Police union urges discipline for city councilwoman who criticized officers at protest

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

The Utah chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police is urging leaders in Cottonwood Heights to discipline a city councilwoman who confronted officers at a protest that ended in violence last year.

Ian Adams, the union's executive director, alleges Tali Bruce "continued to wade into ongoing assaults on officers and interfere with their ability to defend themselves and make arrests" at the Aug. 2 march.

"Her continued membership of your council is an embarrassment to the entire state," Adams wrote in a Wednesday letter addressed to the city council.

A day earlier, the Utah Attorney General's Office released a report backing how officers handled demonstration. Investigators in the office found police did not use excessive force and acted appropriately, but said the city's police department could have planned better when it came to coordinating with other agencies and communicating with organizers of the demonstration.

In his letter to the council, Adams urged it to censure Bruce or remove her from office altogether.

But at least one council member believes the power to boot her from the council lies only with voters.

"The only way she will be out of office is if she resigns or isn't reelected or chooses not to run again" in the November election, said councilman Scott Bracken, noting he was speaking on his own behalf and not that of the city. He declined to say whether he believes Bruce should face discipline, in part because he hadn't spoken about it yet with other city leaders.

Mayor Mike Peterson also declined comment, citing a lawsuit the city's facing over arrests at the protest. Other members of the council couldn't immediately be reached.

Bruce, who was marching with the group, confronted officers, spoke with homeowners and streamed video of the chaotic scene in the upscale Mill Hollow neighborhood.

She faces a criminal charge tied to her interactions with police at the protest but denies wrongdoing. She has pleaded not guilty to interfering with an arrest, a class B misdemeanor. She declined comment on Thursday.

Cottonwood Heights police have said a small number of organizers chose to react violently to their requests to clear the street and march on the sidewalks so that traffic could flow through. Several demonstrators, including the family of a man shot by police in the neighborhood in 2018, have said officers were the aggressors.

The police union noted Bruce had a tense exchange with one homeowner, and pointed out that another property owner originally declined to give her permission to remain in a driveway but did so after she identified herself as a councilwoman representing the neighborhood.

In video she captured at the protest, Bruce is heard asking officers why they were deploying Tasers and said she didn't have to move back after they directed her to do so.

She later said she was struck in the throat by an officer and shoved, nearly knocking her over, an allegation the state report found didn't occur.

The letter used harsh terms, saying Bruce's "bald-faced, self-serving lies" were determined to be unfounded in the state investigation done at the request of city officials. Adams called her actions "lawless and irresponsible."

"Back away, please. Back away," an officer says in the video she recorded. "This is a crime scene!"

"Yeah, your crime," Bruce replies.

Earlier in the recording, Bruce approaches Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robby Russo.

"Get out of the street or I'll arrest you," the chief says to her as he follows her while she retreats to the sidewalk. Russo mentioned something about sending her to jail before walking away after she told him she was on the sidewalk.

Russo is suing Bruce and the city, alleging she improperly worked with others to try to oust him. Bruce has countered in court documents that Russo and his employees harassed her after she questioned whether transferring the police force under the countywide umbrella of the county's Unified Police Department would help save money.

Adams said Russo was "wholly absolved by the investigation" and urged the council to recognize the efforts of police, including those injured in struggles with demonstrators.

"Take a stand for those that served you and your residents so heroically," he wrote.

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