OGDEN — The Weber County man charged in connection with a March 23 confrontation with police that left him hospitalized with several gunshot wounds and his advocates plan to protest.
Jamal Bell, who says he suffered 11 gunshot wounds at the hands of three officers, and reps from Black Lives Matter Utah plan to demonstrate on Friday in Ogden. Their focus is the Weber County Attorney’s Office and what they say is the unfair treatment of Bell.
“It’s just a peaceful protest to protest the charges they brought against him,” said Lex Scott, the Black Lives Matter Utah leader.
Officers used excessive force in the incident, she says, and the charges Bell faces, including four felony counts of assault on a peace officer, should be dropped. The lives of the officers weren’t in danger during the confrontation, Scott maintains, and she decried “how quickly” the officers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing.
A Bell family representative, Luther Parker, said Bell, 28, would speak at the protest, but he offered no additional comment. The demonstration is set for 4 p.m. outside the Weber Center at 2380 Washington Blvd., where the Weber County Attorney’s Office is housed. Scott said she expects 20 to 30 protestors.
A representative from the county attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to a query Wednesday seeking comment.
Jacarri Kelley of Northern Utah Black Lives Matter, which is a separate chapter from Black Lives Matter Utah, said she supports the Salt Lake City-based group in its efforts to address “the civil injustice” Bell suffered. The Weber County-based group, though, isn’t involved in organizing Friday’s protest.
“This protest is strictly the SLC chapter and while we won’t interfere with another activist group’s work for any reason, this is not an event we are choosing to participate in,” Kelley said in a Facebook post.
Police were responding to a report of a domestic disturbance at the Harrisville apartment complex where Bell lived with his girlfriend at around 5:30 a.m. on March 23 when they encountered him inside his unit. Four officers in all responded, two from the Harrisville Police Department and one each from the North Ogden and Pleasant View police departments.
“Bell had two large knives, one in each hand, and what was described as a glare on his face,” reads the probable cause affidavit on the incident. According to the affidavit, his girlfriend was elsewhere in the apartment.
The officers, standing just outside the front door of the apartment, repeatedly asked Bell, who is black, to drop the knives and unsuccessfully tried to subdue him with a Taser. Their commands to drop the knives continued, unheeded, and when Bell started walking toward the officers, the knives still in his hands, three of them fired on him, injuring him.
Following the incident, the Weber County Attorney’s Office investigated whether the use of force was justified. A press release on May 28 from a legal firm representing the city of Harrisville, Snow Christensen & Martineau, said County Attorney Chris Allred would not bring criminal charges against the officers involved.
Instead, Allred’s office charged Bell with the four counts of felony assault on a peace officer, one for each responding officer. The threat of violence constitutes assault, per the language in the pertinent criminal code.
He faces a fifth count of misdemeanor criminal mischief for damaging property belonging to his girlfriend. Bell’s initial appearance in 2nd District Court in Ogden is set for July 1.
“This is the injustice at the highest level,” said Scott. She has said incidents like the March 23 confrontation underscore the importance of providing police with deescalation training, specialized training in how to handle and calm particularly explosive situations to minimize the prospect of having to resort to violence.
The planned protest comes amid heightened scrutiny nationwide of incidents and confrontations involving police and minority members of the public. Most recently in Utah, the Woods Cross Police Department has come under fire from some after an officer from the department pulled a gun on a 10-year-old boy, who is black, while searching for suspects around his grandmother’s home.
Turns out the boy, playing outside the home, was not one of the suspects, and protestors gathered on June 15 outside the Woods Cross Police Department, calling for the firing of the officer involved, who apologized to the 10-year-old after the incident. Black Lives Matter Utah also took part in that demonstration.
“I don’t want to hold these anymore. I don’t want to do it,” Scott said. She has worked directly with police departments and said protests are a “last resort.”
Bell, Scott said, is doing better, though he still can’t walk. “He’s feeling empowered,” she said.
Scott said the Ogden protestors plan to stick to public areas outside the Weber Center during Friday’s protest. They won’t enter the building.