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Crime-and-courts
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UPDATE: Pleasant Grove standoff suspect back in custody after brief release

Just over one week after Robert Sterling Clark was arrested after a six-hour standoff with law enforcement in Pleasant Grove, in which he allegedly fired his rifle at police officers, he has been released from jail.

Clark’s release sparked some pointed discussion around bail reform and highlights disagreement between the Utah County Sheriff’s Office and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt over how it was allowed to happen.

Following the disagreements, charges were filed by the Utah County Attorney's Office on Wednesday night and the Utah County Attorney's Office PIO Sherrie Hall Everett confirmed that Clark was arrested in Orem at approximately 10 p.m. Wednesday.

According to the Utah County Sheriff’s Office inmate lookup, Clark was released Tuesday after being booked for four charges of attempted aggravated murder, one charge of attempted murder, one charge of aggravated assault, and unlawfully discharging a firearm.

The incident began at approximately 2:40 p.m. on March 16, when Clark was reportedly holding a gun and shooting it into the air. He then allegedly shot the gun at his neighbor, and another caller reported having their vehicle shot at by Clark.

When officers were dispatched to the scene, Clark was seen on his second-floor balcony firing the weapon several more times, according to the probable cause statement.

As officers began to set up a perimeter around the house, Clark also reportedly fired several more shots at officers in his backyard.

The Utah County Joint SWAT team eventually arrived, using negotiators to try and convince Clark to exit his home. He reportedly told negotiators that he was prepared with a lot of ammunition and if officers were to enter the home, he would kill them.

The SWAT team later used gas in the residence to try and get Clark to exit the house, but it did not work. After an armored vehicle was used to breach the front door and window, Clark was arrested and complied with law enforcement.

Clark reportedly had not been taking his medication for his paranoid schizophrenia for the past several months and stated he does not trust the police because they “eat zombie flesh.”

The probable cause statement stated that Clark is a danger to himself and everyone around him, including people driving on the street, neighbors and police.

A request for no bail was made for Clark because of these violent actions and his unregulated medication.

Leavitt said his office had a certain number of days to file the charges against Clark, but that time can be extended in serious cases that require more work.

Leavitt said that a motion was filed asking that the custody status be continued until Thursday so charges could be filed.

“That is typically a routine motion that gets filed and gets granted,” Leavitt said Wednesday. “For reasons that we don’t know, the court, despite having the motion, didn’t call the case or even address the motion and instead ordered the defendant’s release. Once we learned that was the case we contacted the court, which was actually a different judge and that judge signed the order, but by that point, the defendant had been released.”

On Wednesday morning, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office put out a statement linking Clark’s release to a bail reform bill that has been repealed by the Utah State Legislature, and was signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox on Wednesday.

The bill involved people waiting on trials to be released if they could not afford bail and were no threat to fleeing prosecution. Leavitt has been outspoken in his support of the bill, while the Utah Sheriffs’ Association has spoken out in favor of the repeal.

Leavitt said that Clark’s release has nothing to do with bail reform, adding that it was due to a lack of decision by the judge that would have happened under any circumstances.

Clark was held by the first judge on no bail, then the second judge ordered his release. Leavitt said he believes the court made a mistake.

“I have no idea why the court did not call the case,” Leavitt said. “It had been filed, our prosecutors were ready to address it, the court just didn’t call the case.”

He said that Clark was not let out of jail due to the bail reform statute and if a press release is claiming that, it is factually an error.

UCSO PIO Sgt. Spencer Cannon told the Herald that Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith is under the impression that Clark was released due to procedures tied to the bail reform bill. Cannon added that while the county attorney may not believe or agree that it is tied to bail reform, the question remains, why is Clark out of jail?

The reason Cannon cited was the lack of charges being filed.

“If it didn’t have anything to do with the bail reform that let him out, then it has everything to do with the county attorney’s office not doing their job,” Cannon said.

He also brought up public safety, saying that law enforcement did its job by arresting the man and the County Attorney’s Office needs to keep him in jail to protect the public.

In a press release from the department, Smith said it is not acceptable for people who are a danger to themselves and to the community to be released from jail. He continued, saying that supporters of bail reform should be ashamed of the damage they are doing to the criminal justice system.

State Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, tweeted about the issue saying that bail reform is not the problem but that holding someone without charges is.

“This type of misinformation is so harmful to progress,” Stoddard said in a tweet. “The problem here is that the DA didn’t charge him in time, so the jail had to release him. Not a bail issue, it’s the simple notion that we don’t incarcerate people who haven’t been charged with a crime.”

Leavitt said that the attorney’s office is reviewing the charges, determining which ones to file, and once the charges are filed then a warrant will be put out for Clark’s arrest.

“I would imagine charges will be filed today,” Leavitt said when asked about a timeline for those charges.

On Wednesday at approximately 4:30 p.m., the Utah County Attorney’s Office said the charges against Clark had been filed. These charges included assault against a peace officer or military service member, felony discharge of a firearm, aggravated assault, and felony discharge of a firearm.

The next step in the process is to have a judge sign off on the charges and have a warrant put out for his arrest.

The warrant for Clark’s arrest was signed at approximately 6 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the County Attorney’s Office, and was given to the Pleasant Grove Police Department to carry out.

Clark was arrested at 10 p.m. on Wednesday following the charges being filed and a warrant for his arrest being issued.


Local
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The floodgates have opened: All adult Utahns eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

Wednesday marked the opening of the floodgates for all adults in the Beehive State to receive their COVID-19 vaccination.

Now, this may not look like people rushing into Best Buy on Black Friday to score deals on televisions and gaming consoles, but the equivalent predicament was experienced online last week as people attempted to snag an appointment in Utah County.

Spokesperson Aislynn Tolman-Hill said the Utah County Health Department was made aware of the change a week ago when the governor announced it. Appointments in Utah County are made available every Thursday, and Tolman-Hill said it did bring some traffic to the website following the announcement.

“Monday and Tuesday of this week were regular appointments or the current eligibility, and then starting on the 24th it was open to all that are 16 and up for Wednesday, Thursday or Friday,” Tolman-Hill said. “When we opened those appointments on Thursday evening, we did see events for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week fill up quite quickly. Within 20 minutes or less.”

The goal of this large-scale opening for eligibility was to keep the demand for the vaccine higher than the supply. While the supply is out there, it is coming in weekly which allows the health department to see how many it will get for the week and how quickly the appointments are booked.

Tolman-Hill characterized the high demand as a Catch-22. While people may get frustrated over not being able to get an appointment, the county and state don’t want to waste those vaccines.

“The reality is, there are thousands of people trying to get a very limited amount of appointments,” Tolman-Hill said. “Even though it might be thousands of appointments that we are making available, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people that are trying to get those appointments. That’s kind of what we have been dealing with each week, but I feel like we’ve done a good job as we’ve moved along the process of opening up appointments based on the governor’s guidelines.”

With the other moves from phase to phase, the demand for the vaccine slowed after the three- to four-week mark, which prompted the eligibility standards to be moved up. This was the case with the recent change.

The difference with this change is the number of people who will now be eligible. It will take a while for the vaccine to get out to all of these people, and Tolman-Hill brought up how critical patience will be.

For the most part, people are excited and grateful, according to Tolman-Hill, but she wanted to remind people who are frustrated that there are multiple providers of the COVID-19 vaccine, and people are not limited to the county they reside in.

“However, if you are able to get an appointment from the health department or another provider and you decide to keep looking, it is important that if you choose to go somewhere else you cancel your initial appointment,” Tolman-Hill said. “It can put other providers and ultimately someone else in a bind because you’re not the only one looking for appointments.”

Tolman-Hill said the demand is expected to stay high for a number of weeks, at least two to four. There are still a lot of unknowns, but Tolman-Hill did bring up that it is interesting to see some vaccine hesitancy as age groups have lowered.

“For the most part, with the data we are getting throughout the state, it is our understanding that probably 75% or more of adults plan to get the vaccine,” Tolman-Hill said.

The state and the county are committed to putting the vaccine into arms within seven days after receiving it. The interest of the population is continuing to be gauged as it is a fluid process.

The biggest message Tolman-Hill brought up was that everyone will get a vaccine if they want it.

“One hundred percent, we feel very confident that if you want the vaccine you will get your turn,” Tolman-Hill said.


Provo
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She's only just begun: Kaufusi announces bid for second term

Like carpenters and construction crews working on new developments across Provo, Mayor Michelle Kaufusi announced Wednesday she is seeking a second term noting, “We’ve only just begun.”

On Wednesday, Kaufusi announced she would like to see these projects come to fruition and was the first person in Provo to officially announce her candidacy for reelection.

Kaufusi, the first woman mayor of Provo and a fiscal conservative, has seen the beginnings of the new airport terminal, the development of a new city hall, growth at major city hubs, including downtown and from Mountain Vista Business Park at the very south of the city to Riverwoods shopping center at the north.

On Tuesday, she helped knock down the old Shopko building on the University Parkway signaling the start of construction at The Mix at River’s Edge.

Announcements that Provo Towne Centre is hoping to have some sort of new housing development as well and the new Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine, a redesign on the popular Timpanogos Golf Club (formerly East Bay Golf Course) and myriad other developments is a testament to Kaufusi’s desire to keep Provo strong and moving forward in the 21st century.

“We’ve only just begun,” Kaufusi said. “With an airport expansion, downtown transformation and infrastructure advancements, Provo is getting noticed for all of the right reasons.”

Kaufusi says she has shown she can keep Provo moving forward. However, the mayor said it is only the beginning and is now looking forward to the future.

Of all things, Kaufusi said she is running because of the people and what can be accomplished through the combined efforts of the residents.

“While we live in an amazing place with recreational amenities, educational opportunities, and a thriving economy — the secret sauce of Provo’s success is the people,” Kaufusi said.

Kaufusi said she is looking to the end of the current pandemic crisis so she can take the city to the people and meet with them again.


Govt-and-politics
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With Ainge gone, Utah County Commission looks to rescind property tax increase

It only took Utah County Commissioners Tom Sakievich and Bill Lee a week after their colleague resigned to schedule a public hearing to consider amending the county’s 2021 budget and rescinding a previously approved property tax increase.

In December 2019, the commission voted 2-1 to approve a 67.4% increase to the portion of property taxes collected by the county, giving the county an additional $19.3 million to fund various county departments and balance its budget after years of being in the red.

The increase was supported by then-Commissioner Tanner Ainge, who resigned on March 17 after failing to provide the county with post-arrival notice for his military training in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as former Commissioner Nathan Ivie, who Sakievich defeated in the June 2020 primary.

Both Lee and Sakievich have been vocal opponents of the property tax increase and argued that county departments should find ways to make cuts rather than increasing the tax rate.

After Ainge submitted his resignation, both commissioners quickly stated that they intended to lower the property tax rate.

“We have a lot of important issues facing Utah County right now, so it’s important that we have a new commissioner in place quickly as we work on lowering the county property tax rate, making board appointments, and administering new grant funding,” Lee said in a written statement on March 17.

In a statement provided to the Daily Herald on March 18, Sakievich said he will “continue to work on the issues most important to our county residents,” including “rolling back” the county government property tax increase.

During a commission meeting on Wednesday, Sakievich proposed the commission hold a public hearing to “open the county 2021 budget” and “adjust it to best meet the county government’s current and future statutory responsibilities and … continue to maintain a robust financial standing while reducing unnecessary taxes on county residents and businesses.”

Sakievich said the proposal was based on county revenues for 2020 that he said show that the approved property tax increase “is significantly higher than is needed and places an undue hardship on county residents and businesses.”

“In summary, opening the budget allows the county to use the next three weeks to finalize 2020’s revenues and expenses and plan for future statutory requirements,” the commissioner said.

Lee said he agreed that they should look at the budget again, noting that “I’ve been looking for an opportunity to reduce that tax rate as well, and this is our opportunity to talk about that and find the method that works best.”

The commission voted 2-0 to approve holding a public hearing “to consider amending the 2021 budgets in the County’s general fund and various other budgetary funds,” after which the commissioners “may amend the 2021 County’s general fund budget and the various other County budgetary funds, may revise the County’s estimates of revenues, may reduce the budget appropriations of county departments, and may transfer unencumbered or unexpended appropriation balances from one department in a fund to another department in the same fund.”

The town hall is scheduled for 3 p.m. April 21 at the Utah County Administration Building in Provo.

Ainge’s replacement will be selected by the Utah County Republican Party Central Committee, which has 30 days beginning Thursday to submit a name to the commission for approval.


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