SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake branch of the NAACP is calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation into the shooting death of Darrien Hunt.
On Monday, with attorneys and a spokeswoman for Hunt's family by her side, Salt Lake NAACP President Jeanetta Williams announced that she has asked the DOJ to look into whether the fatal September shooting of Hunt by two Saratoga Springs officers was justified, whether the officers used excessive force, whether proper police tactics were used and whether Hunt's civil rights were violated.
The announcement comes one week after Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman ruled that Saratoga Springs Police Cpl. Matt Schauerhamer and officer Nicholas Judson were legally justified in using deadly force against the 22-year-old man.
Williams said the NAACP disagrees with Buhman's decision. So does Hunt family attorney Robert Sykes.
"This is a tragic case and a case that cries out for a solid, fair investigation. And I don't think we had that, sadly, from the Utah County Attorney's Office," Sykes said. "We're struggling with the honesty of the police department, the (county attorney's) office and their investigation when they don't even recognize or acknowledge those things that took place."
Furthermore, Hunt's family and their attorney don't believe the version of events as outlined by the Utah County Attorney's Office in its report.
Susan Hunt, Darrien Hunt's mother, "is very upset that they're flat out lying and nothing matches up with what's real, with pictures, with what we're seeing, with any of it," said Cindy Moss, Darrien Hunt's aunt.
On Sept. 10, a confrontation between Hunt and the two officers that lasted a total of 37 seconds ended with the officers chasing Hunt across a parking lot and shooting him six times — all from behind — until he finally dropped to the ground outside a Panda Express restaurant.
The Utah County Attorney's Office determined that Hunt "swung or swiped" a 3-foot-long katana sword at one or both of the officers during the initial confrontation and then took off running, sword still in hand, toward several businesses where there were "immediately accessible" customers. Schauerhamer said he continued chasing and shooting because he feared Hunt would use his sword against someone else.
Sykes doesn't believe that Hunt actually swung his sword at the officers, nor does he believe the officers really offered to give Hunt a ride to Orem as they claimed in their report. He also believes Hunt may have actually tried to just walk away rather than run off.
But even if Hunt had swung a sword at officers as claimed, once he started running away, the officers were no longer in imminent danger and deadly force was no longer justified, he said.
"Using deadly force on someone who's fleeing, that was improper, even if he swung the sword, which we do not believe happened," Sykes said.
When asked what motive Saratoga Springs police might have for not accurately recounting the events of that day, Sykes said, "The motive could easily be to avoid liability, civil or criminal."
Last week, surveillance video from businesses in the area was released. One video briefly captures Hunt running at full sprint away from Schauerhamer who chases after him with his gun drawn. The second is a video shot from inside the Panda Express. The camera is pointed toward a glass door where the chase ends just outside, and Hunt falls to the ground and out of view of the camera after he is shot.
"The most disturbing thing that I have seen thus far about this, and I think justifies (an investigation), is this chilling video of Darrien running for his life and this incomprehensible firing from about 30 or 40 feet away on Darrien right next to Redwood Road. What was that officer thinking?" Sykes questioned, adding that the officer acted with "unbelievable irresponsibility."
Moss said her family has gone over the surveillance video frame by frame.
"It's very traumatic for us to watch, Darrien running for his life. But it's even more traumatic to watch things especially at that last window," she said. "If you go through frame by frame, you can see the sword flying out of his hand, the beginning of him falling down, the spot where he died, the officer running up. You can see him running up and the officer pointing his gun down at him."
Both Sykes and Moss contend that the bullet that was believed to be the fatal shot traveled from the bottom of Hunt's lung to the top, meaning that he was shot either while falling or already on the ground.
Sykes further contends that the Utah County Attorney's Office has not shared all of its evidence with him and wonders if there could be additional surveillance video.
"They say they've interviewed people. I want the interviews," he said. "I've never had this much trouble getting information."
Williams said an investigation by the Department of Justice is for transparency and accountability.
"We do not want our young people to look at police officers as executioners, but as authorities of safety," she said.
Even if the DOJ decides that the county attorney was correct in his finding, at least the public will have the assurance that an independent investigation was conducted.
When asked whether she believes race played a role in the shooting, Williams said, "I think a large part of it was because he was African-American."
Hunt's mother, who is white, has said she believes race played a role in her son's shooting. Sykes has not gone so far as to say race was definitely a factor, only that it is one area being investigated.
Last week, Buhman said, "I find absolutely no evidence that race, ethnicity, color, gender or age was any factor at all in what occurred, or did not occur, on Sept. 10."
Williams also said Monday she would like to see Saratoga Springs police and all law enforcement officers in Utah wear body cameras, and said citizen review boards should be established in each jurisdiction to review police shootings.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah released a brief statement Monday after the NAACP press conference. "We acknowledge the NAACP's request this morning. We appreciate their concern. However, we do not comment about investigations."
Email: [email protected]