This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Kimberly Hornak sent three teenagers to lockup for their roles in running over and killing a West Valley police officer with a stolen car, she ordered the boys to do more than just serve time.
Hornak ordered them to think of Officer Cody Brotherson every day for the rest of their lives. To remember him every time they see a police car and each time they see a man who is Brotherson's same age when he died 25 years old. And every time they see a gang member or see a crime, she told the boys to think of the slain officer.
"All he ever wanted to do was protect and serve his community," the judge told the boys Monday. "He died trying to protect the safety and well-being of the citizens of Utah. Citizens like you."
Brotherson was killed Nov. 6, when he was struck by a stolen vehicle in which the three teens were riding while laying down a set of spike strips.
Hornak recommended the boys be held in secure care for "as long as possible."
Because their cases were filed in juvenile court, the maximum penalty they can face is a stay at a juvenile secure care facility until age 21. How long they actually remain in secure care will be decided by the Youth Parole Authority.
The police officer's loved ones wept in court Monday as they described the man they've lost someone who was a loving protector, courageous, brave and funny. Brotherson's mother and aunt told of seeing the young man's battered body in the funeral home after he was killed.
He was draped in towels in an effort to shield the family members from seeing the damage the vehicle had caused. Only a small portion of one side of his face was visible. They were told not to touch him much, his body was so badly broken.
"The once strong arms, who gave the best hugs, I could no longer touch," aunt Tari Turner said. "... All I could touch was the right side of his face. It is something that does not leave my mind."
Jenny Brotherson, the officer's mother, said her son was the opposite of the three teens accused in his death. She called them "thieves" and "liars" and said they've never shown any remorse for causing her son's death.
"My son will be remembered as a hero," she said. "No one will remember who [the boys are]. But we will, because that is the fate they gave to us."
Brotherson's fiancee, Jessica Le, said that she loved that Brotherson loved being a police officer and noted her "entire world" collapsed on the day that he died.
"I would give anything to be able to see his face again," she said. "To hear his voice and his laugh and to feel his touch. I would give anything to have to do his laundry again and to put together his uniform again."
The three boys were charged in juvenile court with first-degree felony murder for Brotherson's death, along with car theft, failure to stop for police and other crimes. Last month, each boy resolved his case by admitting to lesser charges.
A now-16-year-old boy admitted to second-degree felony count of murder for "recklessly" causing Brotherson's death. Though one of the boys told police that this teen was driving the car that struck the officer, the 16-year-old did not admit to that in court last month. He did not speak in court Monday and hung his head as Brotherson's family members gave their statements.
A 14-year-old boy admitted to second-degree felony manslaughter, telling the judge that he was in the back seat of the car when Brotherson was hit. Prosecutors said the 14-year-old encouraged the driver to accelerate and lead police on a chase. He also declined to give a statement in court, though his attorney apologized on his behalf.
The third teen, a 15-year-old boy who is the brother of the youngest boy, did not admit to any charges directly related to Brotherson's death. This boy told investigators that he urged the driver to stop the car, but the driver did not. In court Monday, the boy stumbled over an apology letter he wrote to the Brotherson family.
"I will never get over this, hurting your family so much," the teen said. "... I wish I could go back in time to erase all this pain I've caused to you guys."
The attorney for the 15-year-old boy had asked that he be allowed to go to a "community-based treatment" instead of lockup. The other two attorneys did not oppose a secure care placement.
Brotherson's family members said last month that the penalties the young boys faced didn't fit what was taken from them.
The prosecutors did the best they could, Jenny Brotherson said with Utah's juvenile court laws but her family wants the laws changed to bring tougher penalties for juveniles who kill an officer while committing a crime.
Others involved in the case also argue changes should be made in the wake of Brotherson's death. Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Sandi Johnson said she wants harsher penalties and mandatory minimum sentences for those who flee from police and put others at risk
Defense attorney David Brown, who represents the 14-year-old boy, suggested that Brotherson's dashboard camera footage depicting his death be shown to teenagers in driver education classes or to those convicted of fleeing from police to deter similar acts in the future.
Brown said in court Monday that the crash was an accident and that his client thought they had hit a fire hydrant not a police officer.
Prosecutors, however, disagreed.
"Accidents are things you can't foresee that happen," Johnson said. "This was an inevitable circumstance that happened as a result of all of their choices their choices to engage in gang activity, their choices to engage in that gang activity where they were routinely stealing vehicles and fleeing from officers. It became a culture."
Authorities believe the boys were involved with a street gang. The 14-year-old boy, an acknowledged gang member, said in a statement that while he wants to change his life, it will be difficult because "gangs have been around me all of my life."
Prosecutors did not attempt to certify the three boys to adult court. The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify juvenile defendants unless their cases have been moved to adult court.
On the day of the fatal crash, a chase began just after 3 a.m., after police officers saw a silver BMW coupe with Florida plates that had stopped in the middle of an intersection.
They saw three people walk from the BMW to an apartment complex and watched the trio get into a Honda Accord and drive away, according to court records.
The officers tried to stop that vehicle, but the driver punched it on 4100 South, heading west. Officers threw down spike strips near Redwood Road, but that didn't stop the suspects.
Another police officer told investigators that he could see Brotherson outside his vehicle near 2200 West, trying to put down another set of tire spikes. Prosecutors said the vehicle was traveling at 70 mph when the driver swerved to miss the spikes and struck Brotherson.
The three teens also admitted to a number of other charges last month, including car theft, failure to stop at the command of police and possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor. They also admitted to charges in connection with a vehicle that was stolen two days before Brotherson's death, along with charges connected to a gang-related fight that day. One teen admitted to counts filed in connection with two fights he was a part of while he has been held at the juvenile detention facility.