Cottonwood Heights family says police started conflict with protesters, later people rally to support the CHPD

Aug 3, 2020, 5:52 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:22 am
Cottonwood Heights family says police started conflict with protesters, not vice versa...
(From left to right, Tiffany James, attorney Robert Sykes, Aaron James and Cottonwood Heights Councilwoman Tali Bruce)
(From left to right, Tiffany James, attorney Robert Sykes, Aaron James and Cottonwood Heights Councilwoman Tali Bruce)

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS – The family at the center of a protest that turned violent in Cottonwood Heights say they police aren’t telling the truth about what happened.  They claim the officers started the violence, not the protesters. 

Officer say there were roughly 150 people attending the rally that started at Mill Hollow Park in Cottonwood Heights and protesters planned to march roughly a half-mile away, to the site where Zane James was shot by an officer in 2018.  Investigators say the protesters decided to walk in the road instead of the sidewalk, and when that happened, officers told them to get on the sidewalk or be arrested.  Investigators say the protesters didn’t have a permit to block traffic, however, James’ father, Aaron, sees things differently.

“The CHPD does not need to give me permission to drive down to the place where my son was shot,” he says.  He was cheered on by over a dozen supporters at the press conference.

The James family and their attorney have serious issues with the statements made by Cottonwood Heights Police Chief, Robby Russo.  They flay-out deny any claims that protesters had urine or pepper spray in squirt guns, and were shooting it at officers.  Tiffany James says the group had squirt guns, but that was only to keep each other cool in the triple-digit heat.

(Photo, provided by Robert Sykes, which he says shows people were marching on the sidewalk, as they were instructed.)

She says, “We had water guns that we were squirting at each other.  Everybody in this crowd filled those water guns with water.”

James says they tried to walk on the sidewalk as police instructed them to.  However, she says the group was then surrounded by police and boxed into a small area.  After that, she says the officers instigated the fighting, not the protesters.

“When this out-and-out violence started against people, the protesters, at that point everyone was like, ‘Hey, are we supposed to stand there and watch you guys do this?’  They had someone on the ground and they were hitting him with a wooden baton,” she says.

Their attorney, Robert Sykes, says the protest was hardly a “riot” like Russo claims.  Sykes says believes the police sparked the physical confrontation, and that they’re using a weak argument to justify their actions.

“[They’re] going to use walking on the street in a residential neighborhood as their reason.  That, to me, is a falsity that is so dumb it hurts,” according to Sykes.

Several other police agencies were called to back up CHPD, but Sykes believes all they did was intimidate people from speaking.

He says, “This was for people peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to speak.”

Protest organizers say they’ve planned similar rallies in other parts of the state, and police in those communities were able to keep a safe distance away while directing traffic around any possible closures.  They believe that should have happened in this case, also.


Hours after the James family held their press conference, over 100 people surrounded the Cottonwood Heights City Hall to support the police department.  They waved American flags, along with Blue Lives Matter flags while holding signs that say things like “Back the blue,” and “We Love CHPD.” 

(Some of the people waving flags and holding signs in support of CHPD. Credit: Paul Nelson)

Utah Citizen’s Alarm Founder Casey Robertson says, “The silent majority is tired of violence.  They’re tired of the potential of something like what happened last night in their own neighborhoods.”

Robertson says he formed the group after a shooting during a protest in Provo.  He says violence and vandalism are not effective in bringing about change, and that it really happens at the voting booth.

“Assaulting people in their cars, civilians shooting people in their cars, burning cop cars… I don’t really understand how that could possibly be effective in creating change,” he says.

There was a group of Black Lives Matter supporters holding their own rally at city hall at the same time.  After a few arguments broke out, the BLM supporters moved to a nearby junior high school at the request of the James family.



Police crackdown on Cottonwood Heights demonstration criticized as heavy-handed

Protesters arrested in clash with Cottonwood Heights Police

UN: US protesters, journalists need their rights protected

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Cottonwood Heights family says police started conflict with protesters, later people rally to support the CHPD