Judge: Mother of man killed by police must accept settlement

AP News
Posted: Feb 22, 2016 9:29 PM
Judge: Mother of man killed by police must accept settlement

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The mother of a black man who was shot and killed by police while holding a samurai sword must accept a $900,000 settlement from the Utah city that employs the officers, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Susan Hunt first told her lawyer she would accept the settlement but then publicly rejected it.

Even though she never signed a formal agreement, the deal became final when she told her attorney she agreed to it during a recorded phone conversation, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell ruled.

"No writing is required," Campbell wrote. "Ms. Hunt is still bound by the documented terms because an oral settlement agreement is enforceable."

Hunt said she rejected the offer because she thought it would bar her from talking publicly about her son Darrien Hunt, 22.

Police shot Darrien Hunt while he was walking around a busy shopping area with a metal costume samurai sword in 2014 in Saratoga Springs, about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.

The county attorney found the shooting was justified because the officers feared he could hurt people with the sword. The family said Darrien Hunt was no danger, and was treated differently because he was black. The officers are white. The NAACP has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate how the city handled the case.

It's unclear of Susan Hunt will appeal. Her lawyer Michael Wright could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. Wright has said her previous attorney wrongly authorized the settlement.

Susan Hunt's previous attorney, Robert Sykes, denies doing anything without her permission.

Saratoga Springs city officials say Susan Hunt misunderstood the settlement. Its so-called non-disparagement clause was standard and would have allowed her to talk about her son as long as she didn't attack the city, Saratoga Springs attorney Heather White has said.

But her lawyers said the language of the clause was extreme, and it was added after the city saw Susan Hunt posting critical remarks on social media.

Recorded phone conversations unsealed by the judge indicate Susan Hunt reluctantly agreed to the settlement amount and the non-disparagement clause in August. But she stopped communicating with Sykes and eventually fired him after the two sides began negotiating the language of a news release.

City officials said they didn't know the status of case until Susan Hunt told reporters she was refusing a settlement offer at an event recognizing the anniversary of her son's death.

White said Monday the city is pleased with the decision and will deposit the settlement money with the court as ordered.