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>> there's really no mention during any of this that he's suicidal or that he's taken pills. >> (chuckles) >> let's go, man. >> hey. >> narrator: by now, breinholt had been handcuffed, in police custody, for almost two hours. >> he wouldn't consent to a breathalyzer test. and so they needed to write a warrant, and that's when sergeant longman comes into the department. (video stops) >> i looked him up in our tabase, and i saw that he'd been in two other shootings. >> narrator: shortly after sergeant tyler longman arrived, breinholt told the officers he wanted to go to a psychiatric hospital known as uni.
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>> narrator: while sergeant longman helped to process the warrant, breinholt remained handcuffed for another 30 minutes. >> they know he doesn't have a gun in his pants, they searched him when they arrested him. >> (murmuring) >> a little more time goes by and breinholt starts messing around with his shoe.
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>> narrator: sergeant longman watches. >> narrator: and fires. (speaking indistinctly) >> (exhaling heavily) >> narrator: the west valley city police department conducted an internal investigation. >> (whimpering) >> narrator: and while they were critical of the way breinholt's arrest was handled, they said sergeant longman acted within department policy.
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♪ ♪ >> narrator: no one in the department would agree to an interview about the incident. breinholt's family has filed a federal lawsuit against them, alleging sergeant longman and the other officers violated his civil rights. >> let me say before the onset, that our team met with chad breinholt's family early on in the process. >> narrator: district attorney sim gill announced his ruling on the shooting last summer. >> our hearts go out to them, and we forward to them our condolences... (voice breaking) ...for the loss of their family member. sorry, these are just always tough... (murmurs) sergeant longman was faced with a deadly force situation in unless mr. breinholt wasle that, stopped, he would not stop grabbing officer atkins' gun from his holster.
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under utah law, and under the facts of the circumstances that we are at, i cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his belief was unreasonae. >> critics are gonna say that they get a handcuffed man who seems very impaired. why can't they use any other type of force to get his hands off that gun? >> well, and i think the critics would be right. i'm not saying that they wouldn't be right in that criticism. (voiceover): while this is justified under the law, this was something that was preventable. this was something that was avoidable. and that's why i struggled with it. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: the shooting of chad breinholt raised many of the issues we were seeing in our reporting. as with breinholt, we found 94 other cases where poli
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determined or family members reported that a person had a mental health issue, mental disability, or was suicidal. and, like sergeant longman, who'd killed two other people in his career-- both ruled justified-- we found 33 other officers had been involved in at least one other shooting in their career. >> police use of force is not usually some, like, well-thought-out discretionary decision, right? it's, like, an "oh, (bleep)" moment for most of us. >> our data here... >> narrator: ian adams is the head of utah's fraternal order of police. over the course of two interviews, we shared the data we collected with him and asked about the trends we were seeing. adams said that it's difficult to evaluate trends with data that only tracks police shootings, without comparing them to all encounters with police, even the ones that don't end in violence, information he conceded isn't availablen the
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state. >> the data around these things is so incredibly bad. >> mm-hmm. >> and that's a national problem. it's not a utah problem, but we don't have good single-source reporting, like across a whole lot of criminal justice outcomes, including police use of force. so, i don't know, and nobody does. nobody knows, nobody can tell you what drives, specifically, police shootings. we know that it's some combination of, there are crime effects. >> mm-hmm. >> but a lot of it's driven through contact, right? like, the number of contacts that officers have with the public. >> narrator: he also said the number of officers involved in multiple shootings doesn't necessarily indicate a problem. >> in your database, for example, is an officer who as a patrol officer, brand-new, rookie, got shot in the face with a shotgun and returned fire. >> mm-hmm. >> so several years later, he's in a specialty unit now that does violentugitive
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apprehension, which is a high- risk, specialized assignment within policing. and so he was involved in another shooting. what's the lesson there? well, i don't know. drawing broader philosophical lessons off of that sort of case is difficult for me. but so long as we're asking individuals to go into these situations, then we as a community have to accept the responsibility for those bad outcomes and stop pretending that it's an individual culpability problem, that there's something wrong with the officer. what do you want officers to do? frontline defense forto be your homelessness? do you want your officers to be the frontline defense for mental illness going untreated in the community? well, then there's going to be some bad outcomes. >> narrator: during our months of reporting with the "salt lake tribune" on police shootings in utah, there was another aspect to the issue we were trying to understand: the racial breakdown of people shot at.
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>> in this chart, the yellow lines are white people and the red lines are people of color. >> narrator: when we tallied shootings by race and ethnicity, we discovered that a third of the people shot at in the past ten years, 76 of the 230, were racial and ethnic minorities, though they make up only a quarter of utah's population. 48 were hispanic. 22 of them were killed, like bernardo palacios-carbajal, dillon taylor, and chad breinholt. >> and where utah really stands out is in its shootings of black people. so utah is 1.5% black, but in the last ten years, our database shows that black people made up seven percent of police shootings. >> narrator: over the ten-year period, 16 black people were shot at, nine of them fatally. the experts in crime statistics we spoke to said that to better understand these racial
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disparities, more data about police interactions overall would be needed. but when we shared the numbers with the current head of black lives matter in utah, rae duckworth, she said they reinforced the concerns she and others have long had. >> hearing those numbers, like, i'm 30, and, like... (sniffles) i survived 30 years of those numbers. and in a sad, sick way, it's inspiring to keep going, 'cause i survived 30 years of that, so... >> yeah. >> we are failing, utah is is failing, because we're just... (sniffles) we're not paying attention, we're not talking, we're not promoting changes. i have a daughter, and i'm a single parent, and i'm black, and i live here, and i stick out like a sore thumb. >> narrator: she has her own experience with police shootings. in019, her cousin, bobby, was fatally shot in wellington, utah. >> suicidal subject at the
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wellington pond in wellington. >> narrator: a family friend called 911 and said duckworth was suicidal and holding a knife. he'll just be on the other side of the track. >> what we see from the bodycam footage, the officer showed up, knew him from his case prior. >> this is not okay. >> so he had prior knowledge of who bobby was, knew that he was having, like, other stuff going on. >> what's the planere, man? what's the, what's your end goal? i'm not gonna shoot you, if that's what you want. that's the last thing we want to do, brother. we want to help you. >> narrator: after a few minutes, duckworth started approaching the officer from the field, knife in hand. >> put the knife down! i don't want to shoot you, but i will-- put the knife down! he's approaching, he's got a
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knife in his hand. put it down, man! it ain't worth it! still not listening to commands, still has a knife. put it down or i'll shoot you. put it down! (gun firing) (inaudible) shots fired, suspect down. >> it's just... (sniffles) i just wish i had a little bit more time so we could have had that conversation where i'm, like, "hey, you know, the police are dangerous," like, "the police might kill us, too." (sniffs) >> narrator: the officer who shot dkworth was cleared of any wrongdoing. in response to questions, the utah department of public safety objected to our comparison of the number of people shot at to their population size, saying it presents an "inaccurate depiction of law enforcement's
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contact with communities of color" and is "akin to having facts but not reaching the truth." they provided other data: arrest totals broken down by race, which showed similar racial disparity. while incomplete, they said this data was a better indicator of which utahans are at risk of being shot by police. but in the cases we reviewed, we found that police had also shot at people they had not been called to arrest, including byanders, and those experiencing mental health issues. and there was something else that stood out. over and over, officers referenced their training. ♪ ♪ >> our goal as law enforcement is to stop the threat. it's not to hurt someone, it's not to kill someone... >> narrator: police get their basic training in utah during
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16 weeks at peace officer standards and training, known as post. they spend time inside the classroom and out, and towards the end, go through five days of intensive scenario training. (gun firing blanks) "salt lake tribune" reporter paighten harkins and producer abby ellis were allowed to observe sessions over several months. >> what is the most important thing we gotta take care of when we first get to any scene? >> officer safety. >> officer and scene safety. >> narrator: sergeant scott lauritzen oversees the scenario training at post. >> (voiceover): the absolute most important thing is officer safety, so all of the other procedural stuff that they learn will be at their own individual agencies. and so we really highlight that officer safety issue. do we allow people to point guns at us? >> no. >> we go home. those that we're dealing with will go home if they choose to, right? but we go home, protect ourselves, protect our partners, protect those innocent bystanders. ♪ ♪
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>> was there anything that happened during the argument? >> hey! why are the cops here? >> narrator: the cadets are put through role-playing, from traffic stops... >> you ran that stop sign over there. >> narrator: ...domestic violence situations... >> (exclaiming) >> narrator: dealing with someone experiencing a mental health crisis. >> we have role players and an evaluator, we have guidelines in kind of how we want the role players to respond to certain stimulus that the cadets are giving them. >> is there a weapon behind there? >> you don't know. will our officer safety become laxed in these or will it become heightened? >> heightened. >> but what are you seeing? >> okay, so you're trying to be empathetic at the sacrifice of your officer safety. >> and so as we're going through these different scenarios, we're trying to get them to understand the importance of, if i'm going to be safe, i have to understand everything that's going on around me.
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>> narrator: the instructors push them to make life and death decisions. >> no, no, stop. you see the problem here? what happened to our officer safety? >> whyre we not recognizing that as a gun pointed at us? when you think of a gun being pointed at you, what do you think? you think this, right? do we think of this? or this, or whatever it is? is that what we think of? >> okay. >> and where's her finger? >> so would you have shot? >> no, it's not really hard. >> it's really simple. >> do you let a gun be pointed at you? yes or no? >> do you let a gun be pointed at your partner?
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>> then what's the argument? why is it so hard? >> you're in the wrong profession, my friend, if you can't live with that. how many of you have made that decision? one out of seven. you are three weeks from that being a real gun, a real bullet, a real death. and you don't know if you can live with that? wow. how many brothers do you have out here, how many sisters? they mean less to you than some mental subject. you go home, you soul-search, and you figure it out. and if that question hasn't been answered tomorrow, i suggest you don't come back. ♪ ♪ >> being a police officer, you may in your career be required to take a life. when you're faced with that situation, if you have not come to the reality that you may have
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to do that, and now you're processing through it, how effective is your decision going to be? so, yeah, absolutely. to put on this badge and to put a gun on your hip, to go into somebody's house to protect them, if you haven't made that decision that taking someone's life may be a possibility, it's too late then. >> we don't want to shoot people, okay? but who makes that decision? >> they do. >> bear with me for a minute. when you picture a criminal, what do you think? >> have you pictured somebody you love? look in the mirror and ask yourself, can i kill a kid? can i shoot a grandma? can i shoot a mom? can i shoot a dad? can i shoot a brother? because if you can't, it's not you that's going to get hurt. it's your partner. how many of you have been to an
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officer's funeral? (clothing rustles) how was it? >> did you know him? >> i didn't. >> how bad would that be if that was your partner and you knew that was your fault? >> narrator: over the past ten years, 15 police officers died on the job in utah, ten of them killed by a suspect. >> as you're walking the halls doing these trainings, there's this giant memorial to all the officers in utah who have been killed-- it's... it's massive. the wall is this physical reminder of what they learn in training. if you mess up, it means either your life could be taken or your partner's life could be taken. and you're taught you don't want your name to end up on this wall.
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>> you ready? >> yes, sir. >> all right, next up. >> narrator: many of the scenarios we observed would turn out to be worst-case, and end in a shooting. >> i heard shots inside, and i'm too afraid to go in there! >> narrator: like this one, where a woman calls 911 and says her husband and son have shot themselves. >> (knocks on door) police-- is anybody in there? >> narrator: it's not long after the cadets show up that she ends up stabbing one of them. >> hey, get off! bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! >> dispatch, we have an officer down, full medical. >> narrator: and her husband wakes up and starts firing at the others. >> bang! >> bang, bang, bang, bang! >> narrator: and this one. >> narrator: where a routine traffic stop turned into a hostage situation. >> oh, please, oh, my god! oh, my god, please! >> hey, get out here! (woman screaming, blanks firing) >> every situation that we send police officers in doesn't require lethal force. career, how many situations are
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they going to be in, let's say, in a 20-year career? thousands, right? but we only have these cadets for five, six days, maybe seven days at the most. so we have to take this experience of a 20-year career and condense that into a few days. and so we try and hit such a wide variety of scenarios to open their eyes to the possibility. (training audio playing on computer) (bnks firing) >> narrator: but the focus on worst-case scenarios has become increasingly controversial among experts in the field who are concerned about police shootings. >> the essence of what we would call fear-based training is the training on the possibility an action versus the probability of an action. >> i'm afraid to go in there. please can you go and check on him? >> narrator: randy shrewsberry worked as a police officer in
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multiple departments around the country. he now advocates for reforming police training. we showed him some of the scenarios we filmed at post. (blanks firing) >> part of the problem that we have resides in this scenario-based training, because it's this kind of endless exploration of what could happen, for which then officers, in, in every circumstance of their job, is feeling some level of threat. but the problem becomes, is, is that when you're reacting to anecdotes, or to situations that could possibly happen, you start to kind of create a narrative into the officer's mind which is placing them on edge. >> get on the ground or i'm going to shoot you! (shoots blanks) get down! get on the ground, now! >> but my hands are up! black lives matters, you guys know the drill! >> why did you shoot? >> because they're large guys, they jumped out of the vehicle,
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they're both coming at us. >> is this death or serious bodily injury? >> no. >> why is our gun our first resort? >> panic button. >> the reality is, is that policing is safe as it's ever been. so it doesn't match up to this disproportionate emphasis that we place when we're constantly telling officers that at any moment they can be murdered, at any moment that they can be killed. >> narrator: we brought these critiques to the director of utah's post program, scott stephenson. >> is it possible that by training with worst-case scenarios, cadets go out into the field with a heightened sense of paranoia, seeing threats where there might not actually be threats? >> i think it is a valid observation. but i do not believe so. how would you want us to train? if... if those situations are so
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infrequent, do you want somebody go in, going in without any type of experience at all? and if so, how do you expect them to perform? we put officers in, in ugly situations, we really do. and then we expect it to be perfect every time. if i can teach them in that situation where the potential outcome is a shooting, then maybe they'll try to avoid it. (man shouts) (guns firing) >> narrator: of the 226 shootings we examined, 107 involved at least one officer who had graduated from post five years earlier or less. post director scott stephenson said that kind of statistic needed further investigation. >> one, i want to know each situation. i want to know if it was a, a poor choice, bad decision. and then i'd want to interview them to find out, "okay, what in training did you gain, either in the academy or in the field training experience, that you
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relied upon to deal with that situation?" and then i could be able to, i would be able to segment and say, "okay, yeah, that was learned in the field training. so that's an area where we may want to focus." this were an unnecessary shooting, or a poor choice. then i would say, "okay, something in field training needs to be tweaked," and then you got to go, is it the field training officer? is it the culture? but if it's in the academy, then i can say, "okay, we need more hours in this area." that's how i would... that's how i would start to dissect that, that statistic. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: in 2019, in ogden, utah, four officers, each with less than five years of experience, killed jovany mercado in his parents' driveway.
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>> this is the original vehicle that got hit, it was parked on that side. >> narrator: his father, juan, and his sister ruby showed us the bullet holes that are still there on the front of their house. >> there's one, two... ♪ ♪ that's when they were shooting at him on the ground. >> narrator: juan waout of town the night it happened. his wife and children were inside. >> my youngest son just got out of the shower. otherwise, he could've possibly been hit. >> narrato jovany had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. and on the night of august 16, he started walking around the street with a knife in his hand. a neighbor called 911. >> ...gentleman that's at my house, he's got a knife. he's not making any sense. >> he's not making any sense? he just has a knife? >> he looks very confused, and
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then he has a knife pulled out. >> so he hasn't threatened anybody with it, or has he waved it around or anything? >> he's got it out. >> okay. >> and he walked into my driveway. >> narrator: four officers from the ogden police department responded. officer karson garcia graduated from post two years earlier. officer brandon sevenski aduated four years earlier, and had been involved in a shooting nine months before. he had a civilian ride-along with him, and had been directed by the department to respond to any calls that seemed interesting. and officer nigel bailey graduated from post one year earlier. he was training officer john poulsen, a probationary officer. the call wasn't in their assigned area, but bailey later said he thought it would be a good training experience.
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as the officers were on their way to the mercados' house, the family's home security camera was rolling. >> so 8:57, he was back in, on our side of the fence, where he should've been able to feel safe. >> he's turning back like he's talking to someone. but it's nobody there. it's like he's definitely having an episode. >> and from this point, he gets to the back part of the house. so that's where he was when the officers finally arrived. >> narrator: at 9:00 p.m., the four officers approached the mercados' house. >> drop it now! >> drop that knife. >> drop the knife, now! >> narrator: the officers shouted at jovany to drop the knife and come towards them.
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>> police-- drop the knife! >> narrator: knife still in hand, he started walking towards the gate. >> drop it! drop that knife! (guns firing) (man moaning) shots fired. stay back! stay back! >> they went straight for lethal force. >> my son didn't step one foot outside of his own property when they shot him dead. >> yeah. >> it blows my mind. ♪ ♪ (talking in background)
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>> narrator: all four officers were cleared of any wrongdoing. the department declined to speak to us, citing ongoing civil litigation by the mercado family. in the investigative report, bailey recalled a training scenario he'd done at post a year before that involved a suspect with a knife. in the scenario, when the cadets tried to retreat and not use force, one was taken hostage >> what's your name? >> just leave, i don't want to tell you that, get out! >> narrator: ian adams of the fraternal order of police said there are specific reasons why recently graduated officers might be involved in shootings. >> in policing, the traditional professional progression here, you come out of post and you go to patrol for thfirst five to seven years of your career, and then there's a chance at that point usually to proceed into an investigative spot off the street. well, where do the majority of shootings occur? they occur in patrol, not a property crimes detective, not a
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training officer, not somebody working in a school. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: in recent months, utah lawmakers have begun making some changes. they passed bills that provide more de-escalation and mental health training to police, and require agencies to collect more data on use of force, including every time an officer points a weapon at someone. >> data is critical, because if you and i can't honestly look at what the topography, what the reality of what we're trying to address is, then we don't know what we need to do to make that change. >> narrator: district attorney sim gill is still advocating for changes to the laws arnd police shootings. >> what do you say to people who might say the lack of accountability is contributing
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to this problem? >> i think the lack of accountability is the by-product of the structure we have. the lack of accountability is the by-product of the standards that we have set. there are many men and women in law enforcement who do their job honorably and with great deference to protecting our community. but the integrity of a system is not measured by the 98 that i may find justified. it's our ability to hold accountable in a meaningful way that one officer that does not follow the law. what is the moral expectation of our citizens? what do they expect from law enforcement? that question really is, do we have both the societal will and the political will to do something different? >> narrator: as of early
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november, there were 26 police shootings in utah this year, similar to 2020's record pace. ♪ ♪ >> go to for the latest reporting with our partner "the salt lake tribune." >> it's not just a problem in salt lake city. it's a problem throughout our whole state. >> and to read more from other news organizations at our local journalism initiative. >> visit the frontline archive where you can stream more than 300 documentaries. connect with frontline on facebook, instagram and twitter. and watch anytime on the pbs video app, youtube or >> my dad got laidff. >> it's tough because my mom and dad are poor. >> i live in a shelter. i wish i never lived here.
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>> my mom kind of made a wrong turn. >> i'm hungry. >> i know so am i. >> i think when i get older things are going to get harder than they are now. >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support is provided by the ford foundation: working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide. at additional support is provided by the abrams foundation, committed to excellence in journalism... the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more at park foundation: dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues... and by the frontline journalism fund, with major support from jon and jo ann hagler. and additional support from koo
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and patricia yuen. additional support for “shots fired” is provided by the hollyhock foundation and the john s. and james l. knight foundation. captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other "frontline" programs, visit our website at ♪ ♪ frontline's, "shots fired" is available on amazon prime video. ♪ ♪
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