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The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office has ruled a May 24 shooting by a West Valley City police officer who fired at and missed a fleeing driver was not justified.
On May 24, West Valley City police officer Jared Cardon fired at and missed Jose Alberto Contreras, who, according to the charges against him, was fleeing in a car following a hit-and-run crash.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, though, said witness statements agreed that Contreras was attempting to drive around Cardon and not at him directly. Also, the ballistics and positions of parked cars show that Contreras was not driving directly at Cardon, Gill wrote in a decision released Monday.
The shooting took place a few minutes after Cardon had pulled over a different vehicle on 3500 South near 5275 West. Traffic had backed up along 3500 South because there was no shoulder for the pulled-over vehicle. Several cars had stopped, but Contreras appeared not to be able to stop in time to avoid the car in front of him. Contreras swerved right around traffic, jumped the curb and struck a pole where bicyclists were stopped. The fencing attached to the pole leaned and caused one of the bicyclists to fall.
A witness "attempted to block [Contreras'] vehicle to prevent him from leaving," according to charges filed against Contreras in 3rd District Court, but Contreras drove away "in a manner endangering" the man's life.
Cardon stopped issuing the citation he was working on and walked over to the scene. He radioed for backup, and then 18 seconds later reported that Contreras was fleeing and that he, Cardon, had fired three shots two at the vehicle and one at the vehicle's tire.
Now that the shooting has been ruled unjustified, the DA's Office will see which, if any, Utah laws Cardon may have broken by firing his service weapon in that situation. Cardon and the West Valley City Police Department will be informed when the legal analysis is completed.
West Valley City police, meanwhile, have initiated an internal review of Cardon's actions, according to a news release from Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen.
Nielsen said Cardon will continue to be on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the department's review.
Cardon previously injured a man in what was deemed a legally-justified shooting. According to records at the District Attorney's Office, former prosecutor Lohra Miller cleared Cardon's shooting of David Matthew Hamson on Dec. 21, 2007. However, in a handwritten lawsuit filed in federal court in 2009, Hamson claimed that Cardon shot him during a traffic stop even though Hamson's car was turned off and his hands were empty. A trial is scheduled for August.
Cardon also appeared before a jury in March in a federal lawsuit filed by another man, Cesar Medina, who claimed Cardon used excessive force by tackling him during a traffic stop. The jury found that Cardon did not use excessive force.
Monday's decision marks the eighth officer-involved shooting Gill has handled since taking office. He has found six of the shootings justified.
Earlier this month, Gill ruled that Salt Lake City police officer Matthew Giles was unjustified in shooting eight rounds at the driver of a stolen car on May 8.