Witnesses say Utah man killed by police was running away, attorney says
A 22-year-old black man with a sword may have been running away when Utah police fatally shot him “numerous” times from behind last week, an attorney for the man’s family said over the weekend.
The attorney cited independent autopsy results on Darrien Hunt’s body that appear to contradict investigators’ account of what happened outside a Panda Express in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday morning.
Officials said Hunt had “lunged” at officers with the sword before they shot him. But the attorney for Hunt’s family, Randall K. Edwards, said the autopsy results found that “none of these shots were from Darrien’s front.”
Hunt’s death is likely to draw extra public scrutiny in the wake of the fatal Aug. 9 police shooting of another young black man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., which prompted protests there and around the country.
Saratoga Springs is about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City. With 22,749 residents, the town is almost the same size as Ferguson, but is 93% white, according to census statistics. Ferguson is about two-thirds African American.
Wednesday’s incident began when officers were called to the restaurant after Hunt was seen walking around with a “samurai-type sword,” according to a previous statement from the Utah County Attorney’s Office. Hunt’s family has described it as a harmless 3-foot souvenir sword with a rounded edge.
“When the officers made contact with Mr. Hunt, preliminary evidence suggests that Mr. Hunt brandished the sword and lunged toward the officers with the sword, at which time Mr. Hunt was shot,” Utah County Chief Deputy Attorney Tim Taylor said in a statement.
But according to Edwards, an independent autopsy conducted Saturday at the behest of Hunt’s family showed Hunt had been shot “numerous times,” none from the front.
“This is consistent with statements made by witnesses on the scene, who report that Darrien was shot to death while running away from the police,” Edwards said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. “It would appear difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile these facts with the story released by the Utah County Attorney’s Office that Darrien was lunging toward the officers when he was shot. We continue to hope that a full investigation will reveal the whole truth about this tragedy.”
Edwards declined to identify the pathologist who conducted the autopsy and didn’t provide a copy of the report or further details about the findings.
The Utah County Attorney’s Office and the Saratoga Springs Police Department could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
The police department posted a defiant statement on its Facebook page Sunday afternoon.
“Everyone should remember that the news outlets have ratings they need to gain. They don’t report facts. They use innuendo, opinion and rumor and then report it as fact,” said the unsigned post on the police department’s Facebook page, which requested patience with the investigation. “The same thing happens here on FB and other social media. The real facts are being determined by an independent investigation, and not in a rushed or haphazard manner. ... There is no coverup and there is no corruption.”
The county attorney’s office said that the shooting was being investigated by the Utah County Officer Involved Shooting Protocol Team, and that the county attorney’s office would review the findings and issue a statement afterward.
The officers involved in the shooting have not been identified. It was not immediately clear whether the incident was videorecorded. The Deseret News said two officers had been placed on paid leave pending the investigation’s outcome.
Hunt’s family could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday. They have suggested that he may have been looking for jobs and that he was killed because he was black.
“No white boy with a little sword would they shoot while he’s running away,” Hunt’s mother, Susan Hunt, who is white, told the Deseret News. She said a witness had sent her a photo of officers standing on each side of her son just before the shooting.
“I’ve been begging the police, why from the time I saw the pictures of you just standing by him with his hands to his side, does he end up seconds later with a bullet in him?” Susan Hunt told the newspaper. “And then if he’s running [according to eyewitnesses], why you had to put in more bullets, and I don’t even know how many. That’s what I want to know.”
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