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Chiefs and sheriffs across Utah dispute Salt Lake City’s stance on victims’ right to first aid

Posted at 9:47 PM, Jan 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-05 23:47:33-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Several leaders across Utah’s law enforcement community are disputing a statement made by attorneys for Salt Lake City arguing victims of violent crime have “no constitutional right” to receive first aid from police.

The statement was made as part of a court filing to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Ryan Outlaw, a man who died after two officers refused to provide first aid after he was stabbed and left bleeding in an elevator in 2020.

Officers Jadah Brown and Ian Anderson have both received medical training. At several points, they were seen on body camera telling Outlaw that they are “not paramedics.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Officer Anderson said. “We have medical coming.”

Many of the chiefs and sheriffs who reached out to FOX 13 News stated they did not want to comment specifically on the actions of another police department’s officers. Still, they were surprised when they saw Salt Lake City’s statement. They want crime victims to know officers will be expected to provide first aid if someone calls 911 within their jurisdiction.
“I think I had the same reaction a lot of people did. Really?!” said Chad Soffe, the former chief of Woods Cross PD. “In rural areas, there’s officers that have to do first aid for up to 30 minutes before the volunteer fire department comes... How can you say that victims – compared to suspects – don't have a right to first aid? A constitutional right? It doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t.”

Body camera video from the incident shows a moment in which the SLCPD officers questioned their own decisions.

“I feel like I should have grabbed my chest thing,” Officer Brown said. “There was just so much going on at that moment.”

Soffe said he believed Officer Brown was referring to a specific type of bandage often used for stab wounds.

“Yes. My former department? (All officers) had chest seals,” Soffe said. “It’s a blood clotting device that’s placed over an open wound that stops the bleeding. I’m pretty sure that’s what she was talking about.”

Acting chiefs and sheriffs who watched the body camera video indicated they did not want to comment on the specifics of the case but wanted the public to know all officers receive first aid training and clear expectations from their command staff related to first aid.

Roy Police Department

“My staff are trained and are encouraged to render first aid regardless of whether the injured party is a suspect or a victim,” said Roy PD Chief Matthew Gwynn. “We go through tourniquets routinely, we have trained on chest seals, wound packing, etc.”

Utah County Sheriff’s Office

“Never do you have the authority to take someone’s dignity from them,” said Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith. “If you were injured in Utah County, our deputies will be there to do everything within their ability to help you.”

Roosevelt Police Department

“I do have a general opinion that (law enforcement) as a service to the public should render first aid when possible,” said Roosevelt PD Chief Mark Watkins. “I am curious as to how (Salt Lake City) came to their conclusion.”

Farmington Police Department

“I’m a bit shocked at the stance,” said Farmington PD Chief Eric Johnsen. “Certainly not how we train or culture we subscribe to.”

Bountiful Police Department

“Once the threat is taken care of, yes,” said Bountiful PD Chief Ed Biehler. “We have a responsibility to render aid to people.”

Perry Police Department

“I’m not very familiar with (the SLCPD) case, however, it’s disheartening to hear anybody say that another human being doesn’t have a right to first aid,” said Perry PD Chief Scott Hancey.

Centerville Police Department

“I expect my officers to provide life-saving efforts whenever possible and within their level of training,” said Centerville PD Chief Paul Child.

Aurora Police Department

“As police officers, it is our duty to protect life and property,” said Aurora PD Chief Matt McLean. “In this circumstance, I believe that includes the rendering of first aid, up to the extent of one’s training as permitted by scene safety... It is my opinion that every person has the basic human right to adequate medical care regardless of race, gender, or custody status.”

Herriman Police Department

Chief Troy Carr declined to comment on victims’ constitutional rights but instructed a member of his staff to provide a copy of Herriman PD policy.

"It is the policy of the Herriman City Police Department that all officers and other designated members be trained to provide emergency medical aid and to facilitate an emergency medical response... Whenever practicable, members should take appropriate steps to provide initial medical aid."

South Jordan Police Department

Chief Jeff Carr declined to comment on victims’ constitutional rights but attached a copy of department policy via email.

"Our Code of Ethics includes language to safeguard lives," he said.

Soffe said he was not surprised to see acting chiefs and sheriffs who were hesitant to comment. He indicated he’s more at liberty to speak freely about the case compared to an acting chief or sheriff because he’s now retired.

“Other agencies don’t want to comment on another agency because they often help each other out,” Soffe said. “The politics is heavy... If (SLC Mayor Erin Mendenhall) calls the mayor of the city they work for and says, ‘Hey, your guy was on TV talking about us, and he shouldn’t have been,” then there could be ramifications there... You make a comment or two, or post something online? You could be out of a job within days.”

Gary Jensen, the former chief of Logan PD, told FOX 13 News he struggles with the issue because he spent 14 years of his career being dual-certified as a paramedic.

“Compassion would go a long way, but (if) they didn’t lead with compassion, that shouldn’t mean they are civilly liable,” Jensen said. “In fact, if they are given untrained emergency medical care and did the wrong thing – or did the right thing but not well enough – it could also create civil issues. It’s complicated, and I believe it’s hard to throw stones on this one. It’s a tragedy to put yourself in the officers’ shoes in this difficult moment. Being safe and getting the paramedics there as soon as possible is doing something for, and on behalf of, the victim.”

Jensen stated his opinion would not change based on the officers’ medical training.

“Going to a four-to-eight-hour first aid training -- and never using the skills you learn -- doesn’t inspire real confidence in one’s abilities in a serious crisis,” he said.

Soffe disagreed with Jensen’s analysis, citing good samaritan laws and how advanced medical training has become within the Utah law enforcement community.

“It’s not like we’re administering an IV or giving drugs to somebody,” Soffe said. “You were trying. You were doing your best. That’s what it boils down to, helping another individual that’s in crisis and suffering. If that’s just taking out a Band-Aid, and putting it on the wound? If that’s all you can do? Then you did something. But if you just stand there and wait? That’s really not very compassionate, and it’s not what we’re trained to do as police officers.”

Soffe said he thought the statements by Officer Brown and Officer Anderson to the dying victim “seemed inappropriate” given their level of medical training.

“When someone’s bleeding, you stop the bleeding,” Soffe said. “Why would we teach officers in the police academy first aid and then tell them not to render it when they get there before the fire department does? It doesn’t make sense.”

FOX 13 News also reached out to the state senators who represent Salt Lake City.

A spokesperson for Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, and Sen. Jen Plumb, D-Salt Lake City, said the two senators have “no comment indefinitely.”

“They do not feel comfortable commenting without first understanding the law.”

When asked whether Escamilla or Plumb are working to understand the law, we received no response.

Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, released the following statement.

“We place an immense amount of trust in our public safety officers, and we should expect that trust to be reciprocated in times of need,” Blouin said. “Failing to render care to a critically injured patient flies in the face of human decency, but in too many cases the laws of our state which the responding officers are sworn to uphold are unjust and must be reformed. I stand ready to work with willing parties including the law enforcement community and victim advocates to strike a balance that puts the interests of our community first.”

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Midvale, released the following statement.

“I think, legally, SLC is probably right,” Stoddard said. “There is no constitutional right to first aid. I would hope that first responders would always do what they can to help all people. And I think that’s true in most cases.”

In a statement, SLCPD previously stated its officers are “committed to preserving life.” The department also has a first aid policy. Attorneys for the Outlaw family say the policy was clearly violated.

Some question whether the latest statement related to victims’ lack of a constitutional right to “adequate medical care” is a result of a “disconnect” between the city’s attorneys and police.

Representatives for the city have declined to comment for the past 17 days.

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