Utah County prosecutors ask for help over deadly officer-involved accident, Summit County to decide if charges are warranted

Feb 1, 2022, 8:06 PM
(Wreckage from the deadly crash in Provo in March 2021, courtesy Provo City Police Department.)...
(Wreckage from the deadly crash in Provo in March 2021, courtesy Provo City Police Department.)
(Wreckage from the deadly crash in Provo in March 2021, courtesy Provo City Police Department.)

PROVO, Utah — Prosecutors in Utah County say they need a fresh set of eyes regarding a deadly officer-involved accident from last March.  They say there’s a potential conflict of interest. So, they’re asking the Summit County Attorney’s Office to decide if charges should be filed.

Deadly officer-involved accident

This particular incident is the death of Joseph Spencer, who was killed in a traffic accident involving a deputy from the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.  Investigators say Spencer was pulling out of a Taco Bell in Provo when the deputy slammed into Spencer’s car.  That officer was reportedly responding to a SWAT standoff in Pleasant Grove involving a man with a gun barricaded in his home.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said, “Despite the fact that police officer was in his own vehicle, he was on route to handle a call.”

Search warrants say the officer’s Toyota Tacoma didn’t have lights or sirens. And it was moving faster than the posted speed limit.

(Exterior of the Utah County Government Complex. Photo: Paul Nelson)

Conflict of interest

Leavitt has made charging decisions over other officer-involved critical incidents in Utah County before. So why can’t he do that now?  Leavitt says he isn’t the attorney for the Provo Police Department, or the Orem Police Department, or Lehi or American Fork, etc.  However, he is the acting attorney for all departments of county government, which includes the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.  Essentially, Leavitt says, he would be deciding if his own client should face charges. That could be seen as a conflict of interest.

“We make our decisions independently and transparently, and we want the public to have confidence in that,” Leavitt said.

He believes no matter what his decision might be, county residents would have serious questions about whether or not he’s the appropriate person to make that call.

He said, “If I charge it one way, I’m really limiting people’s confidence in the process because, quite frankly, I have duties on both sides.”

Summit County to decide

According to Leavitt, the investigations conducted by his office and all other law enforcement agencies involved have been finished.  Now, the case is being handed to Summit County Attorney Margaret Olsen. Her office will decide if charges should be filed, or not in the deadly officer-involved accident.

“If a prosecution is conducted, it will be done by Summit County, simply with our authority,” Leavitt said.

Officials in Provo say they’re not certain when Summit County will make its decision.


Related articles:

22-year-old student killed in Provo crash was hit by SWAT member headed to Pleasant Grove standoff

Case of BYU student hit, killed by deputy sent to other agency

Man in custody after barricading himself in Pleasant Grove house, exchanging gunfire with police, officials say

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Utah County prosecutors ask for help over deadly officer-involved accident, Summit County to decide if charges are warranted