Danielle Ahn is a Salt Lake City attorney taking on current Sim Gill to become Salt Lake County’s next District Attorney.
Danielle Ahn has a strong opinion about the ways in which far too many violent offenders are being released under current Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill’s office. These offenders are getting away without prison time, or even felony charges being brought against them. She says this is because the current City Prosecutors’ caseload is too heavy. They are short-staffed. She says they are also not receiving proper training to take violent offenders’ cases to court. There has been a 46% increase in homicide in Salt Lake County in the past four years. According to FBI data, the number of murders reported in Utah climbed from 50 in 2011 to 102 in 2020.
Ahn says the weakening of the Criminal Justice system in Salt Lake County started in 2015 since the initiation of JRI (Justice Reform Initiative). This initiative was pushed through the Utah State Legislature by Sim Gill, giving broader discretion to the DA’s office. Ahn took it upon herself to attempt to understand the policy as to why so many violent offenders are being released in Utah by filing a GRAMMA (Freedom of Information Act) request. Instead of receiving a policy letter that might explain how they prioritize cases, she received “180 declination letters”. Declination letters are simple explanations as to why particular violent offenders are not being charged with felonies and instead are getting out on probation.
According to Ahn, Salt Lake City has many criminals who have committed acts of murder and are getting off with probation. Steven Howard Scruggs-47– was released after hitting his grandmother while intoxicated, which lead to her death. On Nov. 26, 2019, at the Windsor Park Apartments, 1798 W. 700 North, Scruggs was involved in a gun incident where he was suicidal and he allegedly shot himself along with his girlfriend Leticia Smith. Before dying, Smith identified Scruggs as the person who shot her. Scruggs was released with a plea agreement, and four-years probation and is currently walking the streets of Salt Lake City.
Another offender named Nathanal Woody–49– pepper sprayed a few individuals in Pioneer Park the week of October 2nd. He was released. The following week Woody stabbed a victim multiple times in the face and neck with a screwdriver. The 65-year-old victim is currently in the hospital recovering from non-life-threatening injuries. Woody remains in custody in the Salt Lake County Jail.
Ahn says that while “some people are above the law, today we have a new class of people who are below the law.” She adds, “Violent offenders who often pray on lower-class individuals and homeless, are no longer worthwhile to prosecute and convict of major felonies.” While we have witnessed this happening in other states such as California, it’s now frequently occurring in Utah: violent offenders can get off, especially if the victim is poor or homeless.
Background And Growing Up Homeless at times
In 2004, Ahn and her family resorted to sleeping on the streets, after they were abandoned by their father. Ahn says due to this she grew up knowing “the Ramen diet” and sometimes being required to shower in Recreational centers. For periods of time, she was living out of her car and in people’s garages. She knows what it’s like to live at the bottom and how difficult it is to rise up and get out of poverty. “I’ve been there, and I found my way out.” Ahn says.
Ahn said that she eventually received her Bachelor’s degree followed by a law degree from the University of Utah, by having great mentors, who taught her that she could do anything if she applied herself. “
“With a belief that God will lead you to where he wants you to be. Ahn lives by the adage: “Every day you are alive is a win.” “As long as you work hard, keep trying, and persevering you will win.” She says she has a saying that her family lives by: ”Life is not fair, but God is good.”
Since 2019, Ahn has been practicing law as a Senior Policy Advisor to Salt Lake County Council Dea Theodore. Due to the necessity to make money, she has taken this position and she feels lucky to have it, but she says she would like to be doing more in the interest of public safety and to improve the legal justice system in Utah, especially for the poor and disenfranchised.
The Struggle to Assist the Mentally Ill in Utah
Ahn’s sister and father both suffered from mental illness. Neither of them received the needed special care because the current systems were not designed to assist those who suffer from mental afflictions, especially the poor. “The biggest problem is that social systems can’t help in a lot of these instances. One of the tell-tell signs that someone is suffering from bipolar disorder is that they will not accept treatment. I think we could be providing far more resources for outpatient care for those suffering from mental illness.”
Ahn says, “The jail is currently the number one mental-health treatment facility in the state. While in jail you will see a psychiatrist, you will get meds, you will get what you need. But generally, once you get out you would likely not see your psychiatrist or get access to your meds for 60-90 days.” Ahn adds, “There are no easy answers when it comes to mental health. There needs to be a holistic model.“
What Does Danielle Ahn want to do if she is elected?
Ahn’s goals are very simple she says:
- End plea deals for repeat violent offenders.
- Reforge a positive relationship with law enforcement.
- Give a voice back to victims.
She says that talking to victims, finding out what they need, and finding out if their rights are being represented is critical in improving the criminal justice system in Utah.
She also says that it’s critical that young prosecutors get training on actual prosecution, not just plea-deal negotiations, which is the current status quo. Internal peer-to-peer support would enable this to happen.
Ahn has received endorsements from Utah Senator, Mike Lee and Utah Governor Spencer Cox, and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes
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