Assistant Utah solicitor general to run for Utah County attorney
Looking back at years of policies by the current administration, Jeff Gray feel it is time for a change. The longtime attorney and assistant Utah solicitor general announced Friday that he will run to become the next Utah County attorney.
Gray believes the Utah County Attorney’s Office, led by David Leavitt, is on the wrong path and that he is in a position to change it.
“Quite frankly, I have concerns about what’s happening at the Utah County Attorney’s Office,” Gray told the Daily Herald.
Gray mentioned a desire to have the office work more closely with law enforcement agencies and “vigorously prosecuting cases that they bring.” This would pair with more training for officers.
Gray works in the criminal appeals office, under the purview of Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak, as the Fourth Amendment search and seizure section director.
Leavitt was first elected to office in 2018 after then-Utah County Jeff Buhman opted not to run for another term. He had previously served as the Juab County Attorney for over a decade.
Specifically, Gray has issues with two decisions made by Leavitt — dismantling the special victims unit and choosing to no longer pursue the death penalty.
“It’s just vital that we have prosecutors that are trained and experienced in prosecuting those kinds of cases, and right now you don’t necessarily have any guarantee that that’s going to happen,” Gray said regarding the special victims unit dissolution.
The decision was met with some pushback from law enforcement officials in the county, but Leavitt stood by it, saying that there wasn’t a need for a specialized group. Reinstituting the unit, Gray said, would be one of his first priorities should he be elected.
Leavitt’s decision to no longer pursue the death penalty, announced in September, was met with national interest and shock.
“I think it’s a violation of his oath not to pursue the death penalty in appropriate cases,” Gray said.
He pointed to the Jerrod Baum case as a reason to keep the death penalty as an option. Baum, who is accused of killing two teenagers, plead not guilty to the murders. His trial is slated to begin in February.
Gray added that Baum “would be the poster child for the death penalty,” in his assessment of the case’s facts.
Gray also believes he is suited for the current climate, that many issues around criminal justice hit on the search and seizure aspects of policing — namely shootings and arrests. He believes additional trainings in the law can better prepare law enforcement for high-stress situations.
“We throw police officers out there in very volatile situations; it’s not easy to make those snap judgments. And it’s also not easy to always interpret the law, and we’re asking them to protect themselves (and) others around them and also be able to interpret the law,” Gray said. “It’s easy for us, or for courts, to sit back and say, ‘Well you should’ve done it this way or you should’ve done it that way.’ But when you’re in the heat of the moment, it becomes a lot more difficult.”
He believes better training is necessary for officers, partially to ensure there are not mistakes that could potentially threaten convictions, but still would want to work “hand-in-hand” with law enforcement.
Gray also alluded to a “small riot” in Utah County in recent years, referring to the June 30, 2020, protest in Provo in which a man was shot after driving his car through a group of protesters who were blocking traffic.
“While people have the right to demonstrate, they certainly don’t have the right to disrupt traffic and, you know, threaten the lives of people that are passing through and that’s the kind of thing that I would definitely prosecute — and I’m not suggesting that they didn’t. Quite frankly, I have no idea what happened with that.”
Personally, Gray feels he is best suited for the office due to his experience. He has 28 years working with the Utah Attorney General’s Office in a position to train officers on proper procedures surrounding the Fourth Amendment and has successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
He personally argued Brigham City v. Stuart and collaborated with then-Solicitor General Tyler Green in Utah v. Strieff. In both cases, the Supreme Court sided with the state of Utah.
Gray grew up in Mapleton and lived there while attending Brigham Young University for his undergraduate studies. He also graduated from Springville High School and the University of Nebraska College of Law.