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Lawyers in Salt Lake City watch as Tongan Crip Gang defendant killed in the new Salt Lake City federal courthouse

May 3, 2014

It sounds like a sensational headline, but it is factual. The new Salt Lake City federal courthouse was holding its first trial in which a member of a local gang, the Tongan Crip Gang, was being tried for racketeering charges. Whether the defendant came to justice is a matter of darkly suited opinion, but what happened in the courtroom that morning was out of an Old West movie scene. Siale Angilau, the 25-year-old defendant, was hearing testimony of about life in the TCG along with the jury and lawyers in Salt Lake City and all the rest of the court when he lunged at the witness stand, armed with a pencil, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune article found online here. He didn’t make it, though, and his attempted in-court assault was stopped with bullets.

A U.S. marshal in the courtroom shot Angilau roughly eight times in the chest; then, “Angilau then fell to the floor, and [a courtroom witness] said the marshal kept firing.” Spectators in the courtroom were ordered to get down and stay down, crawling beneath benches for cover. Lawyers in Salt Lake City—in and out of that courtroom—considered the impact this incident would have on their work with defendants, in trials, prosecuting in civil cases: all of them.

Apparently, Angilau had “promised to behave” prior to the trial, and had not been in shackles in the courtroom due to a traditionally held understanding that restraints could prejudice a jury in a criminal trial. The jury, having just observed a man gunned down and killed in a court of law, may now have more complex issues to consider and recover from than prejudice.

The new courthouse at 400 South and West Temple opened for business on April 14 of this year, and lawyers in Salt Lake City were anticipating nothing more than another venue for their daily work: representing clients in cases. Angilau was the first to be tried in the new courthouse, and his death at the hand of the public service officials in the courtroom is being considered an ill-omen for justice by some of the more superstitious public. (Although that demographic typically isn’t practicing law or adjudicating it, so, there may still be hope for the new courthouse).

Other public responses include editorials like this one in which the outcry contains concern for not just the safety of judges, juries and lawyers in Salt Lake City, but the violent assailants as well. “Where are the human rights and legal rights gurus, the church, education and social service agency spokespersons?” Arguing that the U.S. marshal should have shot to wound, and that the U.S. Marshals Service has been found—in a court of law, by a similar jury—to be a “racially hostile environment,” and hiring security officers without background checks, the letter writer laments Angilau’s and the public’s lost potential for justice in this case.

Whether Angilau’s criminal record and past violence merited his death at the hands of the U.S. marshal, is again, a matter of differing opinion. However, it seems that in one courtroom at least, his attempted assault on a witness during a trial did.

 

 

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