SALT LAKE CITY — A political firestorm erupted Tuesday following the death of former Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott last week.
Citing frustrations over the more than yearlong investigations into elder abuse of Ott, the county Republican Party called for District Attorney Sim Gill's resignation during a news conference outside the Salt Lake County Government Center.
"Sim Gill has both the power to compel and subpoena, and has no excuse for not having all the information available within a week of having the investigation in his office," said Jake Parkinson, chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party.
But Gill — who said his team gathered new information earlier this month during the open court hearing between Ott's family and Karmen Sanone, his former employee and caretaker — fired back, saying the party is "politicizing" Ott's death and that he won't be "held hostage" by a political party "because they want charges to be filed."
"The county GOP’s decision (Tuesday) to politicize Gary’s death saddens me," Gill, a Democrat, said in a statement, adding that "however distasteful or even immoral a specific act may be, not every bad act rises to the level of a criminal violation."
"If I were to bow to political pressure to bring criminal charges based on something other than the criminal laws as they are written, I would have failed in that duty," the Salt Lake County district attorney said.
Gill said his office "continues to investigate this difficult matter," but elder abuse investigations "can and do take substantial time and care."
"Although I understand the public’s frustration with what some argue is an open-and-shut case, in truth, cases of alleged abuse of a vulnerable adult, financial improprieties by someone in a position of trust, or violations of public ethics laws are rarely easy or simple," he said.
In an interview later Tuesday, Gill called the GOP's call for his resignation "unconscionable."
"The guy is not even buried yet," he said, referring to Ott's funeral planned for Saturday. "His family is still grieving."
Ott died Oct. 17 after his health troubles played out for nearly two years in headlines, with allegations that his Alzheimer's disease was being hidden and that he was taken advantage of by Julie Dole, his former chief deputy, and Sanone.
The two women continue to deny those allegations.
Last week, Ott's brother, Marty Ott, called for "justice," saying Gill has had a case handed to him on a "silver platter," alleging Sanone and Dole committed fraud and took advantage of him when he was in a vulnerable situation.
Had Gill's investigation played out faster, Parkinson said, Ott could have been better protected before he died in a St. George medical center. About a year ago, Republican party member Jeremy Roberts filed a complaint with the Utah Attorney General's office, but Gill later took the lead on the investigation.
"There is no excuse," he said. "It is completely inappropriate and highly unprofessional for Sim Gill to wait for Gary Ott's family to file civil claims so the (district attorney) could get access to facts for criminal investigation.
"It is deeply alarming," Parkinson added, "that someone as politically connected as Gary Ott (couldn't get) the protection (he) needed from Sim Gill. Residents of Salt Lake County must ask themselves: If someone like Mr. Ott can't get justice or protection … what hope would any of us have if members of our families or loved ones are in a similar situation?"
Gill said recent sworn testimony in the guardianship court case nearly two weeks ago by Sanone, Ott's doctors and others was "invaluable for our investigation," as well as the family's decision last week to provide his office with "additional medical and financial records covering a wider period of time than we were able to obtain by an investigative subpoena."
"We are hopeful our investigation will conclude in short order," Gill said. "Consistent with my professional obligations and duties, however, my decision whether to pursue criminal charges in this case will be based on the facts and the law, rather than the demands of any one individual or political party.”
The Utah Democratic Party issued a statement after the GOP news conference, saying, "Shame on Salt Lake County Republicans for trying to politicize the death of a great man and a dedicated servant" to Utah.
"This is particularly egregious, as Gary Ott was already exploited for years by people wishing to hold onto power," the statement continued. "District Attorney Gill is doing his job and is working within his legal capability to bring to justice those whom exploited Mr. Ott's illness for personal gain."
Dole attended Parkinson's news conference and was ready to defend her name to reporters, but in the same breath instead called for an investigation into Ott's death.
"I think it's a bad call for (the) GOP to call for Mr. Gill to step down," she said. "I think he's doing everything legally he can. Personally, I would love to see the investigations concluded a long time ago to clear my name, but even now I'd like to ask for an investigation into the death of Mr. Ott and how that occurred."
Dole said Ott died under a do-not-resuscitate order from the family, but that should have been Sanone's decision because Ott signed a document in 2015 nominating her to make medical decisions for him.
"Mr. Ott told me he never wanted a (do-not-resuscitate order), but … when he asked me to witness his advance health care directive, he left that in the hands of Karmen Sanone to decide, and the family decided that without consulting with Ms. Sanone," Dole said, adding she doesn't think Ott died of Alzhiemer's but pneumonia.
In a phone interview, Marty Ott called Dole's statements "absolute nonsense" and "absurd."
"It hurts me to give any acknowledgment at all of (Dole's) existence," he said, adding that she has no knowledge or "standing" to give her opinion on the death of Gary Ott, who died under medical supervision at the St. George care center.
"As his guardian, our intent and our charge was … his welfare (and making sure he) was looked after," Marty Ott said.
"The real tragedy for this disease is there is no recovery. There is no cure. When an Alzheimer's patient quits breathing, that to me is a blessing. … Their existence is torturous," he said.
Mary Ott said his brother died under a do-not-resuscitate order obtained by the family as his legal guardians, and it's typical that Alzheimer's patients have such orders.
Dole went on to say the county GOP booted her from the party on baseless accusations, adding that when she asked them for evidence, "they gave me a file of press articles and reports."
"Good for you guys," she said to reporters. "I'm banished from the Republican Party because of what you've written or what you reported. And all of those are just allegations, nothing founded."
Dole said she hopes Gill's investigation continues so she can clear her name.
"There is nothing I have to hide, nothing to be found, no wrongdoing on my part," she said.
Sanone later Tuesday also said she "welcomes a thorough investigation."
"I'm sure it's not going to turn up anything different than the other investigations," she said, pointing to a pair of Adult Protective Services investigations that produced "inconclusive" results because of a lack of evidence.