I would dare say they both deserve credit for saving each other's lives. Their response under fire was very good. … I'm very proud to be represented by officers like that. —Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank
SALT LAKE CITY — Officers who work the graveyard shift for the Salt Lake City Police Department always back up each other on traffic stops, even if they aren't officially called to the scene.
On Friday, two officers watching each other's back may have saved each other's lives.
"I would dare say they both deserve credit for saving each other's lives," said Salt Lake City Police Chief Burbank said. "In fact, both, as I spoke to them this morning at the hospital, credited the other for saving their life."
Early Friday morning, a traffic stop ended with a shootout on a normally busy downtown Salt Lake City street.
A man who police say opened fire on two officers without warning was shot and killed.
The officers, Mo Tifisi, a nine-year veteran with the Salt Lake City Police Department, and Dan Tueller, an officer who has been on the force for 18 months, were rushed to the hospital Friday morning with gunshot wounds that were not life-threatening.
Tifisi, 40, was hit once in the shoulder and Tueller, 33, once in the upper thigh, said Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Robin Heiden.
Both officers were praised Friday by Burbank.
"I'm extremely impressed with the way these officers handled the situation," the chief said. "Again, we don't celebrate the fact our officers had to use deadly force. But in certain circumstances, when we are left with no other option, as in this particular case, our two officers performed admirably."
Burbank visited both officers in the hospital Friday shortly after the shooting. Tueller "was in quite a bit of pain," he said. Tueller underwent surgery Friday.
Tifisi did not require surgery and was released from the hospital Friday afternoon.
Though Burbank noted it's hard to call a gunshot wound a "minor injury," he expects both officers will recover.
"They're doing well, and they will be OK. Both are in stable condition and recovering from their injuries," he said.
The gunman was identified by police as Christopher Leo Knight, 34, of California.
Knight's body lay on the ground for more than eight hours Friday, just outside the passenger-side door of the vehicle he was in before it was eventually taken to the medical examiner's office.
"The scene has been really slow to process. We've got several different investigations going on," Heiden said, including one by homicide detectives and one by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
The incident began about 2:15 a.m. when an officer stopped to speak to two men in a Jeep Grand Cherokee with Utah license plates on 300 South, just east of West Temple in front of the vacant Zephyr Club.
Heiden did not immediately know if the vehicle was pulled over or if it was already stopped in a parking spot. Information on what prompted the stop and why the officer thought the vehicle was suspicious was also not released Friday.
The Jeep, which had a lot of front-end damage, was covered in dried mud as if it had been off-roading recently.
As soon as one officer stopped, another nearby officer showed up as backup.
"On graveyards, it's just our protocol we will back someone if they go on a traffic stop," Heiden said. "Anytime you're working a graveyard shift, or any shift for that matter, and you're approaching a vehicle, you have no idea what you're going up on, and they don't know what you know, so it's kind of a dangerous situation."
As the officers were speaking with the two men, suspicion about the passenger grew, she said.
"They were speaking to both of them, and they wanted to speak to the passenger further because he was giving false information or some sort of conflicting information," Heiden said.
Within just a few minutes of the initial contact, the passenger apparently became agitated at police.
"As the passenger exited the vehicle, he drew a handgun and immediately began shooting at our two officers," Burbank said.
"It must have been very quick because both officers were shot before they could return fire," Heiden added.
Heiden said she did not know if both officers were standing on the passenger side of the vehicle when they were hit or if the officers were standing on opposite sides of the car.
Both officers returned an undisclosed number of rounds after being shot, Burbank said. Investigators checked nearby buildings Friday for additional stray bullets, as well as any possible surveillance video from security cameras.
Police say that for a shooting in downtown Salt Lake City, it was probably the best scenario. All of the surrounding businesses were closed at the time. Investigators do not believe there were any witnesses, bystanders or anyone else around at the time of the incident.
A geoforensics 3-D laser scanner from Leica, a relatively new investigative tool for the Salt Lake City Police Department, was also being used to take a 360-degree image of the crime scene that could be downloaded onto a computer to look at every possible angle the officers would have seen.
"It gives us a good point of view from every position in there," Heiden said.
The driver of the vehicle complied with all of the officers' commands after the shooting and did not try to run. He was taken to Salt Lake police headquarters for questioning and later released without being arrested.
Police did not say Friday what the connection between the two men was, what they were doing in that part of town at 2 a.m. or what a possible motive may have been for the shooting.
The vehicle the men were driving was seized by police and searched. Burbank said Friday he wasn't prepared yet to talk about what possible evidence was found inside.
Knight, from Lakeport, Calif., has no criminal record in Utah, according to court records. He was arrested in Lakeport in 2007 for investigation of resisting arrest, fighting in public and a parole violation, according to the Lake County, Calif., Sheriff's Office website.
A spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff's Office said Friday that Knight was being investigated in a recent homicide, but he would not say to what extent. Knight also had prior narcotics convictions and currently had a no-bail warrant out for his arrest for investigation of drug possession.
Contributing: Whitney Evans
Email: [email protected], Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam