PROVO, Utah (AP) — Utah prosecutors announced Monday that officers were justified in fatally shooting a young man who was wielding a sword as part of a Japanese anime costume.
Two Saratoga Springs officers feared for their lives and the safety of others in the bustling shopping center where the encounter occurred when they fired seven shots at 22-year-old Darrien Hunt on Sept. 10, Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said Monday in a news conference.
The shooting has prompting accusations from Hunt's family that he was treated differently because of his race and that his actions didn't warrant deadly force. Hunt was black and the two officers are white.
The Hunt family plans to file a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit, said attorney Bob Sykes, who told reporters Monday that a jury would disagree the finding that the shooting was justified.
The fatal encounter was triggered by somebody calling in a report of a suspicious person walking with a sword in Saratoga Springs, a middle-class city south of Salt Lake City.
Police Cpl. Matthew Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson spotted Hunt and began having a normal conversation with him, Buhman said. Hunt said he wanted a ride to a nearby city but when they asked him to give up his sword, he refused and his demeanor changed. That's when he swung the 3-foot metal sword at them, Buhman said.
"This happened so quickly, violently and without provocation the officers had to use what was most immediately available to them, which was their firearms," Buhman said. He said the investigation uncovered no trace that race or ethnicity played a role in the incident.
The findings of the investigation were based on interviews with the officers involved and three witnesses, he said. Buhman said after Hunt was initially hit by gunfire, he fled and disobeyed orders to drop the sword.
"It would have been a matter of seconds before he could have reached someone else," he said.
Sykes disputed that account, saying it was unlikely that Hunt was aggressive.
"I think it's a whitewash. I think it's an exaggeration. I think they ignored good hard evidence to the contrary," he said.
The Hunt family hopes a lawsuit would bring changes in police training, he said.
"So many young men and young women are being shot down and killed by police officers improperly using deadly force," he said.
He said the sword Hunt used was decorative, but Buhman argued could have hurt someone.
At the news conference in Provo, officials showed the narrow, metal, 3-foot long sword.
"The tip is sharp and the blade, maybe it's not sharpened to Ginsu or chef standards, but it's sharp enough to cut," Buhman said. "It is not dulled."
Investigators don't know why Hunt had the sword or swung it at officers, Buhman said.
A search warrant released last week showed that Hunt had been fired from his job after he didn't come to work, and his mother had told him he needed to get a job or leave the house by the end of the week. His brother told investigators Hunt had been making and using a hallucinogenic drug and was "obsessed" with a girl on Facebook who wasn't interested in him, according to the warrant filed in state court.
The morning of his death, a friend said he posted a message on Facebook saying, "I have a sword and I'm going to get shot," investigators wrote.
An autopsy shows Hunt didn't have drugs in his system when he died of multiple gunshot wounds, including several to the back of his body.
Saratoga Springs Police Chief Andrew Burton said in a statement he's pleased with the findings, while recognizing that the ruling may not bring closure to the Hunt family.
"It is our hope that the community can now move forward in the healing process," Burton said.
Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.