Utah police justified in death of man wielding sword, prosecutor says

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 04, 2014 1:11 AM

(Reuters) - A Utah prosecutor on Monday said police were justified in shooting and killing a 22-year-old black man accused by officers of lunging at them with a sword the man's family described as decorative.

Issues of race and police killings had been thrown into the national spotlight just weeks earlier by the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

A grand jury is considering whether to charge the white officer in that case.

Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman told a news conference that police were right to have fatally shot Darrien Hunt in Saratoga Springs in September, saying they feared he could use the samurai-style sword to injure bystanders.

"There were multiple persons that Mr. Hunt could have assaulted or even killed if he had been allowed to continue to escape," Buhman told reporters at the conference broadcast by television station Fox 13.

Authorities said Hunt lunged at two officers responding to a report of a man walking around with a sword, before he fled and was fatally shot by the policemen.

A private autopsy on Hunt showed he was shot six times, with no bullets entering his body from the front.

He was in costume as a Japanese anime character when he was killed, his mother Susan told the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper.

The sword had a dull, rounded blade and was a showpiece instead of a weapon, Hunt's family said through their attorney.

The Hunt family attorney, Robert Sykes, said on Monday that he would still pursue a wrongful death civil suit against the police department, Fox 13 reported.

"I think it's a whitewash. I think it's an exaggeration, and I think they ignored good, hard evidence to the contrary," Sykes told a separate news conference aired by the station.

Saratoga Springs, a mostly white community of 22,000 people some 30 miles (48 km) south of Salt Lake City, gained national attention when then Mayor Mia Love sought in 2012 to become the first African-American woman Republican elected to Congress. She lost, but is running again this year.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)