David Walker

A federal jury has found two Utah County police officers did not act recklessly when they fatally shot a suicidal man in 1998.

It took the jury about six hours on Thursday to come to its decision that there were no grounds for civil damages against either officer.

For two weeks a jury of nine men and three women heard testimony regarding the tragic evening of Dec. 29, 1998, when 25-year-old David Walker was fatally shot by Orem Police Sgt. Harold Peterson and Pleasant Grove officer John Clayton just outside the Walker family home.

During closing arguments earlier Thursday, about 10 officers and five dispatchers with the Pleasant Grove Police Department crowded the courtroom in a show of solidarity.

Peterson's attorney, Andrew Morse, told jurors his client was a "fine man" who was simply defending himself from someone whom he thought had pointed a gun at him. The same went for Clayton, he said.

"He had every reason to defend himself. He was going to die," Morse said.

Jurors heard conflicting testimony about the shooting during the trial but also heard how the incident began with a phone call to sheriff's dispatch by Walker's mother, Debbie Walker, who testified that her son had called her and threatened to kill himself.

Desperate to find her son, Debbie Walker said she reported an old Subaru, which Walker had taken from the home, as stolen. Police spotted Walker at a local gas station. He then led them on a chase through four cities, blowing through intersections and across lawns, even knocking out power to a neighborhood before pulling into the driveway of his family's rural Lehi home.

Peterson and Clayton testified they saw Walker get out of the car and then turn toward them in a "classic shooter's stance." Peterson said he thought he saw the barrel of a revolver and tried to fire his gun twice, only to find the ammunition clip loose. Slapping the clip in, Peterson said he fired two rounds at Walker. Clayton, who was further away, testified hearing two shots and seeing Walker turn toward him. Thinking that at least one of the shots came from Walker, Clayton fired two more shots. Both officers said they feared for their life and safety.

It was after the shooting that police found Walker did not have a gun, but rather a box-cutter knife with a two-inch blade. Family members testified they saw Walker pull the knife and hold it against his wrist, not pointing it at police.

Debbie Walker, representing her son's estate, sued the cities of Orem and Pleasant Grove, as well as Utah County, for the shooting. A federal district judge threw out her suit under governmental immunity, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found there was sufficient evidence of possible negligence to take Peterson and Clayton to trial.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com; rpalmer@desnews.com