This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In the days since a Salt Lake City officer shot James Dudley Barker in the Avenues neighborhood, police and friends of Barker have drawn very different conclusions from body-cam footage showing the confrontation, in which Barker struck the officer with a snow shovel, breaking the camera and eventually two of the officer's bones before the shooting.
"There was a violation of James' constitutional rights," said Summer Osburn, longtime friend of Barker and Salt Lake City defense attorney. "There was no reasonable suspicion for him to detain James."
The officer approached James on Thursday afternoon after a neighbor called 911 to report a man soliciting snow removal jobs door-to-door, who matched the description of a suspected car burglar peering into cars the day before. The caller said offering to shovel snow seemed odd because there had been little snow on the ground, although some ice remained in shaded spots. Barker had just finished breaking up ice on his own sidewalk, one block from the shooting, his girlfriend Heidi Keilbaugh has said.
In the video, the officer can be heard asking Barker, "What are you doing in the area?" When Barker replies, the officer says, "There's no snow to be removed right now."
Barker then claims he is "mainly looking for in the future, when it snows again," but the officer says that's not what the caller reported. Barker offers to leave but refuses to identify himself. The officer says, "Why aren't you giving me your name? You know you're required by law to give your name when I'm doing an investigation or you can be arrested for failure to give information."
Barker says he's "just doing ... business," and the officer tells Barker, "You're suspicious in the neighborhood; people are calling in on you."
"Even though the officer approaches him like a criminal in his own neighborhood, in this accusatory manner, we saw James remain polite, we saw James taking the initiative to defuse the situation," Osburn said of Barker's offer to leave.
But about two minutes into the encounter, Barker begins screaming at the officer, who tells him to "calm down."
Keilbaugh and Osburn both said they had never seen such anger displayed by James, who was a musician, gardener, tennis instructor and frequent volunteer for community arts events.
"He wouldn't even raise his voice," Keilbaugh said.
Yet Osburn said she wasn't surprised by Barker's rage.
"I feel like it's a rational response of anger, given that his constitution rights were violated, given that he was detained on a general 'suspicion,'" Osburn said. "James had had enough of this kind of unfairness. As I watch the vieo, I'm as frustrated as James. The officer creates agitation and then fails to react to that agitation in an intelligent way."
However, the Salt Lake Police Association, while offering condolences to Barker's family, insisted the video shows clear justification for lethal force. Investigations by the SLCPD and Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office are underway, but SLPA President Michael Millard said he is confident they will ultimately show the officer did nothing wrong.
"Officers ... do not have the luxury of knowing many of the people we come in contact with prior to situations like these," the union president wrote in a statement Monday. "We are required to act, both in self-defense or in defense of the public with only tiny pieces of information. Far too often, our duties are dictated by the actions of the individuals we are dealing with."
Still, Keilbaugh said she saw "fear in James' eyes" on the video when the officer reaches forward. Barker can be seen jumping back and then swinging the snow shovel at the officer, disabling the body cam.
He knew he was trapped," Keilbaugh said. "There are 100 ways it could have been handled, but the officer had him trapped."
Keilbaugh said she and Barker had followed for months nationwide controversies over forceful police tactics and grown increasingly nervous about law enforcement.
"How can you not [be afraid]?" Keilbaugh said. "We've watched films, read articles. It's made all of us very aware of how militarized police are."
The footage captures only one swing of the snow shovel, which apparently breaks the camera. But Barker allegedly struck the officer multiple times, breaking his arm and his foot, before the officer fatally shot him.
Millard termed the shooting "an unfortunate situation which happened within a few seconds," but added that after reviewing the body-cam video, "we believe the officer acted reasonably, both legally and morally, based on the information he was provided at the time." While Barker became combative and attacked, Millard said the video showed the officer had been "both professional and respectful."
Millard wrote that in addition to extending "our sympathies to the family and friends" of Barker, he wanted to "let the officer and his family know our thoughts are with him and his family as well."
While rejecting some anti-police violence activists' claims of a conspiracy to cover up such incidents, Millard also encouraged "a peaceful approach to the discussion" regarding police actions, as well as a growing "national narrative which ... seems to encourage physical or violent dissention or interactions with the police."
In the wake of the shooting, acquaintances of Barker insisted he was a friendly, peaceful man. Several neighbors described him as community-minded and noted that it was not unusual for Barker to do odd jobs for trade. Keilbaugh said she is pained by the suggestion that Barker was planning to burglarize cars in the neighborhood where he had lived for nearly a decade.
"He was all about community," she said. "He liked to walk the neighborhood. That's why people live in the Avenues. Whoever called 911 is insane. If [they] have any comprehension of the news, [they] should know: calling 911 is essentially putting a target on someone's back ... to bring them into the [criminal justice] system. It's a racket, it's not designed to help citizens."
Because the video ends with the first strike of the shovel, investigators are turning to witnesses for accounts of what happened immediately before the shooting.
A neighbor, Richard Grow, saw the incident unfold as he drove by. Grow said he saw two men leap off a front porch, one after the other. He said he is not sure if the officer was the first one off the porch or not, but by the time Grow pulled up about 40 feet from the fight, the two men were wrestling on the ground. Then he saw the officer "reach around his side and pull out his gun and hold it up to the guy's chest and, bam, bam, bam. ... Point blank against this man's chest."
Grow did not see the shovel, but acknowledged the attack shown on the video apparently had occurred before he came upon the scene.
A search of court records found that Barker who was shot just a block from where he lived had no criminal record apart from a March 2014 guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge for failing to disclose his identity to a police officer. Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge in the same case.