RIVERTON — A man who investigators say held a knife to his mother's throat during a domestic violence incident was shot and killed by Unified police Monday.
But the father of the man who was killed disputes that it was a case of domestic violence and says his son would never have hurt his mother.
"They didn’t have to shoot him. He had a frickin' butter knife. She was yelling at them, 'Don’t do anything, he’s not going to hurt me,'” Robert Whittle said.
Jason Robert Whittle, 26, of Riverton became the fifth man in Utah to be shot and killed by police in less than two weeks. No one was injured in a sixth police shooting on Oct. 10.
Police were called to a home at 11779 S. Stone Ridge Court (1400 West) about 6:40 a.m. Monday. They arrived to find “a man holding a female by the neck with a knife to her neck,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.
At least one officer fired his gun, striking and killing Jason Whittle. The mother, 56, was not injured. The deadly confrontation happened outside the house near the end of the driveway. The woman lives at the home but Whittle did not, according to Rivera.
Robert Whittle said, however, that his son was holding a butter knife. He said his son has been battling substance abuse and has been "on the streets" for the past month or two. He said his son went to his mother's residence Monday morning seeking help and it was the mother who called police at her son's request, hoping he would be taken back to jail, mostly so he could receive treatment.
"He never was a danger to anybody. He came home wanting help,” Whittle said.
Whittle said when Unified police officers arrived, the woman exited the house first and his son followed. But his son was still holding a butter knife at the time from buttering toast inside the house, he said, adding that officers immediately drew their weapons.
Whittle said his son became scared and grabbed his mother. Despite that, he doesn't believe his son would have hurt her.
"He had a butter knife, for heaven’s sake. He didn’t have anything that would harm her. He wouldn’t harm her,” he said. "He was not a dangerous person. He was not. This is such a tragedy."
Whittle said the shooting happened very quickly after his son exited the house, but could have "easily been defused" if the officers had just taken a little more time.
"They didn’t have to shoot him. A stupid stun gun would have worked fine," he continued. "She was trying to tell them, 'He's not a threat to me. He's afraid of you guys.' He never would have harmed his mom — never in a million years."
At least two officers initially responded to the scene, possibly three, the sheriff said. Unified police declined Monday to respond to the claims that Jason Whittle was holding a butter knife or that his mom allegedly told officers not to shoot.
A neighbor told the Deseret News that the mother rents a basement apartment at the house. The neighbor said she knew the son had had a problem with drug addiction, but thought he still lived there, too.
According to court records, the mother was granted a permanent protective order against her son in July. But Whittle said that was done more to keep his son off of the property.
Whittle said when his son used drugs, he would often show up at the house screaming and yelling and making a scene. While he was not violent, the father said it was usually an unsettling scene for the neighbors. He claimed that based on advice from police, the wife got a protective order to keep their son off the property, not because she was afraid of him.
Although Rivera said Jason Whittle did not live at the house, court records from charges filed a week ago list his home address as the place where the shooting occurred. He was charged a week ago with drug possession, a class A misdemeanor, in 3rd District Court. In that case, Whittle was a patient at University of Utah Hospital in August when doctors found baggies of crystal methamphetamine in his pockets, charging documents state. The documents do not say why he was admitted to the hospital.
Jason Whittle has a history of struggling with drug addiction, according to court records. But he had not committed any felony crimes.
In May, he was convicted of misdemeanor drug possession after being pulled over in the Daybreak area and drugs were found in his car including meth, charging documents state. He was convicted of theft of services, a class B misdemeanor, on Oct. 10. He was charged with trespassing, a class B misdemeanor, in August, and convicted of trespassing in 2015, court records state. He pleaded no contest to impaired driving in 2012 and guilty to disorderly conduct in 2011.
By early October, Whittle had several warrants out for his arrest after he stopped showing up for scheduled court hearings, according to court records. He was arrested on those outstanding warrants by Sandy police on Oct. 8. He was released from jail on Thursday.
The incident is the sixth officer-involved shooting in Utah in two weeks, and the third involving a Unified police officer in five days. Men were killed in five of the six shootings.
"It has been a tough couple of weeks. Anytime these type of situations happen we want to make sure we’re taking a good look at everything,” Rivera said.
"We want to make sure we know what occurred. We wait for the investigation and then we’ll take a look at our own department to make sure … there’s anything we can do differently. But that has to wait until after the investigation. We can’t guess on what happened."
• On Thursday, members of the Metro Gang Unit and the U.S. marshal's Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team confronted Andrey Tkachenko, 23, of Salt Lake City, in an ally near 455 E. 300 South. A Unified police officer and an officer from the Saratoga Springs Police Department fired their weapons, she said. Tkachenko died en route to the hospital.
• On Wednesday, a Unified police officer shot James Lyle Kuehn, 61, of Kearns, who allegedly had just robbed a Mexican restaurant at knifepoint. Kuehn was hospitalized in critical condition but died from his injuries three days later.20 comments on this story
• On Oct. 12, Jacob E. Albrethsen, 17, was shot and killed by Orem police officers responding to a "family problem" involving Albrethsen and a woman. While the officers were inside the home, police say Albrethsen came at them "armed with a knife."
• On Oct. 11, Diamonte Riviore, 22, was shot and killed by a West Jordan police officer responding to a domestic violence call. Riviore, who had a history of threatening his ex-girlfriend, was holding a knife when officers arrived, police say.
• On Oct. 10, a Tooele police officer looking for a man wanted in a domestic violence-related assault shot at Christopher Michael Ono, 27, after Ono allegedly pointed a gun at the officer. No one was injured, and Ono was arrested and later charged.