SARATOGA SPRINGS — The parents of Darrien Hunt claim in a wrongful death lawsuit that Saratoga Springs police illegally shot and killed their son.
Susan Hunt and Curtis Hunt claim Cpl. Matt Schauerhamer and officer Nicholas Judson violated their son's right to openly carry a sword and improperly used deadly force when he declined to give it up after they confronted him near Crossroads Boulevard and Redwood Road on Sept. 10, 2014.
"We believe that police provoked an incident on a person who was harmless, who was doing nothing wrong. He was not in any way threatening anybody," said attorney Robert Sykes, who represents Hunt's mother.
Furthermore, Darrien Hunt's parents say police tried to cover up their actions with conflicting accounts of Hunt swinging the sword before they opened fire on him, according to draft of the lawsuit Sykes and attorney Karra Porter plan to file Friday in U.S. District Court. Porter represents Hunt's father.
"In the final moments of Darrien’s life, he was compelled to flee in great terror from Schauerhamer and Judson. He undoubtedly knew that the officers were trying to kill him, which caused him to experience fear and terror in the last, final moments of his young life," the lawsuit says.
In November, the Utah County Attorney's Office found that Schauerhamer and Judson were legally justified in shooting Hunt.
The officers fired seven shots after Hunt "swung or swiped" a 3-foot long katana sword at one or both of them and then took off running toward several businesses where there were "immediately accessible" customers whom he could have hurt, investigators said.
Schauerhamer fired two shots and is believed to have hit Hunt, 22, in the shoulder and forearm. Judson also fired a shot. With the sword still in hand, Hunt then turned and ran toward a nearby Panda Express. Schauerhamer chased after him and fired more rounds. All rounds hit him from behind.
Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman concluded that Schauerhamer's actions were reasonable in order to prevent his own death or serious bodily injury, and in order to prevent the death and serious bodily injury of other people.
Lawyers for both of Hunt's parents disagreed with the findings, saying Hunt posed no threat to the officers and people in the area and that the shooting was unjustified.
Judson told Utah County investigators that Hunt drew the sword up over his head and swung at Schauerhamer. Yet Schauerhamer told investigators Hunt jumped toward Judson with the sword, according the lawsuit.
"They couldn't get their own stories straight. We don't believe he swung the sword, but if he did, he's now fleeing and he's not a danger to anybody. There was no reason to use deadly force, even if their story is correct," Sykes said.
The lawsuit contends that the first two shots would not have been fatal. Hunt tripped or fell to the ground because of his loose-fitting pants during the chase, allowing Schauerhamer to catch up to him.
"It was unreasonable for him to basically finish Darrien off as he was falling," Sykes said. Hunt was killed by one or more of the final three shots, according to the suit.
Neither of the officers told Hunt that he was under arrest or that they intended to take him into custody, the lawsuit states.
"At no time did either Schauerhamer or Judson tell Darrien that they would stop shooting if he stopped running," the suit says.
The complaint notes that officers shot Hunt only a few days after the popular Salt Lake Comic Con comic book convention, where people involved in costume play openly carried various types of swords in the street. He was wearing martial arts-style clothing and his hair was styled in a "samurai-style bun" to appear "like a swordsman character in a Japanese anime series."
Utah law allows weapons to be openly carried without a permit. The lawsuit says Hunt had a constitutional right to carry the sword.
Schauerhamer knew that Saratoga Springs police received calls on "open carry" all the time. He claimed the incident with Hunt was the first time in his experience that someone had refused to comply with a demand to surrender an open-carry weapon, according to the lawsuit.
Contributing: Alex Cabrero
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