SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah, April 18, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — The Salt Lake County District Attorney has ruled an October officer-involved shooting in Kearns was legally justified.
James Lyle Kuehn, 61, of Kearns, was initially rushed to the hospital in critical condition after the shooting by a Unified Police Department officer in the area of 4450 W. 5700 South on Oct. 17, 2018, then passed away on Oct. 20.
The Salt Lake City Police Department investigated the incident as required by protocol.
A letter from District Attorney Sim Gill on Thursday said: “After conducting Officer Involved Critical Incident (OICI) reviews, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office has determined that the Oct. 17, 2018 use of deadly force by a UPD Officer was legally justified.”
A letter from the DA’s Office to Sheriff Rosie Rivera and SLCPD Chief Mike Brown said the incident began with a reported armed robbery at the Fiesta Olé restaurant, at 4098 W. 5415 South. The suspect, later identified as Kuehn, was armed with a knife, and demanded money from a cashier.
The cashier, with the help of customers, chased Kuehn out of the restaurant, the letter said. A customer who witnessed the robbery called 911. The witness reported the robbery, gave a description of Kuehn and told dispatchers that he was last seen walking westbound.
Several UPD officers responded to Kuehn’s location, the letter said, and found him hiding in a large bush in front of a house at 4450 W. 5570 South. A UPD officer ordered Kuehn to come out from his hiding place and surrender.
Instead of complying, Kuehn quickly came towards that officer with a knife in his extended right hand, the letter said. That officer fell backwards trying to keep his distance from the suspect.
“UPD Det. Geoff Clark saw the officer fall, yelled to Mr. Kuehn to stop, and drew his firearm, Mr. Kuehn changed direction and ran at Det. Clark with the knife still in his hand,” the letter said. “Det. Clark fired three shots at Mr. Kuehn who went down. UPD officers quickly secured Mr. Kuehn; officers saw a folding knife with a 2.5 inch serrated blade lying on the ground next to Mr. Kuehn.”
A written statement by Clark to protocol investigators said that he watched another officer try and deploy a Taser on the suspect, which was not effective. Other officers verified that fact.
Clark wrote that he “feared the suspect was going to kill the officer,” so he “brought [his] handgun out of the low-ready position and pointed it at the suspect, tracking him as he ran.” Clark wrote that he made the decision to fire his weapon if the suspect continued to run towards the other officer. He then added: “All of a sudden, the suspect turned towards me. Our eyes met and he began to run directly at me. The suspect had a look of anger and rage on his face.”
Clark wrote that the suspect continued to run at him and he didn’t have time to say anything to the suspect. Clark wrote that started to move back, “but he closed the distance between us too quickly.” He wrote that he was afraid and “feared the suspect was going to hurt or kill me.” Clark wrote that he pointed his handgun to the middle of the suspect’s chest and fired three times.
Officers then went to Kuehn, removed the knife and provided first aid until medical personnel arrived and transported the suspect to the hospital.
Protocol investigators determined Clark and some other officers on the scene were not wearing body-worn cameras during the incident. Protocol investigators reviewed one of the other officer’s body-worn camera recording. Investigators also obtained and reviewed surveillance camera recordings from locations in the neighborhood.
The letter said: “We conclude that Det. Clark reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or another person, and therefore was a ‘justified’ use of deadly force.”