Family of Utah man killed by police files lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: Jan 02, 2015 8:14 PM
Family of Utah man killed by police files lawsuit

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The family of a young Utah man killed by police while wielding a samurai sword filed a civil rights lawsuit Friday against the officers and the city that employs them.

The federal lawsuit seeks more than $2 million in damages, family attorney Robert Sykes said. It contends that Darrien Hunt, 22, wasn't a threat and was fatally shot after he tripped while running from two Saratoga Springs officers.

His family has said Hunt was treated differently because of his race. Hunt was black. The two officers are white.

"This is an outrageous case of a man being shot down," Sykes said. "We want justice for Darrien Hunt, and this lawsuit will do it."

Defense lawyer Heather White says the officers first fired because Hunt swung the sword at them, and when he ran away they thought he could hurt people with it at a busy shopping area. She disputed the family's account that he fell before the shots were fired; saying he only stopped running and dropped the weapon when he was hit.

"The city and the officers dispute many of the critical factual allegations in the complaint and intend to vigorously defend against those claims," White said in a statement.

Prosecutors ruled the shooting legally justified, and Deputy Utah County Attorney's Tim Taylor said Friday they stand by their findings.

The family says Hunt probably didn't swing the sword, which was part of a Japanese anime costume, according to the lawsuit. He only took it out after officers asked him to hand it over, they said.

Hunt's family is suing the city and Officers Matthew Schauerhamer and Nicholas Judson. Publicly listed phone numbers for the officers were disconnected Friday.

The lawsuit also seeks body cameras and use-of-force training for police.

The officers encountered Hunt on Sept. 10 after someone called 911 to report a young man walking around a commercial strip of stores with a sword. Judson started yelling at Hunt shortly after arriving at the scene, according to a copy of the lawsuit provided by Sykes. Schauerhamer wasn't dispatched to the area but heard radio traffic about the situation and came to help, it says.

White says that Hunt started talking to the officers voluntarily, but he ran away from police after declining to surrender the sword. The lawsuit says he was afraid and the officers didn't tell Hunt to stop running.

White says police did yell for him to stop.

Friday's lawsuit contends that Hunt tripped on his pants, sending the sword flying 10 to 15 feet away before the fatal shots were fired.

"We think that Schauerhamer shot Darrien when he was essentially helpless and no threat," Skyes said. He also questioned why it took investigators several days to interview the officers involved.

The lawsuit says violations of Hunt's constitutional rights, as well as wrongful death, and it says Saratoga Springs didn't give its officers proper training on using nonlethal force. Saratoga Springs is about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Hunt's mother, Susan Hunt, said Friday that the man's family has been deeply affected by his loss. "It's not justified in any way, shape, or form," she said.

The NAACP has also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review whether police violated Hunt's civil rights. Sykes said he hasn't heard from any federal investigators in the case.

No hearings were immediately scheduled in the suit.