District attorney investigated for throwing out newspapers
UTAH–A statewide panel of prosecutors will make a recommendation to the state Attorney General about whether to file charges against a Salt Lake City prosecutor who confiscated and destroyed 80 copies of a free weekly newspaper in late August.
The panel was appointed after Salt Lake District Attorney Neal Gunnarson admitted to grabbing an armload of the Salt Lake City Weekly and throwing them in a Dumpster.
Gunnarson, who was the subject of a cover story criticizing one of his investigations, was seen taking the papers by a couple who reported the action to the paper’s managing editor, who in turn reported the incident to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Gunnarson allegedly took all the copies of the weekly tabloid off of the rack, throwing some in a nearby trash bin and others in his car.
In a written statement in early September, Gunnarson apologized to the paper, its advertisers and readers and the city’s residents.
“Although I was deeply offended by perceived inaccuracies and the misleading nature of the article … taking more than one paper was wrong and prevented the public from reading an article, however distasteful to me, which the public had a right to read,” Gunnarson said in the apology.
Although the paper is free, an owner’s statement inside the newspaper says it is limited to one copy per resident. Sheriff’s Sgt. Rod Norton said that normally charges would not be filed in such a case, but the high-profile nature of the incident makes it different. However, courts in other states have found in similar situations that taking more than one copy of a free newspaper can be considered petty theft.
Norton said charges could be filed by either a neighboring county prosecutor or by the state’s Attorney General. But because most neighboring prosecutors are closely associated with Gunnarson, a statewide panel of attorneys was assembled to make a recommendation to the Attorney General, Norton said.
Salt Lake City Weekly managing editor Chris Smart said the paper would file a civil suit against Gunnarson if no criminal charges are brought. He said there have been several other confirmed instances of the paper’s racks being emptied around the city, and fears that an “open season” on the paper might ensue.