This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A year after James Barker was shot and killed by a Salt Lake City police officer, his friends are calling for more police reform.
Amid the Friday afternoon snowfall, about 20 people including members of Utahns for Peaceful Resolution, a group that formed in honor of Barker stood near the intersection of I Street and 2nd Avenue, where he was shot, holding photos of him and signs reading "No more." Standing in front, his longtime girlfriend, Heidi Keilbaugh, demanded change, including more transparency and de-escalation training.
Deeda Seed, a former city councilwoman, said at Friday's vigil that these kinds of incidents have always been a concern of hers, and even more so lately. "Really because in Utah, we experienced several of these tragedies where unarmed people are being shot and killed by police officers," Seed said. "And it really calls into question the kind of training that officers are receiving."
In the past year, Salt Lake City police have participated in de-escalation training, said Detective Dennis McGowan.
"Our training is always evolving because of the nature of what we do," including major incidents, McGowan said. Officers have also undergone more training related to handling dogs, after an officer shot and killed one while searching a backyard for a missing child in 2014, McGowan added.
Prosecutors determined Barker's shooting was justified, but Keilbaugh decried Barker's death as "unjustified. We now have a large hole in the fabric of our community, and it will never be the same."
On Jan. 8, 2015, Barker was knocking on doors and offering to shovel snow. When a neighbor called 911, he said the offer to clear snow was suspicious because the snow had melted, at least on his side of the street, and he believed he had seen the same man looking into car windows in the neighborhood one day earlier.
Officer Matthew Taylor responded to the call and approached Barker on the porch of a nearby house and questioned his purpose in offering to shovel neighbors' snow.
What happened next was caught on Taylor's body camera: As Taylor asks Barker to identify himself and challenges him to produce a business license, Barker initially offers to leave. But as the confrontation continues, Barker quickly grows upset and begins screaming. Taylor's hand can be seen reaching toward Barker, who jumps back and then swings his snow shovel at Taylor, breaking the body camera.
Taylor has said Barker continued to strike him with the snow shovel, breaking bones in the officer's arm and foot before Taylor shot him.
A new video, released Friday, shows more of the confrontation, after the body camera footage ends. The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office plans to examine the video, which did not factor into its prior decision.
Barker was peaceful, kind and neighborly, and "if this could happen to one of our most peaceful citizens," Keilbaugh said, "… I cannot stress this enough, it can happen to anyone."
"The degree of aggression that we witnessed by Officer Taylor before [Barker's] death was uncalled for, it was unprofessional, and it turned a peaceful situation deadly," Keilbaugh said. "We want these needless deaths of our loved ones … to stop."
Last year, Utah police officers shot and killed nine people; all such killings were ruled justified by prosecutors. That number is down from the 14 people shot and killed by officers in 2014.
Besides Barker, Salt Lake City police officers shot and killed one other man last year: Robert Richard Berger, who had broken into a woman's Liberty Wells home in October and stabbed her.
Friday's vigil was at least the second time people have gathered to honor Barker's life. In August, about 50 people arrived for the "Big Love Block Party" at the intersection where Barker was shot.