OGDEN — The case will continue against a Harrisville man charged after he was shot by three police officers in March.
Jamal Samuel Bell, 28, pleaded not guilty to all charges at the end of a preliminary hearing that took place in Ogden’s 2nd District Court on Friday afternoon. Bell is facing four counts of assault against a peace officer, a second-degree felony, as well as one count of criminal mischief — intentional damage of property, a class A misdemeanor.
Bell was shot by police officers multiple times on March 23 after officers were called to the scene of an alleged domestic dispute. Weeks after the shooting, the Weber County Attorney’s Office released a clip from an officer’s body warn camera depicting the police shooting.
Bell was present in court Friday but took his attorney’s advice and did not testify. A number of family members and supporters also attended.
Among the three who testified Friday was Officer Nicholas Taylor, a member of the Harrisville Police Department and one of the three officers who fired at Bell during the March incident. Taylor told the court he was dispatched to the apartment building after a neighbor had reported a domestic dispute.
Photos of property and walls allegedly damaged during the domestic dispute were among the pieces of evidence presented to the court Friday. The woman in the apartment when the alleged incident took place also testified Friday, saying that a television, a vase and her phone were among the items broken or destroyed during the alleged dispute.
Taylor — whose body camera footage was made public a month after the shooting — said he arrived at the apartment and found the door had been forced open. He and another officer called out into the apartment, announcing they were police officers. After about a minute passes, Bell emerged from a hallway. At first, Taylor said it took him a moment before realizing Bell had a knife in each hand. He said that was when he drew his gun.
When asked why he drew his weapon, Taylor said it was because he “felt threatened.”
Taylor said he and the other officer backed up and gave Bell space when Bell walked toward them. Bell then walked back into the apartment, with officers following. The other officer at the scene at that time, Harrisville Officer Fredrick Mabrey, tried to subdue Bell with a Taser but only one probe hit him and the other hit the frame of the front door.
Once inside, Taylor said he saw a woman emerge from a back hallway. He said officers backed off the first time because they only knew that Bell was in the apartment. However, once they realized Bell, reportedly armed with knives, was standing between officers and the woman, Taylor said officers became concerned for the woman’s safety.
Taylor said he fired his weapon because, “I feared for my life.”
At one point during Taylor’s testimony, he described Bell as “aggressively” moving toward police officers, a characterization that caused a court onlooker to audibly scoff at the notion.
During a cross examination, Taylor estimated he was seven or eight feet away from Bell when the officer fired his gun. Prosecutors also played Taylor’s body camera video during the Friday hearing.
Also called to the witness stand Friday was Steve Zaccardi, an investigator with the Weber County Attorney’s Office. Zaccardi served as the primary investigator into the officer-involved shooting, and he said that the County Attorney’s Office investigates all instances where officers use their guns.
Using a digital mapping device called a FARO scanner, Zaccardi was able to map out the room and make estimations of how far away Bell was from officers when they opened fire. He estimated that police were between eight and 11 feet from Bell when they shot at him.
Zaccardi interviewed all three of the officers who fired as part of his investigation. While interviewing North Ogden Police Officer Ryan Watkins, Zaccardi said the officer believed that “he believed he was in danger and his fellow officers were in danger.”
Trent Wilson, a member of the Pleasant View Police Department who also fired gunshots, said Bell was “way too close” to officers when he and the others fired, according to Zaccardi’s testimony.
During closings statements, Bell’s attorney Shawn Condie argued that much of the evidence presented was in regards to the officers’ use of force. But that was not the issue at hand, Condie said. The issue was whether or not Bell assaulted the officers, which Condie argued he did not. He said that there could be other charges that could be bound over against Bell, but assaulting police officers was clearly not one of them.
Deputy Weber County Attorney Branden Miles argued that a threat of violence against the officers would be reason enough for the charges, which he argued Bell had done. He asked the judge to consider “the totality of the situation” when looking at the case, and he asked for the case to be bound over and proceed.
Ultimately, Judge Camille Neider ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the case to go forward, and she bound over all of the charges against Bell, prompting him to enter not guilty pleas.
Bell has not been police custody since charges were filed in May. His next court appearance will be for a disposition hearing, scheduled for Jan. 13 in Ogden’s 2nd District Court.