SALT LAKE CITY — The estate of Dillon Taylor, an unarmed 20-year-old man shot and killed by a Salt Lake police officer in 2014, has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against the Salt Lake City Police Department claiming its officers "defy accountability and defy justice."
The officer who shot Taylor as well as the others who responded "were improperly trained and groomed through a vicious culture and cycle of shoot-to-kill-first, avoid questions and accountability later, beginning at the start of their careers and reinforced throughout," Taylor's estate stated in its suit, while accusing the police department of having an "entrenched departmental detachment from human life and the consequences of excessive deadly force."
The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office determined the shooting to be justified. But the incident sparked outrage from Taylor's family and some members of the community.
On Aug. 11, 2014, Salt Lake police were called to a report of a possible man with a gun near 2100 S. State. A witness claimed three men were flashing a gun in the area.
Officer Bron Cruz arrived at the scene first. His body camera recorded the entire incident as he pulled into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven and spotted three men: Taylor, his brother Jerrail Taylor, and their cousin Adam Thayne, all named as plaintiffs in the suit.
Two of the men immediately stopped and put their hands in the air. Dillon Taylor kept his head down and continued walking.
Cruz, with his gun drawn, approached Taylor from behind and told him, "Get your hands up now." At one point, the video showed Taylor turn around and look at the officer but still refusing to take his hands out of his waistband.
"No, fool," Taylor is heard saying on the recording.
Moments later, Taylor lifts his shirt and takes his hands out of his waistband. Cruz reacted by firing two quick shots, striking Taylor in the chest and stomach, killing him.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Taylor's family lists Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, South Salt Lake and several officers, including interim Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown, as defendants.
"The needless and unjustified escalation of a routine investigation, the needless and unjustified use of deadly force against Dillon Taylor, and the needless and unjustified arrest and detention of Adam Thayne and Jerrail Taylor were without basis, unlawful, and violated their clearly established right to be free of unreasonable seizure," the lawsuit states.
The family acknowledges that "Cruz yelled to Dillon, 'Get your hands out now, get your hands out, get your get ‘em out!,'" according to the lawsuit.
But the family contends at that point, Taylor did what the officer told him.
"In compliance with defendant Cruz’s demands, Dillon turned around, pulled up his hands, and showed them to defendant Cruz," the lawsuit states.
In a deposition with the district attorney's office, an emotional Cruz said he was "100 percent convinced" that Taylor had a gun. By the time Taylor turned around and Cruz said he was forced to fire his weapon, he thought it was already too late.
"I was scared to death. The last thought I had go through my mind when I pulled the trigger, and I'll never forget this was that I was too late. I was too late. And because of that, I was gonna get killed. Worse, my (partner) was gonna get killed," the officer testified.
In the lawsuit, the estate of Taylor also mentions Geist the dog, which was shot and killed two months prior to Taylor's shooting, as well as the belief that "there are other incidents of Salt Lake City police officers using unlawful and unconstitutional force when interacting with citizens.
"Citizens expect consequences and not cover-up when unarmed teenagers like Dillon are killed because of the irrational subjective perceptions of 'defiance' by trigger-happy law enforcement," the lawsuit states.
Robert Cummings, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said it is their belief based on their investigation that there is a systemic problem in Utah with the way officers like Cruz are being trained at Peace Officers Standard and Training, the organization that certifies law enforcers in Utah.
He said the lawsuit was in part to help the Taylor family "put back the pieces of an otherwise shattered life." After the lawsuit is resolved, he said the family also hopes to affect overall change through the Utah Legislature.
The family is asking for a jury trial to determine damages in their lawsuit.
Contributing: Becky Bruce