Salt Lake County DA’s Office finds WVC officer-involved non-lethal shooting justified

Ricardo Jose Lopez. Photo Courtesy: Salt Lake County

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah, Feb. 7, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office has determined that criminal charges will not be pursued against a West Valley City officer who shot and wounded a suspect in July.

The decision was made after Officer Involved Critical Incident reviews were conducted, said Salt Lake County D.A. Sim Gill in a letter released Thursday.

The letter said that on July 15, 2018, a WVCPD officer tried to pull over a car Ricardo Jose Lopez was driving. Instead of stopping, Lopez continued to drive to a home at 3551 S. Shafer Lane, West Valley City. The home belongs to Lopez’s uncle, the letter said.

“Mr. Lopez got out of the car and ran into the house,” the letter said. “WVCPD officers followed and made contact with the home’s occupants. They told police officers Mr. Lopez was inside. Officers eventually made contact with Mr. Lopez and ordered him to come outside but he refused, allegedly threatening officers that he would kill them if and when they came inside for him.”

As SWAT personnel continued to talk to Mr. Lopez and order him out of the house, they saw Mr. Lopez advance on them, WVCPD Det. Rooney deployed a Taser, but Mr. Lopez continued to come at them,” the letter said. “WVCPD Officer Swanger pointed his firearm at Mr. Lopez and fired two rounds. Mr. Lopez went down and was taken into custody. Officers recovered and secured a large knife from the floor where Mr. Lopez allegedly dropped it.”

WVCPD personnel provided first aid to Lopez until medical personnel arrived, and he was then transported to an area hospital. Lopez was treated for his injuries and released to the custody of WVCPD.

The letter said that the shooting was ruled justified.

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“Assuming Officer Swanger’s testimony in a case against him, if any, would be consistent with the physical and photographic evidence collected by protocol investigators, as well as the statements provided by witnesses, we believe Officer Swanger would be legally entitled to the affirmative defense of justification under Utah State law,” the letter said.

“In other words, we believe that Officer Swanger would be able to claim successfully at trial the ‘use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.'”

Swanger declined to be interviewed. 

The shooting marked the second time Lopez had been shot by a policeman in the past three years. West Valley City Police Department spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku told Gephardt Daily at the time of the second shooting that on March 1, 2016, Lopez was confronted by West Valley City police after firing a weapon in the street in front of his residence. Lopez hid in the basement before finally being called out by police. When he refused to put down his pistol, he was shot and wounded by a West Valley City police officer.

That shooting was also ultimately ruled justified.

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