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Pennington family's quest for answers over shooting stumbles

by Stephen Dark
- Posted // 2011-04-06 -

This afternoon in federal court, the struggles of Wade Pennington's family to find justice after what they believe was a wrongful shooting by a South Jordan police officer in 2009 collided with judicial disbelieve and their initially tongue-tied attorney.

St George-based personal injury attorney Aaron Prisbrey, representing the parents and son of Wade Pennington - whose controversial death was the subject of a CW cover Shoot First, late last year - found little if any receptivity from Judge Dee Benson for his theory that former District Attorney Lohra Miller and former DA's office investigator Michael Leary had effectively conspired to cover-up the alleged wrongful killing of not only Pennington but others killed in officer-involved shootings during Miller's term.

Judge Benson, who shifted from gently poking fun at Prisbrey to, by the end, almost pitying him, dismissed the claims filed by Prisbrey against Miller and Leary, although without prejudice, telling Prisbrey if he could find the facts to substantiate his claims, he would listen to him. Benson, "out of kindness," denied Miller and Leary's attorneys requests for sanctions against Prisbrey.

Despite much prodding from Benson at the beginning of the hearing, Prisbrey was unable to answer the judge's question as to why he had the right to sue her personally. Afterwards, Prisbrey commented, Judge Benson "brought up an issue I wasn't prepared to address. I didn't have an answer for him."

As the hearing unfolded on Miller and Leary's motions to dismiss the civil complaint, Prisbrey argued that he had information on three cases where "evidence had been covered up by investigators [at the DA's office]."

Benson summarized Prisbrey's case as being essentially that under Miller's tenure, police officers had "open season on bad guys. If they shoot them, they have no fear of prosecution." But Benson, describing such a scenario as akin to "a bad movie," said Prisbrey "had a theory in search of facts." Prisbrey complained "how difficult it is" to dig into the alleged cover-up surrounding Pennington's death, claiming that videos he had obtained from law enforcement through a records request had been redacted or edited.

The courtroom was packed on one side with Wade Pennington's extended family and friends. After the hearing, a stormy-faced Dennis Pennington, Wade's brother, expressed frustration with the situation. "We're a little disappointed," he said. But, he continued, their goal had been to "get this before a third party, let somebody have the facts and let the case move forward," and that had occurred.

Prisbrey said Benson "gave us a fair shake," while acknowledging "he took me to task a little." Next, he says, he and the plaintiffs would purse their claims against South Jordan and Officer Jared Nichols, the policeman who shot Pennington following a high speed chase.


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