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A jury on Tuesday afternoon cleared a West Valley City police officer in an excessive force lawsuit filed by a man he had shot.
David Matthew Hamson claimed in his lawsuit that he was trying to surrender when officer Jared Cardon opened fire on him during a traffic stop in 2007. After a two-day trial, jurors in U.S. District Court deliberated for 20 minutes and returned a verdict clearing Cardon of alleged civil rights violations.
Cardon testified that he opened fire Oct. 21, 2007, because Hamson was revving his engine as though he planned to ram Cardon and flee in a stolen car. Prosecutors four years ago found that Cardon who faces scrutiny in a separate shooting this year that was deemed unjustified acted lawfully when he shot Hamson.
But Hamson's attorney, Jared Parrish, said a gunshot wound to Hamson's hand shows it was not on the gearshift, putting the car into gear, when Cardon shot him.
Hamson said he initially tried to escape with his girlfriend after Cardon spotted them in a stolen Subaru Legacy at a condominium complex near 3600 West and 2800 South. Hamson backed out of a parking space, striking Cardon's police cruiser, which was stopped behind him. But Hamson testified that he gave up the flight once he was facing Cardon, who was standing next to the cruiser. Hamson said he took the car out of gear and held up his hands for about 30 seconds before he was shot.
"I realized I messed up," said Hamson, who is serving a prison sentence for driving the stolen car. "I watched Mr. Cardon ... off to my side. I just knew he was going to shoot me.
"All I wanted to do was surrender," Hamson said, crying. "That's it. I know I screwed up. I done a lot of bad things, but I didn't deserve to be shot."
Cardon said Hamson's hands were down possibly on the steering wheel and gearshift when the gears began grinding in the engine and Cardon began shooting from the front-passenger side of Hamson's car. He said Hamson then put his hands up defensively as he dropped toward his door.
Parrish said that doesn't line up with Hamson's other wound, which was on the back of his left shoulder.
"There is no possible way [a bullet] could have hit Mr. Hamson on the back if he was diving to the left," Parrish said.
Cardon's attorney, Heather Snow, said Hamson could have shifted his body position in the short time when the four shots were fired.
Snow also disputed Hamson's claim that Cardon waited 30 seconds before opening fire. She played a recording of police radio traffic at the time of the shooting, in which Cardon announces the Subaru rammed his car about 4 seconds before calling out, "Shots fired! Shots fired!"
"Listen to his voice," Snow said. "That does not sound like someone who had the luxury of time to think. That was the voice of a man who feared for his life."
Cardon will not immediately return to patrol duty in West Valley City. He has been on paid administrative leave since he shot at a fleeing driver after a hit-and-run crash in May. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill this summer ruled that Cardon was unjustified in shooting at that driver, who was trying to swerve around Cardon when Cardon fired at the driver and missed, according to witness statements.
West Valley City police have not concluded internal investigations into the May shooting, said Sgt. Mike Powell. Gill said he is still considering criminal action against Cardon, but will not file charges as long as police investigations are underway.
Cardon also appeared before a federal court jury in March, when he was cleared of excessive force allegations made by another man, Cesar Medina. Medina claimed Cardon used excessive force by tackling him during a traffic stop. The jury found that Cardon's actions did not amount to excessive force.