While COVID-19 dominated attention in Northern Utah this year, crime and punishment took no back seat, as the area saw numerous homicides, police shootings and social justice protests.
The pandemic contributed to the troubles, as the court system became clogged as a lack of social distancing prevented murder trials. The homicide court calendars are backed up well into 2021 already.
Domestic violence charges soared nearly 20% statewide, likely influenced some by pandemic-induced job losses, other economic pressures and people cooped up at home.
Local authorities investigated at least nine murders, including the death of a police officer answering a domestic violence call, as well as five fatal police shootings.
Jan. 9, Ogden. Caleb Skipps, 19, a cook from Pleasant View, is charged with aggravated murder in a drug robbery shooting. Isaac Gonzalez, 22, of North Ogden, was killed.
Feb. 8, North Ogden. Two white supremacist gang members, Ryan Dash and Brian Jenson, allegedly killed Dalton Wood of North Ogden. Wood suffered handgun and shotgun wounds.
March 12, Layton. Kannon Beesley, 18, was shot to death in a fight over a bag of marijuana. Michael Jameel Hines, 29, is charged with murder.
March 14, Ogden. In a case that drew the attention of Black Lives Matter, Brandon Parker, 17, is accused of murder in the shooting death of his best friend. Prosecutors say the death of Caden Ferguson, 16, was intentional, but activists contend it was an accident. Parker is Black and the victim was white.
May 12, Ogden. Lopine “Chynna” Toilolo’s body was found near the river in Ogden Canyon, dumped there by her killer. Andy Dane Oketang Dennis, 36, her former boyfriend, is charged with the 33-year-old woman’s murder.
May 24, Layton. Ashlyn Black made a date with Ethan Hunsaker of Layton on Tinder. Prosecutors allege Hunsaker fatally strangled and stabbed Black.
May 28, Ogden. Ogden Police Officer Nate Lyday, 24, on the job for a little more than a year, was shot to death by a man during a domestic violence call. The shooter, identified as John Benedict Coleman, 53, died under return fire by other officers.
June 30, Riverdale. Two homeless men were stabbed in a transient camp behind the Lowe’s hardware store. One of them, Kyle Wolf, 26, died, having been stabbed 16 times. David Keith Wade, 28, is charged with aggravated murder.
July 1, Ogden. Prosecutors allege Sergio Arturo Chavez, 41, fired four shots at his estranged wife, Stephanie Louise Chavez, killing her, then shot at her friend as she ran away.
In additional to Coleman, at least four other men were shot to death by police in Northern Utah this year.
Aug. 8, Clinton. Roy police chased Aaron Michael Griffin, 21, of Plain City, after they tried to make a traffic stop. He shot at police and officers fired back, fatally wounding him. A Davis County Attorney’s Office review of the shooting said Roy officers’ actions were justified.
Sept. 15, Bountiful. Clay Reynolds, 27, was holding weapons in front of Viewmont High School and asked officers to shoot him, police said. He fired a shotgun and officers shot back, killing him.
Oct. 23, Huntsville. Authorities said Cody Hadley, 32, broke into a trailer and then ran at Weber County sheriff’s deputies, exchanging gunfire with them. Hadley was killed.
Dec. 13, Farmington. Utah Highway Patrol troopers and Farmington police were investigating a car theft when Robert Joseph Evans, 29, crashed into a police car. Police said Evans advanced toward them with a weapon and he was killed as police fired at him.
Two 2019 police shootings resulted in federal civil rights lawsuits this year.
Jovany Mercado, 26, was walking toward Ogden police with a knife, not heeding commands to drop it, and they fired.
A county attorney’s review found no criminal liability for the officers, but a suit by Mercado’s family alleges his rights were violated.
In South Ogden, the city and police face a similar lawsuit over the December 2019 death of Fredrick Jeremy Atkin, 42, after a low-speed chase.
The officer who fired the fatal shot was justified, the county attorney determined.
Mercado’s death and Parker’s arrest resulted in racial justice activism by civil rights groups in Ogden.
Advocates held several peaceful rallies in Ogden after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, demanding use-of-force policy changes governing Utah police.
The Utah Legislature passed several bills modifying some policies, including enacting a ban against chokeholds, but even so, Salt Lake City was roiled by protests and rioting after Floyd’s death.
This year saw a resurgence of jail deaths in Northern Utah, the most since 2016. Eight people died at the Davis, Weber and Box Elder county jails in 2016, sparking reform movements.
But in 2020, four deaths have been reported in the Weber jail, three at Davis and one in Box Elder, after a relative lull in 2017-19.
Since 2016, officials and Weber and Davis counties have launched programs to divert some low-level offenders from incarceration and funnel them into mental health and drug addiction therapy.
COVID BEHIND BARS
Also this year, the Weber and Davis jails have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks. Jail officials say they have taken all precautions, but social distancing is difficult in the close quarters of the lockups.
Civil liberties groups and inmates have filed legal actions, so far unsuccessfully, asking for even more accelerated releases of nonviolent offenders.
In notable federal court cases this year, former nurse Elet Nielson was sentenced to prison for spreading hepatitis C via drug diversions at McKay-Dee and Davis hospitals; two Kingston polygamist clan members and a California businessman where convicted in a $511 million federal tax scam; and an elderly Ponzi scheme convict from Kaysville, Robert Glen Mouritsen, pleaded guilty to defrauding fellow church members of $2.4 million.
In civil courts, citizen opponents of the Wasatch Peaks Ranch private ski development fought to take the matter to a referendum vote; and the Diesel Brothers truck builders in Woods Cross lost a major air pollution violations case.