Ogden Police Chief defends officers’ actions in Aug. 16 fatal shooting of suspect; community members react

OGDEN, Utah, Sept. 11, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt targeted department critics Tuesday night while addressing the Ogden City Council about the Aug. 16 officer-involved fatal shooting of a suspect.

Watt first acknowledged the pain the incident, which he called a tragedy, caused to the family and friends of Jovany Mercado-Bedolla, 26, who died shortly after being shot by four OPD officers. Watt also noted that officers and their families also suffered.

Then Watt addressed those whom he said had criticized the department’s handling of the incident.

“It is unfortunate that the family’s emotions have been harnessed by a few with a pre-existing political agenda,” Watt told the Ogden City Council and those attending the meeting. “Much of the rhetoric and hyperbole over this case has been directed at you, the Council, and the police department for political purposes, and to support extreme counter-policing agenda.

“I’d like to set the record straight. The Ogden Police Department’s officers are among the most effective de-escalators in this state.”

Watt said that between Jan. 1, 2018, and Aug. 1, 2019, the Ogden Police Department handled approximately 165,000 calls for service. Of those, 24,856 “high risk,” “calls involving confrontations with individuals with a potential for violence or engaged in acts of violence,” Watt said.

“OPD officers used less-than-lethal force to resolve these situations only 128 times, or one half of one percent,” he said. “OPD officers discharged their firearms six times, or two 100ths of a percent. In other words, Ogden Police officers successfully de-escalated 24,850 of 24,856 situations without using their firearms, or, 99.8 percent of the time.”

Watt said OPD officers are trained in multiple aspects of de-escalation.

“In the last 19 months alone, Ogden Police officers have participated in a combined 25,565 hours of training, or an average of 194 hours per officer. The state of Utah’s peace officer standards and training only mandates 40 hours per (12-month) year.”

That departmental training including:

  • 321 hours of Taser training
  • 129 hours of use of force policy training
  • 126 hours of pepper spray training
  • 120 hours of arrest control training
  • 35 hours of “verbal judo” training
  • 213 hours of crisis intervention and handling of mentally ill persons training

And that’s besides “other required trainings,” Watt said.

“In this specific incident (on Aug. 16), this situation lasted 42 seconds from first contact with the suspect until the beginning of medical protocols. From the time the suspect flipped open the knife and began aggressively moving toward the officers until the shots were fired was approximately 10 seconds.

“During that time, the officers were retreating and issuing verbal commands to stop and to drop the knife,” Watt said. “Three of the officers were backed up as far as they could go as they had crossed the street and were up against vehicles parked curbside. Behind the officers were about 20 people who were at risk.

“The suspect could have closed the resulting distance to the officers in about one and a half seconds, in fact, the suspect was closer than the distance recommended in training.”

Jovany Mercado-Bedolla. Photo Courtesy: Ogden Police Department

Mercado-Bedolla was warned many times to stop walking and drop his weapon, Watt said. The bodycam video, which is disturbing, appears at the end of this story.

“The suspect had the same amount of time the officers had to change his mind and submit,” Watt said. “He chose not to do so, and chose to continue to aggressively advance. Time, distance, the knife, the aggressive actions and continued advance of the suspect, the risk to third party or in other words, the chosen actions of the suspect gave the officers no other immediately available options that the course of action they took.”

Watt said an internal investigation by his department already has cleared his officers, but they also need to be cleared by the final report from Weber County District Attorney’s Office, which is awaiting the results of toxicology tests and the suspect.

Watt said the D.A. has told him, verbally, that he expects the officers to be cleared of wrongdoing.

“In these rapidly evolving, stress-filled events, there is no time for planning, coordination, and any suggestion of such by Monday morning quarterbacks is based on ignorance or political agenda,” Watt said.

“No officer of mine need wait to be bashed with a rock, cut or stabbed with a knife, shot at or shot in order to determine whether they should take action, and I will support them to my grave.”

Following Watt’s statements, multiple community members spoke to the council about police reform and the possibility of finding more non-lethal weapon options for Ogden officer use in the future.

Others spoke of perceived racial bias in the Ogden Police Department, and the fear of being stopped by Ogden police. A woman who said she had a healthcare background questioned how officers could fail to recognize a man having a psychotic episode.

Citizen comments begin at about 34:25 on the video above.

And below is the bodycam video of the Aug. 16 fatal-shooting incident.


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