A prosecutor cleared two Utah police officers of criminal charges in the killing of a young black man wielding a samurai sword, saying Monday the shooting was justified because the man had swung the sword at the officers.
Two Saratoga Springs police officers fired a total of seven shots, Utah County Attorney Jeff R. Buhman told reporters, hitting Darrien Hunt, 22, six times -- at least once in the back as he ran away. Buhman's office investigated the Sept. 10 incident for nearly two months.
Buhman told reporters in a televised news conference that the officers had stopped to talk to Hunt, who was carrying the sword in public -- which is not a crime in Utah -- and that Hunt lunged "abruptly and without apparent provocation."
The officers opened fire and may have wounded Hunt, who fled with the officers in pursuit. One of them, Cpl. Matthew Schauerhamer, shot Hunt from behind because he feared that Hunt would attack other people, Buhman said.
The shooting, Buhman decided, "was reasonable given Mr. Hunt's prior unreasonable" attack on the officers.
Hunt was a resident of Saratoga Springs, which is about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Hunt's family rejected the county attorney's decision and promised to file a civil lawsuit over the shooting.
"All along, we were praying the [prosecutor's] office would show some integrity and honesty in the case, and apparently they chose not to," Hunt's aunt, Cindy Moss, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “It’s disgusting. It’s disgusting, the corruption that’s in that county and city. I guess it’ll all come out in court."
The case is one of several police shootings of young black men that have drawn scrutiny in recent months. Hunt's father is black and his mother is white. The mother, Susan Hunt, told local media after the shooting, "No white boy with a little sword would they shoot while he's running away."
Although the 3-foot sword was realistic-looking, Hunt's family has said it was a souvenir replica. Investigators have said it had a pointy end and an edge sharp enough to cut.
Hunt's family was not sure why he was out walking around with the sword.
Buhman said Monday that Hunt apparently was wearing earbuds and listening to music when the two officers stopped him. (Buhman said there was no definitive video footage of the crucial parts of the incident.)
Hunt pulled out at least one of the earbuds to speak with the officers, an interaction that was watched by at least two other witnesses, Buhman said.
The exchange, which took place between a gas station and a credit union, was "nonconfrontational" until Hunt suddenly lunged at the officers with the sword, an act that constituted attempted murder or aggravated assault, Buhman said.
Both officers told investigators that they thought Hunt was swinging at the other officer, and they fired three rounds combined at Hunt, "likely hitting him once or twice," Buhman said.
Hunt then ran with the sword in his hand, and Schauerhamer pursued, followed by Officer Nicholas Judson, Buhman said.
Near a Panda Express restaurant, Hunt ignored Schauerhamer's command to stop, Buhman said. Schauerhamer then fired one shot at Hunt, Buhman said, "worried that Mr. Hunt was going to come around the corner of Panda Express ... and hack the first person he saw."
Buhman added, “All Hunt had to do was turn around, and, in the officer’s words, it was back on again.” So with Hunt 10 to 15 feet in front of him, Schauerhamer fired three to four more shots at Hunt after running around the corner of the Panda Express, Buhman said.
The bullet to the back that was thought to have killed Hunt was likely fired during that final burst, Buhman said.
Buhman decided that both during the initial encounter and the foot chase, the decisions to shoot were reasonable. Schauerhamer “shot Mr. Hunt in order to prevent his own death or serious bodily injury or to prevent the death or serious bodily injury against other people," said Buhman. He said race was not a factor.
Follow @MattDPearce for national news