In their own words, three Ogden police officers described their shootout with Jesse Turnbow in the middle of Jefferson Avenue.
"I'm saying throughout the whole time he's shooting at me and I'm shooting at him, I'm yelling at him to 'Drop the gun. Throw down the gun. Drop the gun,"' Ogden police officer Ed Mahon said in a deposition.
The Dec. 18, 2006, fatal shooting is the subject of a $30 million excessive force lawsuit filed by Turnbow's estate and his girlfriend, Jacinda Scruggs, against the city of Ogden and police officers Mahon, John Sattelmair and Derek Draper. Police said Turnbow had initially gotten into a fight with someone near 34th Street and Adams Avenue.
The officers responded to a 911 call about a man with a gun. They confronted Turnbow, 29, who wielded a pistol-grip shotgun.
In the shootout that ensued, Turnbow's family said the officers shot him at least 20 times. In court papers filed Thursday in federal court in Salt Lake City, lawyers for the officers and Ogden city said Turnbow ignored repeated orders to drop the gun.
In a motion for summary judgment, the officers' lawyers included excerpts of depositions and photographs of the scene, showing police cars sprayed with shotgun pellets.
"The officers are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's civil rights claims because they did not violate Turnbow's constitutional rights," attorneys Allan Larson and Heather White wrote. "Even if they had, they are shielded by qualified immunity."
In the depositions, the officers describe the night they encountered Turnbow. Mahon said when he got out of his patrol car, he intended to talk to Turnbow but saw the man pull a sawed-off shotgun from under his coat and run behind a nearby tree.
"So this is going on, you're telling him to drop the gun. What is happening?" Scruggs' attorney, Michael Studebaker, asked him in the deposition.
"He shoots at me. I'm standing right there in the doorway of the car. The first round goes about a foot into the windshield away from me," Mahon replied.
The two got into a shootout, with Turnbow behind a tree and Mahon retreating toward the back of his patrol car for safety.
"Mr. Turnbow falls to the ground backward and to the right. The shotgun falls right down on his lap, and he kind of leans back and he's leaning back slightly," Mahon said.
About then, Sattelmair pulled up alongside Mahon's car and yelled at Turnbow to stay down. Draper also arrived and confronted him. The officers said Turnbow raised the gun again, and they fired.
"As I was walking up there I could see him laying there, and then he looked at me he looked back and he saw me, and then he said something to the effect of 'Let me show you how to do this. Let me' something to that effect. I don't know," Draper said.
"Do what, do you know?" Studebaker asked him.
"I don't know. No, I mean, I was continually giving him orders, you know. 'Don't move,' you know. 'Stay on the ground. Don't grab the gun."'
The depositions raise questions about whether Turnbow actually still had the gun by that time. Lawyers for the officers contend that Turnbow tried to raise the gun again. Eyewitnesses deposed by lawyers for both sides offer conflicting versions of events.
When the shooting finally stopped, Draper kicked the gun away.
"Investigators determined Turnbow fired the shotgun at least eight times at the officers," Larson and White wrote.
In her original lawsuit, Scruggs' attorney said the officers shot Turnbow 21 times, with "one bullet to his face, two bullets to his head, one bullet to his neck, four bullets to his back, five bullets to his right arm, two bullets to his chest, two bullets to his stomach, two bullets to his left arm and one bullet to his left leg."
"The officers actually shot between 50 and 90 rounds in the area, with the officers' rounds hitting homes, vehicles and anything else that was in the area," Studebaker wrote. "The defendant officers had to reload their service weapons."
Lawyers for the officers concede the dispute centers around the third round of shooting. Scruggs says in her lawsuit that Turnbow placed his weapon on the street and raised his hands to give up. The officers said in the depositions they believed he was still armed and still engaging them.
Investigators who examined the shooting were also critical of the final round of shots but acknowledged the officers believed their lives were in danger. To bolster their case, the officers' attorneys noted 14 witnesses who heard or saw the incident.
"We heard the policeman tell the guy, 'Drop the gun.' I think he said it either two or three times to drop the gun. And all of a sudden, whoever they were talking to, he said, 'Shoot me, shoot me, shoot me.' And I'm pretty sure he said it three times," eyewitness Esther Green said in a deposition. "And then it just kind of went quiet for a second. And then all of a sudden we heard this boom. And we knew it was a shotgun. I don't know if he fired once or twice. And after that we just heard the police shooting up."
Seeking to have the lawsuit tossed, Larson and White point out the law sides with the officers when they reasonably believe a suspect poses a threat of serious harm.
"Whether Turnbow was pointing the gun at the officers or reaching for it, there is ample justification for the officers' conclusions that Turnbow was a lethal threat," they wrote, adding that Scruggs' own expert concedes that Turnbow was a threat if he was still reaching for the gun.
However, Studebaker said Friday he disagrees with efforts to get the case dismissed "110 percent" and plans to fight.
He is not allowed to reveal certain details, but Studebaker said his side can produce strong evidence of police misconduct.
"There were clear violations of Jesse Turnbow's civil rights and that the officers acted inappropriately," Studebaker said.
In addition, Studebaker believes if there are any concerns in the case, "These are what a jury should hear."
The lawsuit has taken several twists as it has moved through U.S. District Court. Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner was ordered to give a deposition in the case. A judge also ordered some of the mental health records of the officers to be handed over to Studebaker. Scruggs claims in her lawsuit that Draper has a history of excessive force.
The Weber County Attorney's Office, which investigated the shooting, found the officers acted properly and said that at one point Turnbow paused to reload his weapon.
"The frequency of officer involved shootings in our community is sadly increasing," Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward wrote in a letter to Ogden police, clearing the officers."Police officers must be prepared at all times to protect themselves and the community residents that they serve from individuals who are armed and dangerous. All officers involved in this situation handled themselves in an exemplarily manner."
Contributing: Linda Thomson E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]