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A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the family of Dillon Taylor alleges he was shot to death by Salt Lake City police because officers are "improperly trained and groomed through a vicious culture and cycle of shoot-to-kill first, avoid questions and accountability later."
Taylor, 20, was unarmed when Officer Bron Cruz fatally shot him Aug. 11, 2014, outside a convenience store near 2100 South and State Street.
"Citizens expect consequences and not cover-up when unarmed teenagers like Dillon are killed because of the irrational subjective perceptions of 'defiance' by trigger-happy law enforcement," states the lawsuit, filed by Taylor's siblings and his cousin against Salt Lake City; the city of South Salt Lake, which investigated the shooting; and several police officers connected to the shooting and investigation.
Prosecutors found the shooting to be legally justified because a 911 caller near the store had said Taylor, his brother and his cousin were suspicious and "flashing" a gun; when the officers found the trio at the store, Taylor did not immediately respond to Cruz's orders to stop and show his hands, instead keeping his hands in his pants and walking away.
When Taylor did turn around and pull out his hands, Cruz shot him twice, once in the chest and once in the abdomen. Taylor later was found to be carrying no gun, but he was wearing headphones, apparently attached to a phone in his pocket.
However, the lawsuit claims Cruz exposed another motive for shooting Taylor in a follow-up interview with investigators: "His eyes were just complete 100 percent defiance," Cruz said of Taylor. He had ... this look on his face like, you know, like ... hate? ... Just hate, defiance, that he had in his eyes."
In the lawsuit, Taylor's family describes the explanation as "shocking, despicable" evidence of an "entrenched departmental detachment from human life and the consequences of excessive deadly force."
That detachment begins in the earliest days of officer training, the lawsuit claims, pointing to a "gruesome, horrific" video that is shown to all cadets in the state's police academy to make officers needlessly fearful of the public.
The video depicts "shocking and violent deaths of police officers at the hands of alleged criminal assailants," the lawsuit claims.
"The rationale behind the [academy] video is to instill in officers the unrealistic fear that every time they put on their badge, they could be going to a grisly death," the suit states. "Police officers are trained either explicitly or implicitly to view all citizens as potential enemy combatants, and to approach all encounters with them from the perspective that each and every one could lead to the officer's death. Those officers come to accept as fact an extreme and irrationally aggrandized view of the risks inherent in their job as a police officer ... and that any hesitation or judicious use of restraint will result in their death."
Salt Lake City police representatives could not be reached for comment; a lieutenant on duty Wednesday declined to comment.
Police also are accused of unconstitutionally detaining Taylor's brother Jerrail Taylor and their cousin Adam Thayne after the shooting. Jerrail Taylor and Thayne were handcuffed for hours after the shooting despite requests to remove the handcuffs, and both were detained for more than five hours even though neither was suspected of a crime, the lawsuit claims.
The officers involved "all had the opportunity to intervene and stop [the] illegal detention ... but none chose to do so," the lawsuit states.