Michael Brandy, Deseret News
West Valley police officer Jared Cardon removes a gun and ammunition from a vehicle involved in a police chase on Aug. 8, 2009. Cardon was charged Wednesday with reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, stemming from shots he fired at a vehicle last year.

SALT LAKE CITY — A West Valley police officer is facing a criminal charge in connection with a shooting last year.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said the charges are the first in many years that his office has filed against a police officer.

Jared Cardon, 39, was charged Wednesday with reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail. Gill's office previously determined that Cardon was not legally justified when he used deadly force in the May 24, 2011, incident.

Cardon said he fired his weapon at an oncoming car in order to protect himself and others. But investigators determined that he was not in imminent danger and his shots could have injured others.

That day, Cardon was writing a traffic citation near 3500 South and 5275 West. The road does not have a shoulder in that area, and traffic started to back up as Cardon wrote his ticket, prosecutors said. Another vehicle apparently came up too fast on the stopped traffic, swerved to avoid hitting other vehicles, then went into a front yard and hit a fence.

Driver Jose Contreras got out of the vehicle and was confronted by bystanders. He then got back into his car and fled, prosecutors said.

Cardon heard the commotion and started walking toward the accident. Just seconds later, he saw Contreras driving toward him.

The officer held up his hand to try and get the vehicle to stop. He then drew his weapon and waved it in front of the vehicle to convince the driver to stop, investigators said.

"Cardon stated that the vehicle continued straight at him, and he concluded that the driver was determined to hit him," the district attorney's report states. "In response, Cardon fired two rounds at the vehicle in quick succession."

Cardon then fired a third shot at the tires as the car passed in an attempt to stop the vehicle.

"Cardon further stated that he felt it was an exigent circumstance to stop the driver from 'threatening my life, threatening the lives of other people that were in the area,'" the report states.

But based on numerous witness statements and the physical evidence, Gill's office concluded that Cardon's life was not in imminent danger as the officer had claimed.

One witness said Cardon was "several yards downrange from (Cardon's) gunfire," the charges filed Wednesday state. An investigator also reported that ricochets from the bullets hitting the car could have injured bystanders or other motorists on the roadway.

Two witnesses said Contreras did not drive his vehicle straight at Cardon, but was instead maneuvering to get around him, according to charging documents. Contreras said the same thing. The officer had reported that he had signaled for Contreras to stop, but said the man drove his vehicle "straight at him."

Gill said Wednesday that the investigation of every officer-involved shooting involves a two-part determination of whether the shooting was justified and, if not, whether it rises to a criminal violation. The "totality" of the forensic evidence, witness statements, the statement of the driver and Cardon's statements led to the filing of criminal charges.

An arraignment is scheduled for May 17.

Cardon was one of two officers involved in shootings last year that Gill determined were not legally justified. No charges had been filed against the other officer as of Wednesday.

Cardon was previously sued in federal court by Cesar Medina, who accused him of using excessive force and violating the man's constitutionally afforded protection against unreasonable search and seizure during a July 18, 2009, traffic stop. A jury determined that Cardon had not shown excessive force and awarded no damages to Medina.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam