The Cost of Snitching | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

June 30, 2010 News » Cover Story

The Cost of Snitching 

Rat Trap: The reward for telling secrets can be a long stretch in jail.

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“I didn’t want to be a victim”

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At a recent seminar, Hart noted, “Our instincts about overreaching by prosecutors are legitimate.” He asked the 60 defense lawyers in the room, “Is there coercion [by prosecutors] going on?” Many, Hart says, nodded their heads.

Miller finds such accusations irksome. “It’s clear [prosecutors] are expected to seek justice [not convictions]. I’m not going to apologize for being a tough prosecutorial office.”

Domestic-violence victim Alecia Belt wants more than apologies. She wants 3rd District Court Judge Royal Hansen to declare a mistrial before Aug. 16, when he sentences her partner, Charles Williams, after he was convicted of one count of assault and two counts of domestic violence on June 16, 2010.

Belt is the mother of four children, three of whom, she says, are Williams’. In a notary-witnessed statement given to Hansen’s court on June 21, Belt accused Salt Lake County domestic violence prosecutor Jaclyn Crawmer of forcing her to lie to the jury.

In her statement, Belt claims Crawmer and a witness assistant manhandled her twice into court, when she “dropped to my knees,” and told them she couldn’t testify against Williams because her partner had done nothing wrong. Her original May 2009 statement to police that he had kicked her and threatened her life was a lie, born out of “hatred,” she wrote in her notarized statement, at the way he had treated her that day.

Belt claimed in her statement that Crawmer threatened to arrest her if Belt didn’t “read my statement verbatim to the jury,” and later directed her on the stand through head movements “when I wasn’t saying the correct thing.” Belt admitted in her statement to lying to the jury. Crawmer, Belt says, “wasn’t out to protect my rights, it was all about her victory.”

Crawmer categorically denies Belt’s accusations. “Domestic-violence cases are hard, but ethical duties take priority. I didn’t threaten her.” She admits she is “totally blindsided,” by the attack from someone she believed supportive of the prosecution and empowered by it. Belt, whom she describes as “quiet and timid” when she first met her, while afraid of her partner, “came in [to court] very forthright, very willing to talk.” The day after the trial, Crawmer says Belt called her, frightened enough by a threatening Facebook message allegedly from Williams to file a police report. Then on Friday, June 17, three days before she swore out her statement, Crawmer says Belt was suspended from her administrative position at a local hospital after an external allegation, potentially in retaliation for her testimony, was made that she had violated Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations.

“I feel bad for her,” Crawmer says. “She’s desperate.”

As Belt’s 6- and 7-year-old boys play and her 10-month-old blond twins crawl around her chair in their small apartment, Belt insists she told Crawmer from the beginning Williams had done nothing wrong. “I didn’t want to be a victim. But she said she would do what it takes to convict him.”

A Beast Inside
On April 30, almost five months after he was arrested on a material-witness warrant, Rich put his testimony on the record for the preliminary hearing in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City.

A few hours later, he emerged from the jail into the sunlight, clutching a stained white duffel coat, a plastic bag with his hat and ID. His only other possessions were the clothes on his back—nylon pants and a T-shirt.

He stood on the top of the ramp, closed his eyes for a second and breathed. “It’s over,” he said. Then, he remembered he would have to testify again at trial. “No, it’s not.”

One thing he knew for sure, he said. “I won’t ever [snitch] again.”

That night, Rich hoped for a bed at the Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City, but shelter employees told him they were full. He had to call them every day for seven days, and at the end of the week a bed should be available.

As night drew in, the temperature fell quickly. Rich stood around the back of The Gateway at 9 p.m., clutching a bottle of water and a small bag of food.

“I’ll sleep under the bridge,” he said. It was better than being under the thumb of corrections guards. “You get treated like a beast inside and treated like nothing on the out.”

He walked away slowly into the neon-lit night, his gait stiff, almost ponderous, like an astronaut taking his first steps on a brave new world.

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