SALT LAKE CITY — A Unified police officer was legally justified when he fired several shots at a man who apparently pointed a shotgun at him after a traffic stop, the Salt Lake County district attorney has determined.
In a letter to Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, District Attorney Sim Gill wrote that officer Daniel Knigge was justified in his use of force on March 17. Gill found Knigge had reason to believe the shooting was necessary to prevent death or serious injury.
Knigge was on patrol in Midvale when he noticed a Jeep Grand Cherokee with expired registration. Kingge turned on his lights and attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the vehicle continued on and didn't stop until arriving at 7950 S. Allen Street, Gill wrote.
Knigge went to speak to the driver, Rene Gerrero, and called for backup during the conversation. But before the backup officer could arrive, Sergio Garcia exited from the vehicle's passenger side.
"Knigge saw Garcia leave and drew his Taser," Gill wrote. "Garcia moved around the Jeep's door and raised and pointed a shotgun at Knigge. Knigge dropped his Taser, drew his firearm and fired two rounds at Garcia."
The man apparently ducked behind a parked car before he reappeared and again pointed his shotgun at the officer, according to the district attorney. Garcia then got back into the Jeep and Guerrero ducked into the back seat while Garcia took over as driver.
Garcia backed into a parked car and hit a retaining wall while trying to turn the Jeep around. Knigge fired three more shots, "apparently causing Garcia to abandon the vehicle and flee on foot," Gill wrote.
Garcia was later arrested with the help of police K-9s, and a shotgun shell — like those found at the scene and in the Jeep — was found on Garcia, according to Gill. In a police interview, Garcia said he knew there was "no doubt" the vehicle stopping them belonged to a police officer. He also told investigators that he recognized Knigge as the officer who had pulled him over recently "and, as a result, Garcia had his car impounded and lost his dad's rent money,'" Gill wrote. "Because of this, Garcia said he was upset at Knigge."
As Knigge got on his radio to request backup, Garcia said "he couldn't take it anymore" and exited the car with the shotgun in tow, the letter states. The man claimed he threw the gun away, but that the police officer fired anyway and that the weapon "was wrapped around his shoe and he was trying to get it off his shoe to get rid of the weapon," Gill wrote. "Garcia claimed he did not point the shotgun at Knigge."
Investigators also learned that Knigge's dash camera video showed Garcia pointing the shotgun at Knigge and the police officer firing at Garcia. It also showed Garcia ducking behind another car before again pointing the gun at Knigge, Gill wrote.
Knigge's use of force was justified because he had reason to believe such action was necessary to prevent death or other serious injury when Garcia pointed a shotgun at him "at close range," Gill wrote. The police officer's actions were also justified because he was trying to make an arrest and believed the delay of arrest could put himself or others in danger.
Garcia, 20, has since been charged with attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, theft by receiving stolen property and carrying a concealed dangerous weapon, a second-degree felony, failure to stop at the command of police, a third-degree felony, and failure to stop at the command of law enforcement, a class A misdemeanor.