Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
MAGNA — The actions of two police officers who shot and killed an armed teenager were legally justified, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill determined Tuesday.
Unified police officers Brian Todd and Bryan Madsen both fired at 15-year-old Sean Morrison on March 18 at 3791 S. Paine Road in Magna. The boy's mother called 911 after he left the house wearing his father's body armor, a large trench coat and a ski mask and toting a .45-caliber handgun.
Jayne Morrison said her son "told her he was leaving so that 'he didn't hurt (them),'" Gil wrote in a letter detailing the incident.
Family members said Sean Morrison had been diagnosed as being bipolar and mildly autistic.
Officer Phillip Snyder was the first to respond to the area and spot Morrison. Snyder said that as soon he saw Sean Morrison, the teen fired at Snyder. He then fired twice more as Snyder reported to dispatch that the the boy was "an active shooter."
Snyder then drove toward Morrison "in an attempt to hit and disable him" but Morrison jumped out of the way and avoided being hit, according to the investigation. Snyder then moved to meet up with other responding officers, Steven Larsen, Todd and Madsen.
Snyder said he heard Madsen "give several loud and clear commands to Morrison to drop his weapon," the report states.
"Officer Snyder stated that the four officers visually and verbally identified themselves as police officers and gave repeated commands to Morrison to drop his weapon. Morrison made eye contact with the officers, but refused to comply."
This was confirmed by Larsen, who reported that Morrison had pointed his weapon at him but never fired.
"Officer Larsen stated that Morrison did not respond to multiple commands by the officers to 'drop the gun,' 'show his hands' and 'get on the ground,'" the report states. "Rather, Morrison put the gun to his own head briefly and then pointed the gun toward officers Todd and Madsen who were in the street directly west of him."
Morrison then opened fire, according to Todd, Larsen and Madsen. Todd, who had come armed with a rifle, returned fire and shot at Morrison four times. Madsen fired twice.
"After the shots were fired by officers Todd and Madsen, Morrison appeared to have been hit and went down to the ground," according to the report.
All of the officers then approached Morrison, who was apparently conscious, alive and attempting to move. Madsen frisked Morrison while Snyder handcuffed the teen.
"Despite being hit by a shot, Morrison continued to try to reach for the left side of his coat where a knife was located," Madsen reported.
Madsen called for ambulance and rendered aid, but Morrison later died as a result of a gunshot wound to the side of his chest.
Gill found that Todd and Madsen were justified in using deadly force because Morrison posed a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officers.
"Both officers were attempting to arrest Morrison while he was actively shooting his firearm at them," Gill wrote. "It was therefore reasonable for officers Madsen and Todd to believe that the use of their firearms against Morrison was necessary to gain his arrest. Furthermore, Morrison already fired his firearm at officer Snyder several times and fired at officer Todd once."
Gill also found that Morrison was "actively shooting" in a residential area as the officers were closing in and he was disregarding their commands to put his weapon down.
Winder said after the shooting that Morrison had undergone a mental health evaluation after engaging in some criminal behavior and has a history of emotional and mental instability. He did not provide details, but said the hearts of all his officers go out to the family.
Family members reported that the teenager was also struggling with the recent arrest of his father, who was charged Feb. 23 with 12 felonies, including aggravated sexual abuse of a child, rape of a child and forcible sodomy. The alleged victim in the case is a relative.
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