The scene outside the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, after the shooting. (Hugh Carey/Deseret News)
A criminal defendant standing trial in Utah’s new federal courthouse was fatally shot by law enforcement Monday after he allegedly tried to attack a cooperating witness.
A deputy U.S. marshal shot defendant Siale Angilau after he “rushed a witness on the witness stand in an aggressive, threatening manner,” the FBI said in a statement. Angilau was shot in the chest and died after being transported to a local hospital. The FBI said no one else was harmed.
U.S. District Senior Judge Tena Campbell declared a mistrial shortly after the shooting. She wrote in her order that Angilau was “shot several times” in front of the court and the jury, and that U.S. marshals continued to hold him at gunpoint while jurors were still in the room.
“The court has met with the jury and observed that most of the jury members are visibly shaken and upset by this episode. The court has been informed that the jurors will be interviewed by law enforcement,” Campbell wrote. “The court finds that this occurrence in the courtroom would so prejudice Mr. Angilau as to deprive him of a fair trial.”
The court referred questions to the U.S. Marshals Service, which did not immediately return a request for comment.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Utah, Melodie Rydalch, said the witness was on the stand when Angilau allegedly tried to attack using a writing instrument available at the defense table.
Angilau’s lawyers, solo practitioner Michael Langford and Mark Kittrell of Fabian & Clendenin in Salt Lake City, could not immediately be reached.
The shooting took place one week after the new 10-story glass federal courthouse opened in Salt Lake City.
Angilau was facing federal racketeering charges in connection with his alleged involvement with the Tongan Crips Gang, a group prosecutors claimed was responsible for a series of violent crimes. He was the last of several alleged Tongan Crips members charged in the conspiracy to stand trial.
Campbell’s mistrial order didn’t identify the cooperating witness Angilau allegedly attacked. According to court filings, Angilau’s lawyers had been fighting with prosecutors this month over testimony from someone identified only as a “cooperating witness.”
Angilau’s lawyers accused the government of discovery violations and asked the judge to exclude the witness, saying they learned of the government’s intent to call the witness on April 8—less than two weeks before the trial was supposed to start.
“Mr. Angilau’s initial investigation into the cooperating witness reveals a strong potential for prejudice against Mr. Angilau,” his lawyers wrote on April 11. “The cooperating witness has an extensive criminal history, a tenuous or third-party relationship to the defendant, a relationship with the Tongan Crip Gangs distinct from Mr. Angilau, and probable personal bias against Mr. Angilau.”
Prosecutors confirmed the witness was a former member of the Tongan Crips. They denied any discovery violations, saying they notified defense counsel months ago about their intent to use a cooperating witness, and had withheld the witness’ identity due to “safety concerns.”
In anticipation of Angilau’s trial, which began Monday, Campbell issued an order on April 18 barring all electronic devices—including mobile phones, cameras and laptops—in the courtroom. Court personnel and lawyers were exempted from the ban.
Campbell has overseen multiple Tongan Crips prosecutions. She was a federal prosecutor for 14 years before President Bill Clinton appointed her to the District of Utah in 1995. She served as the district’s chief judge from 2006 to 2011, when she took senior status.
When Campbell was nominated, she had tried more than 60 felony cases as a federal prosecutor. “That’s more cases than most lawyers try in their entire career,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said at the time.
A federal jury in 2011 convicted six members of the Tongan Crip Gang guilty under federal racketeering violations for crimes committed to further the criminal enterprise. The defendants were charged in 2010 for crimes—including robberies and assaults—that occurred as early as 2002, according to the FBI. Campbell presided over the trial.
The case marked the fourth time federal prosecutors in Utah used racketeering laws to target gangs. The government earlier prosecuted the King Mafia Disciples, Tiny Oriental Posse and the Soldiers of the Aryan Culture.
“It was time to make a federal case out of this serious conduct. The prosecution conducted over the last several weeks targeted the gang as a criminal organization and documented the criminal activity TCG members were perpetrating in Utah communities,” U.S. Attorney David Barlow said in a statement in October 2011. “While we likely haven’t heard the last of TCG, we are confident these convictions will have a significant impact on this gang.”
Updated at 4:29 p.m.