An Orem police officer involved in the 1998 shooting of a suicidal Utah County man took the witness stand on Friday, saying he shot the man out of fear for his life.
Orem Sgt. Harold Peterson, now retired, testified during a scheduled nine-day federal jury trial that he thought 25-year-old David Walker had a .38 caliber "chief special" revolver pointed at him during a Dec. 29, 1998, confrontation outside Walker's home in Lehi.
Peterson said he was busy tending to a traffic accident in Orem when he heard a call of a vehicle stolen by a suicidal man. At the time, Peterson said, he did not know if Walker was armed, but dispatch had erroneously reported that Walker had threatened family members.
Walker led officers on a chase through four cities after his family reported he stole his sister's old Subaru in an effort to get police to find him after he told his mother he thought about killing himself.
At some point, Peterson joined in the chase after he went to assist in deploying tire spikes. He wound up in the lead of the chase and followed Walker down a dirt road and into the driveway of the family home.
Walker family attorney Ralph Chamness pointed out in dispatch recordings that Peterson twice referred to Walker as a "joker."
"I think we got this joker," Peterson told dispatch as he neared the Walker home.
As he saw Walker getting out of his car, Peterson also got out but accidentally left his siren on. Walker turned, and Peterson said he saw the glint of metal in his hands. "I thought it was the barrel of a gun."
Peterson said he drew his gun and pulled the trigger twice, but the clip in his gun was not secured properly. Walking back in a "zig-zag" pattern, Peterson slapped the clip into his gun and fired two rounds.
Chamness asked Peterson if he took the time to think that Walker hadn't fired anything at him when his gun malfunctioned.
"He came down to a shooting stance," Peterson said, adding he feared for his life.
Two more shots were fired by Pleasant Grove officer John Clayton, who claims he was confused and thought the first two shots came from Walker.
A state medical examiner testified this week that the officers used hollow-point bullets, which tore through Walker's body, one severing his aorta through his abdomen.
As it turned out, Walker had no gun but rather a razor box cutter with a two-inch blade. Officers and family members who witnessed the shooting differ on how Walker held the blade. Peterson said he saw Walker point the blade directly at him like a gun, but Walker's sister and brother-in-law testified Walker held the blade to his wrist, as if threatening to cut himself.
Walker's mother, Debbie Walker, is suing both officers for constitutional violations as well as pain and suffering.The trial is expected to continue next week.