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D.A. won't be charged for throwing out newspapers

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D.A. won't be charged for throwing out newspapers 10/06/97 UTAH--A statewide panel of city prosecutors in late October announced it…

D.A. won’t be charged for throwing out newspapers

10/06/97

UTAH–A statewide panel of city prosecutors in late October announced it would not charge Salt Lake District Attorney Neal Gunnarson for throwing away copies of a weekly newspaper.

The panel, which was assembled by the state Attorney General, voted 3-2 not to prosecute Gunnarson, who admitted in early September to grabbing an armload of copies of the Salt Lake City Weekly and throwing them in a Dumpster.

Gunnarson, who was the subject of a critical cover story, was seen taking the papers by a local couple who reported the incident to the tabloid’s managing editor. Gunnarson allegedly took all 80 copies off the rack, throwing most of them away while putting the rest in his car. He apologized for his actions several days later in a written statement.

Attorney General Jan Graham appointed the independent panel because most of the state’s prosecutors had working relationships with Gunnarson. Graham told The Associated Press that the panel was needed to “insure an independent and impartial screening of the case.” None of the five attorneys on the task force knew or had ever dealt with Gunnarson.

The panel could have charged Gunnarson with several crimes, ranging from criminal mischief to petty theft. The AP reported that Mike Junk, the committee’s chairman, said there was no one factor that led to the decision not to prosecute, but he did note that the paper’s racks advertise it as being free. An owner’s statement inside the paper, however, says it is limited to one copy per resident.

Junk said there did not seem to be any systematic effort on Gunnarson’s behalf to destroy copies of the paper. “It appeared to be impulsive,” Junk told the AP.

St. George city prosecutor Paul Dame voted to prosecute Gunnarson because he thought there was an intent to damage the property, the AP reported. “There is an argument that those papers should have been used for the purpose they were intended,” he told the AP.

Chris Smart, Salt Lake City Weekly managing editor, said the paper is still deciding whether to file a civil suit against Gunnarson. “We’re looking at it very closely,” Smart said. “We want to make sure it makes sense to file. These things are very costly.” (In re Gunnarson)