Police say tactics used in clash at protest in northern Utah were in self defense

A protester is led away by Cottonwood Heights police officers during a march Aug. 2, 2020, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Suburban Salt Lake City police on Monday defended their actions during a clash with protesters that saw the arrest of eight people, including the father of a man who was fatally shot by police two years ago in an incident that prompted the rally.

Protesters march Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

The father and his wife countered by blaming police for inciting conflict and ruining a peaceful rally Sunday intended to honor the memory of their son and bring attention to police brutality.

Officers used pepper spray, stun guns and batons during the arrests made after some protesters refused orders to keep the protest on sidewalks in the suburban neighborhood, Cottonwood Heights Police Lt. Dan Bartlett said.

He said police were kicked, choked and hit, sending five officers to a hospital with broken ribs, a broken nose and other injuries.

Several protesters were wrestled to the ground by police, including one man who was left with a bloodied face, according to images of the events.

The ACLU of Utah questioned what motivated police to “escalate a peaceful dance/rally,” and a left-leaning watchdog group known as Better Utah called for an internal investigation of what it characterized as a “gross overreaction” by officers.

A protester is handcuffed by Cottonwood Heights police officers during a march Aug. 2, 2020, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

Bartlett said officers were defending themselves after getting “jumped” by protesters who sought out a confrontation.

“It’s a shame that we’re put in these no-win situations,” Bartlett said. “Use of force is never pretty. It never looks good. And it’s disturbing to people, which we certainly understand. We don’t want want to be put in that situation … to get people to follow the law.”

The protest march was held in memory of Zane James, a 19-year-old white man who was shot and killed by a Cottonwood Heights officer in 2018 as he left the scene of a robbery. Police said they found a pellet gun in his pocket after he was shot and that James was suspected of committing two armed robberies. He was shot by the officer who said James was reaching into his pockets and clothing as he fled.

His parents, Tiffany and Aaron James, previously alleged in a lawsuit against the police department that their son didn’t pose a threat and shouldn’t have been shot.

A protester is led away by Cottonwood Heights police officers during a march Aug. 2, 2020, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

Aaron James was among those arrested Sunday on suspicion of riot, assault on an officer and interfering with an officer, Bartlett said.

James and his wife, Tiffany James, said Monday that police escalated the situation.

“This is exactly why we marched. This is exactly why we came together with this group of people. This is exactly why our son was shot,” Tiffany James said. “This is a culture of police power that is not community friendly and it needs to be addressed.”

Bartlett said he can’t comment on the lawsuit filed by the James family because it’s pending litigation.

Sunday’s rally began at a park in the community about 15 miles south of Salt Lake City. Protesters marched and danced into a residential neighborhood where the clashes with police occurred.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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