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Gay Man Acquitted of Child Kidnapping Holds Press Conference

On Sept. 25, David James “D.J.” Bell was acquitted on charges of burglary and attempted child kidnapping — charges on which he was arrested on July 4, 2008 after the family of the two children broke into his house and beat him and his partner, Dan Fair. The case shocked Utah’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and made headlines across the country in the weeks that followed, and in the weeks leading up to Bell’s trial this year.

Following the assault, Bell has suffered not only a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, but partial hearing loss in his right ear.

 

Ten days after the decision — and after taking time to rest and recuperate — Bell and his defene attorneys Roger Kraft and Susanne Gustin held a press conference at Gallivan Plaza. Following is a complete transcript of the 20 minute conference.

The following transcript contains extremely graphic depictions of the attacks against Bell and Fair.

Roger Kraft: The purpose of today’s press conference is two-fold: First, D.J. Bell is announcing civil law suits against the individuals who brutally attacked and beat him and his partner Dan Fair. D.J. Bell has spent the last year of his life being accused of being a child kidnapper and a pedophile. He spent six weeks in jail for a crime that he did not commit, and he will tell his story and he will have justice.

Susanne Gustin: Want to tell your story?

D.J. Bell: I don’t know where I’d like to start.

Reporter: Start at the beginning.

D.J. Bell: well, at the beginning I was out singing karaoke which is one of my favorite things to do, with a group of friends and myself. After leaving karaoke we had gone hone and were about to have a nightcap before turning in. And there was a loud party going on next door and during the course of the evening I noticed that my cat had gotten out. She’s my baby. I wanted to make sure she was alright. So I did what I normally do during that time, which is prop open the screen door with a patio chair and open up the main door to the hall. And I set out a can of tuna for her, because when she smells it, she comes running back home. And I wandered over to my neighbors’ house to ask them if they’d seen her and they said they did not, but I noticed they were singing as well and I kind of sang along a little bit with them and they invited me to stay. After hanging out with them for awhile and getting to know them a little bit and letting them know after six months of being neighbors that we had already planed to move, they said well it’s too bad you’re moving now, but then it all took a turn for the worse after I went home, pretty much to say good night. I was going to refill my drink one more time and walk back over and say good night to them. And after starting to walk back to my house with my glass in hand, I saw two children in the yard, in their yard. One of them, I think it was the little boy, asked, “Is that Kool-Aid? Can I have some?” And I said [chuckling], “You can’t have this one. This is a grown-up drink, but I can go get you some.” And I walked back over to my house and proceeded to refill my drink and fill tow small glasses for them. No sooner did I turn around from my kitchen with the door still wide open, and they were standing right there. So I reached out and handed them the drinks and the little boy finished his. The little girl didn’t quite, and she put it up on this wheelchair-height counter. So I grabbed both the boy’s empty glass and hers and put it in my sink and I turned around all of a sudden I saw [one of the children’s mothers] Lulu Latu standing right there outside my doorway, and she started screaming some vile obscenities. Demanding to know what I was doing with her kids. And before I even had a chance to even say one word, I as attacked. She swung at me several times, hit me around the head and neck, smacked me into my refrigerator where I started to fall down and see stars.

Reporter: So the kids were — were they in your house at any time?

D.J. Bell: They were standing in the doorway, yes. They were in the threshold of the door. But they were never actually in my house.

Roger Kraft: The door had been propped wide open and so it was accessible to the children. D.J. didn’t invite them in, he just turned around and they were in.

Susanne Gustin: And the tuna fish can is in the police photos, so he was correct about that, that both doors were propped open, and there was the tuna fish can that was ready for the cat.

Reporter:
So did you even know what hit you? I mean, what was going on in your mind?

D.J. Bell: I was trying to explain, I said, I was giving them some Kool-Aid. They were just enjoying a glass of Kool-Aid, and I was going to come over. Let me back track a little bit; as soon as I put the glasses in the sink, I turned around and told the kids, “OK, let’s go find your mommy.” And one of the witnesses in my home that was not interviewed actually heard me say that.

Reporter: So how do we get to this point?

Susanne Gustin: I think it’s poor investigation. I think the people of South Salt Lake need to ask their Chief, Chris Snyder, what went on in this case. There was absolutely no investigation on an aggravated assault, attempted murder, kidnapping case. The crime scene unit needs to be called out, you need to interview witnesses that were never interviewed. There were four people in the house that night in D.J.’s house that were never interviewed or had a follow-up interview, and that’s just unacceptable on this kind of case. They investigated like someone went and took a candy bar from the 7-11.

Roger Kraft: They accused D.J. Bell of going into the Latus’ house and removing those two children. They thought that, yet they didn’t show up to take pictures of the Latu household until three days after the incident. That is not how you investigate a crime scene.

Susanne Gustin: And the lead detective never even went into D.J. Bell’s house, and his house was a crime scene because that’s where the kids were recovered and that’s where all the beatings took place, so that’s just not acceptable and our homicide detective got on the stand and said that — that this investigation was horrendous.

Reporter: How has this changed your life?

D.J. Bell: I don’t trust like I used to. I have been ripped out of school where I was on the Dean’s List four out of six terms, and I’m now looking to getting back into school for architectural and interior design, and hopefully get back on the Dean’s List. But my whole entire life has been put on hold. What I’ve been diagnosed with is PSTD [sic] —post-traumatic stress syndrome — where any sudden loud noises in the middle of the night terrify me. I wake up screaming and my partner has to comfort me.

Reporter: Why do you feel it’s so important to file these charges? Why not just move on and get on with your life?

D.J. Bell: As long as the people who attacked me are still free, I’m not free.

Roger Kraft: And D.J. may have been vindicated through his trial, through an acquittal, but that doesn’t answer the question as to what happened to his partner Dan Fair, and why Dan Fair was so brutally beaten when he was not part of these events at all.

Reporter: Where was he at the time? He was just in the house —

D.J. Bell:
He was in the house, asleep in bed. He woke up to crashing and screaming and —

Reporter:
Where’s Dan now? We haven’t seen him at the funeral [sic]. Where is he?

D.J. Bell:
He is at work. Due to this ridiculous waste of time, he has spent so much time off work that he cannot take the time off. He is not able to take time off for another year.

Susanne Gustin:
And he has retained an attorney and D.J. and I will be meeting with a civil attorney this week.

Reporter: What kind of damages are you going to be seeking?

D.J. Bell: I think we’ll leave that up to the advice of my civil attorneys.

Reporter: Who are they?

Susanne Gustin: We know who they are —

Roger Kraft: We’re not prepared to name them right now.

Susanne Gustin: But we know who did what. And that’s clear from the 9-1-1 tapes and the police report. That was all there from the beginning. We knew who did what.

Roger Kraft: They’ve each retained civil attorneys at this point. Susanne will be assisting in the case with Dan Fair, and I will be assisting in the case with D.J. Bell in those civil charges with those civil attorneys because we know the facts of the case so well.

Reporter: When will they be filed?

Roger Kraft:
We anticipate very soon.

Reporter:
There are certain things that make it so you can’t actually, for example, sue officers for detaining somebody for a crime they didn’t commit. Do you think stuff like that might get in the way of the litigation? Because if they can prove that —

Susanne Gustin:
Well, they do have governmental immunity, but you know, police departments are sued all the time. And I’m not saying that the South Salt Lake Police Department will be sued, but there are ways if they’re not acting under color of law — or whatever it is, I’m trying to remember back to my law school days — then they can be found liable.

Roger Kraft:
We’re certainly not precluding the possibility of other entities being sued as part of this, besides the individuals who perpetrated this crime.

Reporter:
So the family for sure, maybe the police department, maybe the DA’s office maybe —

Roger Kraft:
Certain members of the Latu family will be specifically named. There are other individuals who may be named as John Does in the civil lawsuit to begin with.

Susanne Gustin: I don’t expect the DA’s office to be sued. I just do not foresee that. I’m not a civil attorney, again I don’t know, but I would doubt that.

Reporter: As far as the Latu family goes, is it the kind of thing where if they just say, “Hey look, we thought our kids were in some danger, and —

Susanne Gustin: Well, we can impeach them on that, because they went — she came back to the house carrying both of the kids and announced that these kids were next door. So the kids were right there. The other thing is they went over there, and one of them said, “Oh, I was just trying to rescue the kids.” Well, he kicks the back door down, and then he doesn’t look for the kids in the basement. He doesn’t look for the kids in any of the rooms or the bathroom, he proceeds to beat people up and then chase D.J. over three fences, so he obviously wasn’t looking for the kids.

Roger Kraft: One of the fathers specifically stated that he saw the mother come back with the two children and knew they were safe, and then proceeded over to D.J.’s house for the assault.

Reporter: Do you still stand by that you believe this was nothing short of a hate crime?

D.J. Bell:
I believe that it turned into a hate crime, yes, absolutely.

Susanne Gustin: Well, and some of the statements that were shouted — you can talk to the people that were there, and they’re over here and they want to talk about how South Salt Lake [Police Department] did not respond to their 9-1-1 calls ‘cause they continued to get threatened by the Latu family after this.

Reporter: Describe the beating again.

Susanne Gustin:
Yes, go into how they pulled you out of the house by your hair, and what they did.

D.J. Bell:
Once we started hearing the crashing and banging — well, Lulu grabbing her children and leaving —

Susanne Gustin: Tell what her threat was.

D.J. Bell: [chuckles nervously] I don’t know if it’s able to be spoken on television.

Susanne Gustin:
Can he say the threat and you guys cut it out? Edit it out? Just say what she said.

D.J. Bell:
As she was leaving the house, she said, “You guys better lock your windows and doors, because once my family finds out that my kids were here, they’re going to fucking flip out.” She basically said, “You’re dead” and called us faggot pedophiles as she left.

Roger Kraft:
And it was just a short time after that — they locked the doors immediately — and a short time after that that they began hearing their windows crash.

Susanne Gustin:
And then tell them what happened.

D.J. Bell: My partner Dan went to the front door where glass was being broken out, and to protect his home he kept pushing the hand that was reaching through out the window and sustained many cuts all over his arms and hands. And I was leaning up against the door that I had originally propped open for my cat trying not to let them come in, but I’m not that big of a guy [chuckles nervously], so they pushed it open and pulled me out. And in my carport there, I was thrown onto my face, where you see this scar [tilts his head up and indicates a scar on his chin].

Susanne Gustin: He landed on his chin full force.

D.J. Bell:
And once I was on the ground face down, someone put their knee in my back and continued — I had longer hair at the time — they continued to pull the back of my head up by my hair and smacked my head repeatedly into the cement. Which actually caused some permanent hearing damage in my right ear.

Susanne Gustin: They were standing on your neck …

D.J. Bell: Yeah, after having had my head repeatedly bashed into the cement they stopped for a second. Somebody put their foot on my neck and somebody grabbed my right foot and pulled my leg up as though I was being bent into a pretzel backwards. And at that point I started to get a little dizzy and nauseous. I felt something stabbing at my toe and it wasn’t like they were trying to slice at it, but they were digging in with something.

Susanne Gustin: And the DA tried to say that he sustained no injuries to his toe. Well, they’re not clear from the pictures, but it’s on the bottom of his toe. And if you want to take off your shoe and show them. Show the DA they got that wrong. He’s got a big —they were digging in with a shard of glass.

D.J. Bell: [removes his shoe and sock and indicates a long scar on the bottom of his foot] Scar right along there.

Roger Kraft: In addition to that, he’s got scars cross his chest where they took shards of glass and they just sliced across his chest.

Reporter: Was there a moment you thought, “This is it?”

D.J. Bell: [lifts shirt and indicates scars on his abdomen] Scars there.

Susanne Gustin: Scars here. They tried to slice his neck with glass.

Roger Kraft: [gestures to several places on the front and right side of Bell’s neck] There’s a scar here —

D.J. Bell: Three small scars here, and one on the side of my neck.

Reporter: So, were you fearing for your life at that point?

D.J. Bell: Absolutely.

Susanne Gustin:
They threatened to kill him.

Roger Kraft: Not just for his life, he was fearing for Dan because he could hear Dan in the distance.

Susanne Gustin:
Tell them what Dan was doing.

D.J. Bell: Dan told everyone in my house who had heard the beating start to get in our bedroom and get in our walk-in closet and shut and lock the door. He protected everybody else in that house but himself. And while he was doing that and trying to keep these people out of the home, and it was too late and I was dragged outside. After having my foot cut, I was thrown to the ground again, kicked several times in the stomach and in the sides, and at that point my head was lifted back up again by my hair, and I was expecting my head to be smashed into the concrete again, and it wasn’t. Somebody had picked up another shard of glass from the broken glass in the door and started stabbing me in the neck repeatedly, and when I turned they got me right here [indicates scar on the right side of his neck].

Reporter: So, what would be justice for you now?

D.J. Bell: That’s a hard question. I would like to move on with my life, but I also live in fear that I’m going to be attacked again. I would like to see those responsible incarcerated to where they can actually get help. I don’t mean just incarcerated, I mean counseling. Severe therapy.

Roger Kraft:
What you may not be aware of is a lot of the information that didn’t come out in the trial that we weren’t allowed to present was the criminal history of this family. It didn’t stop just with the felonies by the fathers. There were other members of the family who have been convicted of causing riots. They have been convicted of breaking into other individuals’ homes and doing very similar crimes to this.

Susanne Gustin:
And that’s public record because that was in the Deseret News where one of the fathers did the same thing. He surrounded a house with his buddies, they kicked down the doors, broke in the windows and then beat up the occupants with steel bars and trashed the house, which is exactly what they did here.

Reporter:
But you can’t get incarceration with a civil lawsuit, you can only get monetary compensation.

D.J. Bell:
Yes.

Reporter:
Do you expect any reaction from the DA’s office as far as criminal charges against these people?

D.J. Bell: I would like criminal charges to be pressed, I mean it is up to the DA.

Susanne Gustin: And I hope that they file attempted murder charges at least against some of these people. Because they did not leave D.J. alone until he was unconscious and they thought he was dead. He was lying in the driveway and there was blood coming out of his mouth and his ears, and the person who called 9-1-1 said, “There’s a dead body in my driveway.” They didn’t leave him alone until they thought he was dead, and you’ve seen Dan’s pictures. He was within an inch of his life, the doctors said. So we hope there would be attempted murder charges filed. I think that he’s willing to participate with the prosecution, but he would like that to be with a different prosecuting agency, I think they have a conflict of interest in this case.

Reporter: One big question is what happened that night? Because police don’t just go out and just, when it’s a he said/she said event — they don’t go out and say, I mean where there are people that are obviously victims on both sides or potential victims, a lot of the time they arrest both parties. I mean, what happened that night, do you think, that lead to you being the only one arrested?

Roger Kraft: Well, let me be clear: They had another individual in custody. One of the members of the Latu family was in custody in handcuffs before any other arrests were made. Once they talked to other individuals and found out there were children involved, they went with that story and that story only. They released that individual at the scene; he was never taken into custody.

Susanne Gustin: He was never interviewed afterwards. They had a prime opportunity. These guys were covered in blood. They’re going to have a hard time pursuing the assault charges because nobody ever gathered the clothing that had blood on it. A lot of the women were covered in blood, so we know that the women were inside the house beating Dan as well. And Lulu’s scarf was inside the house. They never gathered the scarf. We have the scarf, we have the frying pan with the blood all over it. So the investigation was just horrendous, and they’re going to have the same problems with the assault case because they didn’t seal the scene. They didn’t call out the crime scene unit, and they didn’t interview people.

Reporter: Can you put yourselves then in the prosecutors’ shoes? You’ve criticized them in the past as well. What should they have done differently? And now, as you say, with the egg already broken, what can they do to prepare?

Roger Kraft: Well, in all fairness, the District Attorney’s office was handed a case that was a shoddy investigation. They were given what was given to them by South Salt Lake. So this does not fall squarely on the shoulders of the district attorney, it falls squarely on the shoulders of South Salt Lake. That’s who blew it in this case.

Reporter: D.J., your memories of that night. Are they recovered memories?

D.J. Bell: Some of them. I’m still a little shaky on a lot of what happened after. I don’t remember much of what happened after I was even in jail for two to three days. I don’t remember calling my sister or my family, but apparently I did.

JoSelle Vanderhooft:
Can you speak to some of the stories that were going around shortly after in the news that the children were in the house, for example, taking a nap, or that they were lost and wandering around? How did those get started?

Roger Kraft: Well, nobody knows how of the rumors got started. We saw many of the blogs and posts, and they’re laughable. D.J. is the only one in a position to speak as to exactly what happened that night, because he was there. He saw it.

Susanne Gustin: And the people in the house are in the position, who were in D.J.’s house, and they were never interviewed, unfortunately.  But they are here to speak if you’d like to speak with them.

Reporter: Tell us how likely it is that South Salt Lake Police might be sued.

Susanne Gustin: That’s a possibility. Again, I’m not a civil attorney but that is definitely a possibility, because what they put this young man through for 15 months is unacceptable. I’m not being highly critical of cops because I realize cops are human and they make mistakes, but don’t investigate a case, don’t present it to the DA. Just say, “We wanted to enjoy our 4th of July and we blew it.” But don’t present a case like this to the DA.

Roger Kraft: D.J. doesn’t expect any kind of a windfall in a civil lawsuit here. All he wants is justice. He wants his story to be told. How do you compensate a man for spending six weeks in jail for a crime he didn’t commit? How do you compensate a man who has been accused of being a child kidnapper and pedophile for over a year? There is no compensation for that.

Susanne Gustin: We just want to prevent this from happening again. And that’s why I would ask South Salt Lake citizens to call their police chief and ask him what’s going on, because they were not providing protection to my client or any one at his house in the days after this as well. In addition to failing to investigate this case.

Roger Kraft: Everybody got enough?

Reporter:
D.J., is there something you would like to say to the Latu family if you could?

D.J.: I don’t really have much of anything to say to them. They’ve already destroyed a year and four months of y life. What do you say to somebody who does that to you?

Reporter: How about the apology that she said?

D.J.:
She asked for an apology?

Reporter: Yes.

D.J.:
Oh, I’m sorry. I must have not heard that. I must have been listening out of my right ear.

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