County attorney says no criminal prosecution will be brought against the officers
Darrien Hunt, 22, was fatally shot in Saratoga Springs, Utah, in September
His family says that he was shot as he was running away and that race played a role
County attorney says he found "absolutely no evidence" that race was a factor
The use of deadly force by two Utah police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 22-year-old man carrying a sword was “reasonable,” the Utah County Attorney said Monday.
Darrien Hunt was killed in the city of Saratoga Springs in September. Prosecutors had said Hunt had lunged at police officers with a “samurai-type sword” before he was shot.
But Hunt’s family has contested the official version of events, saying that race played a role in his death and that he was shot from behind as he was running away.
Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said at a news conference Monday that after an investigation into the shooting, no criminal prosecution would be brought against the two officers, Cpl. Matt Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson.
The two officers were placed on paid administrative leave while the shooting was investigated.
Responding to assertions that Hunt had been killed because he was black, Buhman said he found there was “absolutely no evidence” that race was a factor in the shooting.
He described the deadly encounter, which he said lasted a total of 37 seconds, based on the accounts of the two police officers and two other people who witnessed events.
Official: Sword unsheathed ‘abruptly’
The initial interaction between Hunt and the police officers, who had been dispatched in response to a report of a suspicious person carrying a sword in public, began as a “nonthreatening type of conversation,” Buhman said.
Hunt was calm and nonconfrontational, “other than the fact that he had sword in a public place,” he said. The sword was in its sheath.
But as Hunt was speaking with the police officers, he “abruptly and without any apparent provocation withdrew the sword from its sheath and immediately swung or stabbed it toward least one of the officers,” Buhman said.
The police officers responded by firing a total of three shots at Hunt, probably hitting him once or twice, the investigation found. Hunt then turned and ran, still holding the sword.
Buhman said the officers’ “belief that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury was reasonable, given the fact that Mr. Hunt was swinging or stabbing at them with a three-foot sword and was in close enough proximity to them that one of the officers physically retreated – and one jumped back – to avoid being hit by that sword blade.”
More shots during chase
The officers then gave chase, during which time Schauerhamer, who was nearer to Hunt, fired more rounds, one of which was probably the fatal shot that struck Hunt in the right side of his back, Buhman said.
Schauerhamer told investigators that because Hunt was running toward a retail area where employees and customers were present, he was worried he would “hack the first person he saw,” according to the county attorney.
Buhman said he found the corporal’s actions reasonable, given Hunt’s previous behavior, the fact he was still carrying the sword, his lack of response to a verbal command to stop and Schauerhamer’s belief that multiple people were at risk.
Hunt was shot a total of six times, according to the investigation.
Family lawyers: unanswered questions remain
His family reportedly said they were unsatisfied with Buhman’s findings.
Robert Sykes, the attorney for Hunt’s mother, and Karra Porter, the attorney for his father, said the decision left many unanswered questions, was based on questionable grounds and that their clients intend to file a civil lawsuit against Saratoga Springs, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“There are some unmistakable facts that are not in dispute,” Sykes told the newspaper. “I reread the state’s autopsy this morning. Every one of the six shots came from behind.”
The county attorney’s decision comes a week after the autopsy report by the medical examiner was concluded. The report found that Hunt was shot six times, including once in the back. The other gunshot wounds were to his upper right arm and right forearm, left upper arm, and two wounds to the left hip.
The findings in the medical examiner’s autopsy followed an independent autopsy last month.
A lawyer for the Hunt family said the independent autopsy showed Hunt was shot six times from behind, but did not release the document. The family claims that Hunt was running away when he was shot by police.
Sword ‘sharp enough to cut’
The Utah case has drawn some comparisons to the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, although Brown was unarmed when he was shot.
Hunt’s mother has said she believes race played a role in her son’s death.
“They killed my son because he’s black,” Susan Hunt told CNN affiliate KSL in September. “No white boy with a little sword would they shoot while he’s running away.”
She also said that the sword was purchased at a local Asian gift shop and that it could not actually cut anything.
Buhman disagreed with that assessment on Monday.
“It’s over three-feet long, it’s metal, the tip is sharp, and the blade – maybe it’s not sharpened to Ginsu standards or chef standards – but it’s sharp enough to cut,” he said. “It is not dulled as you might expect a souvenir-type sword to be.”
CNN’s Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.