Justice Department reviewing Utah man's killing by police

AP News
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Posted: Feb 20, 2015 10:03 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting of a young Utah man killed by police while wielding a samurai sword at a shopping center, according to a letter released Friday by the man's family.

The letter from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah and the Justice Department's civil rights decision said federal officials, including FBI agents, are reviewing the September shooting of Darrien Hunt by two Saratoga Springs police officers.

In the letter, dated Thursday, federal officials said they are seeking any additional information the family would like to provide about the case.

The letter was shared with reporters by an attorney for Hunt's family, which has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the city of Saratoga Springs.

Saratoga Springs spokesman Owen Jackson said Friday night that the city had not yet been notified of the review. "We welcome any outside official investigation, and we'll cooperate with it," he said.

Messages seeking more detail about the Department of Justice review were not returned by a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah.

In November, the NAACP asked the Justice Department to review the shooting for any civil rights violations, saying information released by police did not seem to justify the shooting.

Hunt's family filed a $2 million civil rights lawsuit in January against the officers and the city. It contends that Hunt wasn't a threat and was fatally shot on Sept. 10, 2014, after he tripped while running from two Saratoga Springs officers. He was carrying the sword as part of a Japanese anime costume, according to his family.

Hunt's family has said the young man was treated differently because of his race. Hunt was black. The officers who shot him were white.

Earlier this month, an attorney for the city said Hunt was not shot because of his skin color but because of his reckless actions, and that the officers were defending themselves and protecting others. Lawyer Heather White said at a news conference that Hunt was acting violently and irrationally.

County prosecutors ruled last year that the shooting was legally justified, saying the officers feared for their lives and the lives of others. Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said investigators found no evidence that race or ethnicity played a role in the shooting.

Family attorney Robert Sykes said Friday night that he's gratified at the news of the federal review. "I don't think we got a fair investigation by the county attorney's office down there, for whatever reason," he said.

Saratoga Springs is a city of about 23,000 people that counts 93 percent of its population as being white and only less than 1 percent being black, according to figures from the U.S. Census.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice