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There are many things that concern Darrien Hunt's family about the September day when he was shot and killed by two Saratoga Springs officers.
There is the way the investigation was handled, the lack of video evidence from police dashboard and body cameras and the reasons why Hunt was confronted in the first place by police for carrying a samurai sword.
But one of the most important concerns, family attorney Robert Sykes said during a Friday news conference, is that the bullet that killed the 22-year-old biracial man fired by Saratoga Springs Cpl. Matthew Schauerhamer was shot while Hunt was likely falling or already on the ground after he ran away from Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson.
Sykes said that witnesses reported to Utah County attorney's office investigators that in the final moments of the Sept. 10 shooting episode, Hunt's pants appeared to be falling down as he was running from police. At some point, Hunt who had already been wounded by earlier shots tripped and fell near a Panda Express.
"There was no bullet holes in his pants, because they were already down," Sykes said. " …We think that Schauerhamer shot Darrien when he was essentially helpless and no threat."
Hunt's family is suing the two officers, as well as Saratoga Springs, arguing they violated the man's civil rights when he was shot six times by the two officers after they responded to a 911 called who reported a man walking with a samurai-style sword near Redwood Road and State Road 73.
The civil-rights lawsuit was filed Friday morning in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court.
The complaint says Hunt had a right to carry the sword and that he was "peaceful and nonthreatening at all times."
"When the defendant officers confronted him, they improperly demanded that he surrender his sword in violation of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution," the suit states. " ... When he declined to do so, they improperly used deadly force to detain him by opening fire on him. Next, they improperly used deadly force as he was fleeing by opening fire on him. Thereafter, they again improperly used deadly force on him by shooting him in the back while he was falling down or already down, and killing him."
Attorney Heather White, who represents the city and the two officers, said in a Friday afternoon news release that her clients dispute claims made in the complaint and "intend to vigorously defend against those claims."
Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman ruled in November that the two officers were justified in using deadly force against Hunt because they believed the man might harm or kill them or others.
"The complaint filed by the Hunt family mischaracterizes the important facts that support [Buhman's] finding," White wrote, "and omits statements made by civilian witnesses that support what occurred."
No video • Sykes said Friday that the officers involved in the shooting had several recording devices at their disposal that day: Schauerhamer had a body microphone, Judson was wearing a body camera and the officers' vehicles had dashboard cameras.
"Ironically, that day, none of them were working," Sykes said. "They were all turned off or not working, if you can believe. That's very strange."
Sykes said he has worked on several cases where a police dash cam is needed, adding that he has rarely seen a case where the camera wasn't turned on.
"That would have solved the problem of what happened," he said. "We would know. We would know from [the camera] 12 to 15 feet away."
Sykes said the Hunt family does not believe that Darrien swung his sword at the officers before shots were fired, and if he did, "he didn't deserve to die because of it."
The two officers offered investigators conflicting accounts of when Hunt allegedly unsheathed his sword: Judson said Hunt lifted the sword upward and swung at Schauerhamer, while Schauerhamer recalled that Hunt drew the sword and "jumped" at Judson.
White contends that Hunt did in fact "suddenly and violently" swing his sword at the officers.
"The officers jumped back, according to a civilian witness," White said in a prepared statement. "She said if they had not, one of the officers would have been struck in the stomach. To defend themselves, both of the officers shot at Hunt. Instead of dropping the sword and surrendering, Hunt ran toward retail businesses with customers."
White said the officers gave chase and Schauerhamer continued to fire his gun because Hunt "was an immediate threat to others" as he ran toward a crowded Wal-Mart parking lot.
"Contrary to plaintiff's allegations, Hunt was not shot because he was running from the officers nor was he shot while on the ground," White said. "In truth, had Hunt dropped the sword before fleeing, the officers would have continued chasing him on foot."
Family struggles • The two officers were interviewed between six and eight days after the shooting, Sykes said. Hunt's aunt, Cindy Moss, said Friday that it was "concerning" that the officers were interviewed so many days after the shooting, while Hunt's family members including his younger siblings were interviewed immediately after the shooting just after finding out that the man had died.
"We did not approach an attorney trying to get money," Moss said Friday. "We want them [the officers] to be held accountable for what they did. The only way, it seems, is to be a civil case and sue."
Moss said her family has been traumatized, not only in Hunt's death, but she claims people who are connected to Saratoga Springs also have harassed her family. Hunt's mother, Susan Hunt, said Friday that police officers have been parked at the end of her driveway on several occasions.
"We're devastated," Moss said. "Susan's other children are extremely devastated. We're all struggling to live day-to-day normal lives and find a way to do that. They are trying to beat us down as hard as they can."
Misdemeanor charges were filed in November against Susan Hunt in connection with accusations that she accosted Saratoga Springs police Oct. 19 as they were making an unrelated traffic stop. She was charged in the town's justice court with four counts: interference with an arresting officer, a class B misdemeanor; failure to disperse and driving on a denied license, both class C misdemeanors; and one count of disorderly conduct, an infraction. She is to appear in court for an arraignment Jan. 23.
Race? • When asked if race was an issue in the shooting, Sykes said he isn't sure.
"It's hard for me to know," he said. "I think my clients may have an opinion. Officially, our position is we don't know."
Hunt's family members have said they believe the officers fired on Hunt, in part, because he was black. Buhman said in November that there was "no evidence whatsoever" that race was an issue.
Moss said Friday that Schauerhamer and Darrien Hunt did have a past interaction before the day of the shooting, when the officer impounded Hunt's car. Moss said she believes Schauerhamer "did not like Darrien," and said the family had found now-deleted blog posts purportedly written by Schauerhamer that claim that people who listen to Bob Marley or have Afros "are all on drugs."
Damages • Sykes said that in a notice of claim given to the city on Wednesday, the Hunt family has asked for more than $2 million. In the lawsuit, the family is also asking for several actions to be taken against the two officers and the police department. The family wants a declaration and judgment that the shooting was unconstitutional and that Saratoga Springs be ordered to equip its police officers with body cameras. Judson wore a camera during the Hunt shooting but did not turn it on.
In addition, the family wants the officers ordered to carry nonlethal weapons while on patrol and that they receive training regarding the use of lethal force.
Judson told investigators that he was also carrying a Taser and a baton on the day of the shooting, but used his handgun because of the threat level. Schauerhamer told investigators that his Taser was broken, and he didn't wear it because it caused cysts on his back. He told investigators that if he did have a Taser during the confrontation with Hunt, he would not have used it "in a billion years."