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Court hears appeal of dismissed lawsuit by family of man killed by Salt Lake police

By staff |
May 12, 2020
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Salt Lake City, UT - On May 6, the U.S. 10th Circuit heard the name Dillon Taylor for the first time.

Taylor was unarmed and likely could not hear Salt Lake City cop Bron Cruz when he was murdered by Cruz on August 11, 2014 outside a convenience store in South Salt Lake. The killing was quickly ruled justified, but the family filed a lawsuit roughly a year later. That suit was dismissed in 2019, and the hearing on May 6 was an appeal of that dismissal.

Gina Thayne, Taylor’s aunt and legal guardian, recalls how difficult it was waiting to hear anything about their lawsuit before it was dismissed.

“The report sat on [U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer’s] desk,” said Thayne, “and he let it sit there for three years, just to shut it down.”

The suit seeks settlement for the surviving members of Taylor’s family, including his siblings and cousins, two of whom-- Jerrail Taylor and Adam Thayne - were with Taylor when he was murdered. Cruz and two other officers were responding to a 911 call claiming someone flashed a gun. Cruz confronted and killed Taylor seconds after exiting his police vehicle. Thayne was not informed about Taylor’s death until hours later when she received a call from her son at the police station at 1 a.m.

After Taylor was shot, his brother and cousin were detained and questioned by investigators, ignoring the fact that they were not suspected of breaking any laws. They were held handcuffed, scared and confused, in a cold room for five hours. After repeatedly asking for answers, an investigator informed the young men that Taylor had died on site, and then left them sobbing for another 20 minutes before they were finally allowed to call home.

“I don’t know how to explain it, but when you lose someone to a tragedy like this, the pain just doesn’t go away,” Thayne said. “You live with it every day, and you learn to live with it, and you learn to go forward, but it never makes sense.”

Sadly, the financial burden of losing a loved one to police violence is a challenge that many families must face.

“We all had a lot of expenses, and it’s still been a lot of expense,” Thayne said. “People don’t understand this. If it hadn’t been for GoFundMe, I don’t know how we would have paid for Dillon.”

Thayne continued, “I think every family deserves a settlement, and unfortunately, that seems like the only way that we can get any accountability at this time. We can’t bring back our loved one. We’re never going to get [the police] to stand up and say, ‘We’re sorry.’” She added, “If enough of them pay, then they might revisit their policies, and things might change.”

Part of the waiting and Salt Lake City Police Department’s resistance to settling is explained by the fact that unlike many other police departments insured by outside sources, SLCPD insures themselves. Chief Mike Brown and then-Mayor Jackie Biskupski could have settled with the Taylor estate outside of court, but repeatedly chose not to do so. According to Thayne, this is because “they have the power and they know they have the power.” Yet she still feels that progress against police crimes, although slow, continues because of the persistent efforts of victims’ families and groups like Utah Against Police Brutality.

As for what might happen next, Thayne is tentatively optimistic.

“From a legal standpoint, under Utah law, the odds are against us, period. We are hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst,” Thayne said.

One thing remains certain, however: the fight for justice for Dillon Taylor will continue for as long as it takes. Thayne said that even after the case is settled one way or another, she will always continue to share Taylor’s story, fight for justice for victims of police brutality, and advocate for other families who have to face the future after losing a loved one to police violence.