RIVERTON, Utah, Oct. 21, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — The family of a 26-year-old man who died in an officer-involved shooting in Riverton almost exactly two years ago is filing a complaint against Unified Police Department.
Jason Robert Whittle was shot on Oct. 22, 2018 when UPD responded to an active domestic violence call at 11779 S. Stone Ridge Court involving the subject and his 56-year-old mother.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera told Gephardt Daily at the time shortly that after officers arrived, a man emerged from the home while holding a knife to a woman’s throat.
Two officers engaged the suspect and “shots were fired,” Rivera said. Officers performed CPR on Whittle but he died at the scene.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office subsequently ruled the shooting justified.
A letter from attorneys representing the Whittle family released Wednesday says:
My partner, Alyson McAllister, represents Jason Whittle’s family in connection with his shooting death at the hands of a UPD officer on Oct. 22, 2018. This week is the two-year anniversary of Jason’s death. Jason was shot execution style with a bullet to the head less than a minute after he exited his mother’s house at the police officer’s request, after his mother had called dispatch to get her son help.
He came outside with his mom, carrying his small dog in his arms, and was met with a startling police presence, with guns drawn and aimed at him, with lights flashing and shining in his face, and with incomprehensible instructions being yelled at him, while his mother was yelling for the police not to hurt him. He was “armed” with a butter knife, which was found underneath his back after he was shot, evidence that he had complied with the officers’ shouts to “put the knife down.”
He was shot in the head while his mother was standing right in front of him, with her head close to his. Neighbors reported that his mother was yelling the whole time that he was not a threat, that he would not hurt her, and pleading that they would not hurt him. Instead they shot and killed him right in front of her, an experience she will never get over.
Jason was one of five people fatally shot by the UPD in 2018, and one of 19 people fatally shot by officers in Utah. His death illustrates the lack of training these officers have in responding to mental health/welfare calls. The family has decided to file this complaint because no action has been taken against this officer by UPD or as a result of the “investigation” done by Sim Gill, and these type of incidents keep on happening. This has got to stop.
Rob Whittle and Annie Esposito (Jason’s parents) will hold a press conference with Alyson today at 2 p.m. at Riverton City Park, 1452 W. 12600 South, Riverton City, Utah in the Large Pavilion. They would like to express their side of what happened and are available to answer questions.
Alyson C. McAllister
Robert B. Sykes, Esq.
At the press conference, Esposito said that she told the dispatcher when she called early that morning that her son was mentally ill and could be high on drugs. He had been mugged earlier that same morning and had been homeless, and had walked to his parents’ house to tell them he needed help, she said. She said her son was “pacing and upset,” but did not threaten her.
She said police told them to come to the front of the house and Whittle grabbed his mother and was holding a butter knife but within a couple of seconds dropped it to his side.
“He’s yelling and I’m yelling too, and telling them, he’s mentally ill, he won’t hurt anyone,” she told assembled reporters. She claimed the officer shot with no warning to her or Whittle. “I had literally put my hands out in a stopping motion and said, ‘Don’t shoot, Don’t shoot,'” she said. “I was not afraid of my son, I was afraid of the police.”
She added: “We are not preparing our police, or any first responder, to deal with mental illness. We are not preparing dispatchers.”
She added: “Please understand, the future can be changed. We can change it.”
Unified Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Melody Cutler told Gephardt Daily Wednesday that officials cannot comment on pending litigation.
“The Unified Police Department will respond to the lawsuit filed today in court,” her response said.
Court records show that on July 11, 2018, a Riverton woman, age 56, presumably Whittle’s mother, had filed an order of protection against him, and the order was granted. The order is private, and its contents are unavailable.
Court records also show that in May of that year, Whittle pleaded guilty to one count of possession or use of a controlled substance, with two related charges dismissed, related to a 2016 incident. In addition, Whittle was due back in court on Nov. 11, 2018 on new drug charges.
Members of the Officer Involved Critical Incident team headed by Salt Lake City Police Department investigated the shooting.
Gephardt Daily will update this developing story as more information becomes available.