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Provo • Two Saratoga Springs police officers were justified in using deadly force when they shot and killed 22-year-old Darrien Hunt in September, Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman ruled Monday.
Hunt was shot six times by the two officers Cpl. Matt Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson after they responded to two 911 callers reporting a man walking with a samurai-style sword near Redwood Road and State Road 73.
Buhman said at a news conference that no criminal charges will be filed against either officer, both of whom fired a total of three shots after Hunt swung his sword at them, Buhman said. Schauerhamer then chased Hunt toward another business and fired three rounds, one of which investigators believe to be the fatal shot.
"I don't find it reasonable to require that [the officers] permit a person who is armed and has most immediately attempted to wound or kill police officers to escape into a presently populated retail area," Buhman said.
Robert Sykes, the attorney for Hunt's mother, Susan Hunt, and some family members, and Karra Porter, the attorney representing his father, Curtis Hunt, said the Utah County attorney's decision left many unanswered questions, was based on questionable grounds and that their clients intend to file a civil lawsuit against Saratoga Springs.
They said the number of shots and their direction were still unknown noting that Schauerhamer had to reload his gun during the shooting episode and Sykes particularly pointed to an autopsy that showed Hunt had his back to the officers when he was struck by six bullets.
"There are some unmistakable facts that are not in dispute," said Sykes. "I reread the state's autopsy this morning. Every one of the six shots came from behind."
Hunt's family has said they believe the officers fired on Hunt, in part, because he was black. But Buhman said he found "no evidence whatsoever" that race was a factor.
Buhman said the encounter with Hunt and police lasted 37 seconds.
Initially, Buhman said, Hunt had his earbuds in, and was calm.
"Other than the fact that he had a sword in a public place, it appeared to be a nonthreatening situation," Buhman said.
Standing near a Top Stop convenience store and a Cyprus Credit Union, Hunt said he was looking for a ride to Orem, Schauerhamer and Judson reported. Schauerhamer said he offered a ride but told Hunt he was not allowed to get into the patrol car with his sword. Members of Hunt's family have called the replica katana sword a "toy" used for cosplay, but Buhman said it had a sharp point and blade.
It was "not sharpened to 'professional' standards, but was not ... intentionally dulled," Buhman said.
After the officers told Hunt he could not take the sword into the car, Hunt, "abruptly, without provocation" swung the sword at the officers, Buhman said, pointing to statements by the officers and by two witnesses near the Top Stop.
"Both officers discharged their firearms to prevent their own death or serious bodily injury," he said. Investigators believe at least two of those first three shots wounded Hunt, who began to run away, still holding his sword.
Schauerhamer gave chase as Hunt approached a Panda Express restaurant. Schauerhamer said he worried Hunt would come around the corner and "hack the first person he saw," Buhman recounted.
"[Hunt] continued to carry in his hand an unsheathed samurai type sword, even after two officers shot at and likely wounded him" and ignored Schauerhamer's orders to drop it, Buhman said. "If Cpl. Schauerhamer had let Mr. Hunt escape, he easily would have reached the commercial establishments prior to the arrival of backup forces. ... If officers had allowed Mr. Hunt to escape, take cover, or perhaps circle back, he would have posed an extreme danger to Utah County citizens."
Buhman noted in a written statement that no other people were seen near the north side of the Panda Express.
"However, the law does not require that other persons be immediately present," Buhman wrote.
Buhman says seven shots were fired between the two officers; six bullets hit Hunt and one appered to hit the grass near the Panda Express. Schauerhamer fired six shots; Judson fired once.
Asked why Hunt became violent, Buhman said investigators did "some digging" but ultimately, they don't know. "It's unlikely we will find out," he said. Witnesses also noticed the rapid change in Hunt's demeanor before he unsheathed the sword, Buhman said. Melanie Wride told investigators that she saw Hunt move his hands "like he was laughing," and that his conversation with an officer lasted 30 to 60 seconds before he pulled a sword and swung it " 'very hard' at the officer who had just pulled up in the police car."
The other witness was Leonard Zogg, who saw Hunt unsheath the sword and swing it at an officer, according to a previously-released affidavit. Zogg told KUTV 2News last week that the affidavit misrepresents his statement, and that he only saw Hunt unsheath the sword, not swing it. But Buhman read aloud what he said was Zogg's handwritten statement from Sept. 10: "The guy appeared to be laughing and smiling and then pulled out the sword and took a swipe at the interviewing officer and began to run to the northeast."
The officers didn't have time to attempt nonlethal force, Buhman said.
"This happened so quickly, violently and without provocation ..." Buhman said. "The officers had to do with what was most immediately available to them. That was their firearms."
Saratoga Springs spokesman Owen Jackson said Schauerhamer and Judson "performed their duties as police officers with fidelity and professionalism.
"In this situation, they followed their police training, followed Utah law, made a difficult decision in a matter of a split second, and upheld their sworn duty to protect others from harm."
Details of the deadly confrontation were first revealed in a search warrant affidavit made public last week. But before that, Hunt's family released an autopsy they had commissioned privately. Attorney Porter said that the shots that hit Hunt were not only from behind but the autopsy showed some were in an upward trajectory, which "raises questions right there about what exactly Darrien was doing or not doing at the time he was shot."
Porter and Sykes both lamented the lack of cooperation from the Utah County attorney's office, which they said had not provided the family with the evidence they had gathered.
Sykes said the attorneys were seeking other witnesses to the shooting, citing a Facebook posting that questioned the officers' version of events.
"This shooting was excessive force and the unjustified use of deadly force," he said. "This is a tragic death that never should have occurred."
An officer is justified in using deadly force if a suspect is fleeing and the officer believes the person has committed a felony offense involving death or serious bodily injury or poses a threat of death or serious injury to the officer or to others, he said.
Utah medical examiner Pamela Ulmer concluded that Hunt's cause of death was "multiple gunshots" with the direction of fire being "posterior to anterior," or from back to front.
Ulmer identified six gunshots in all, one penetrating Hunt's right back and lodging in his lung, while other bullets struck him in the right upper arm, right forearm, left upper arm, left elbow and left hip.
Ulmer also found no traces of illegal drugs in Hunt's blood. According to the search warrant affidavit, Hunt's family allegedly told investigators that Darrien Hunt had been making and using dimethyltryptamine, a hallucinogen also know as DMT, in the weeks before the fatal shooting.
His mother, Susan Hunt, also told investigators about a phone call she had received the morning of the shooting, where her daughter's boyfriend told her that Darrien Hunt had posted a concerning Facebook message: "I have a sword and I'm going to get shot."
Buhman requested Hunt's Facebook history but said it had not arrived as of Monday.