SALT LAKE CITY — A Cottonwood Heights police officer who shot a fleeing 19-year-old man suspected of robbing two stores at gunpoint will not be charged.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Tuesday that officer Casey Davies would likely be able to establish at trial, if charges were filed, that he used deadly force on Zane Anthony James because he feared he was in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
But once again, as has been the case with other officer-involved critical incident reviews this year, the officer who pulled the trigger declined to be interviewed as part of the investigation per the advice of his attorney.
"Without officer Davies' explanation of his use of deadly force against Mr. James, we don't know his reasons for his decision to fire his weapon," Gill wrote in his report, while also noting it is Davies' constitutional right to remain silent.
On May 29, Davies was headed to work when he heard other officers pursuing a man on a motorcycle suspected in a pair of armed robberies. Police believe James robbed a Smith's Food and Drug, 2039 E. 9400 South, at gunpoint about 3:15 a.m., and then a Macey's grocery store, 7850 S. 1300 East, just as it opened at 6 a.m.
About 10 minutes after the Macey's robbery, Davies spotted the motorcycle. A short pursuit ended in a residential area near 6675 S. 2200 East.
James hit a speed bump and crashed his motorcycle, according to the report. He began running away from the officer, and while doing so, kept putting his hands near his waistband.
"As Mr. James continued to flee on foot, officers saw him reaching into and digging through his pockets and clothing," the report states.
In the front yard of a home at 2209 E. 6675 South, James was shot twice in the back.
Davies had not been in the office yet so he had not picked up his body camera and was not wearing it at the time of the shooting. Other officers who were close by were wearing them and recorded the scene shortly after the shooting.
One officer can be heard asking Davies "Where's the gun at?" the report states.
"He kept reaching with his left had up in that front area," Davies replied.
A realistic looking gun, that was later determined to be a pellet gun, was found in James' pocket.
Other officers interviewed as part of the investigation all had similar accounts of what Davies told them, the report states. Because James was believed to have committed two armed robberies that morning, and because he was reaching in his pocket or waistband, Gill concluded that based on the totality of the evidence, it points "toward a statutory defense of 'justification,'" according to the report.
But just as Granite School District police officer Jonathan Sidhu and Adult Probation and Parole officer Daniel Hampton did following their critical incidents earlier this year, Davies declined to be interviewed by Gill's office.
Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robby Russo said Tuesday it's because officers are being told by their attorneys to not talk to Gill.
"They do not like Sim," he said.
But in this case, Russo said he sides with Gill. He said he would have preferred that Davies participate in the investigation and believes Davies wanted to talk. But because his attorney told him not to, Davies remained silent, Russo said.
The chief believes it is in all officers' best interests to participate in a shooting review.
"Why would you not?" he questioned. "We want to not give the appearance we're hiding something."
Because police officers are held to a higher standard, they should be able to articulate why they felt deadly force was necessary at the time they decide to pull the trigger, Russo said.
The Cottonwood Heights Police Department issued a statement Tuesday saying its internal investigation matched what Gill's office concluded and that "officer Davies acted within policy and with the boundaries of the law.
"Officer Davies and the James family remain in our thoughts and prayers as they emotionally navigate this tragic event," the department stated.
James had a promising hockey career in high school, but was forced to give it up to injuries and concussions, according to coaches. After that, he became trapped in drug addiction, according to those who knew him.Comment on this story
In 2017, James was arrested in connection with a series of five armed robberies in Cottonwood Heights, including robberies at GameStop, Subway and World Market.
In March of 2017, James pleaded guilty to drug possession. Several letters submitted to the court as recently as April indicated he was doing well in treatment. But on May 25, just days before the shooting, a second no-bail warrant was issued for his arrest in that case after he failed to show up for another court appearance.
"While we miss him dearly and are devastated by our own personal loss, we know he is in a better place," his family wrote in his obituary.