It was the first trial in the "Borg Cube," the new federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. The defendant, Siale Angilau, allegedly grabbed a pen or pencil and rushed the witness stand. A nearby U.S. marshal pulled out his gun and fired multiple times. Angilau, 25, did not survive.
Now, word has emerged that there is a tape of the shooting, one which the district court, in the name of security, refuses to release. Does Chief Judge Ted Stewart have a point?
For a little context, this was the last of 17 Tongan Crips trials related to a RICO indictment from 2010. At least on paper, Angilau and his fellow TCG associates were not the most amiable folk.
So, when a U.S. marshal sees a defendant grab a writing implement and charge at a witness, the shooting is justified, right? According to the Department of Justice's investigation, which concluded in mid-July, it was.
But Robert Sykes, the attorney for Angilau's family, is looking into possible claims of excessive force. He told Ars Technica that there were eyewitness discrepancies on whether the marshal continued to shoot after Angilau hit the ground.
And according to the Salt Lake Tribune, some witnesses said that Angilau was trying to punch the defendant. Others back the previous accounts of Angilau carrying a pen or pencil. That too might make the difference between whether the four gunshots were excessive.
Tape Remains Under Wraps
Judge Stewart, citing security risks, refused to release the tape. D. Mark Jones, a clerk for the district court, told the Tribune that while tapes exist, they are not disclosed as a matter of policy.
"To have the identity of the court staff, the jury, the security there -- the probative value of having the tape for the public is so small compared to the security risk," Jones said. "It doesn't make any sense in our view."
Sykes disagrees, and is hoping to convince the court to at least provide a copy to his clients.
"The video doesn't lie," Sykes said. "We'd like to know what happened."