SALT LAKE CITY — Three SWAT team members involved in two separate shootings last year were cleared Thursday by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced he would not pursue criminal charges against the officers involved in shootings on June 17 and July 15, noting that they would likely be able to successfully argue in court that they believed their lives were in imminent danger.
However, as has been the recent trend with officers involved in shootings, Gill noted that all of the officers declined to speak with the district attorney's office as part of the investigation.
On June 17, Abel Chris Martinez, 44, entered the home of his grandmother, 89-year-old Rose Martinez and her 71-year-old husband near 450 E. Stanley Ave. (3180 South), held them hostage and threatened them.
As a SWAT team was arriving at the house, officers received word that an increasingly agitated Abe Martinez had begun attacking his grandparents. That prompted three SWAT members already suited up in full gear to form an Immediate Action Team — consisting of one South Salt Lake officer and two Unified officers — and go to the front of the house. The members "engaged" the suspect through a front window and shot and killed the man, according to police.
Rose Martinez had already been stabbed to death and her husband was in the process of being attacked when officers confronted Abe Martinez, the report states.
Unified police officer Alan Jewett and South Salt Lake detective Tyler Cluff fired the shots that killed Martinez. Jewett fired two shots from a handgun and Cluff fired three from a rifle, according to Gill's report. Neither officer was wearing a body camera at the time.
"While we don't know (because they didn't answer questions or give a statement, as is their right not to) what officer Jewett or detective Cluff saw or heard or believed at the time each used deadly force, we know what they could have seen or heard or believed based on the facts, we presently know," the report states.
Based on the totality of the evidence collected, Gill said the officers' actions would likely be found justified in court.
In the second incident, on July 15, West Valley police attempted to pull over Ricardo Jose Lopez, 28, for allegedly driving recklessly near 1900 West and 3500 South. But rather than stop, Lopez ignored the officer and drove to a house at 3551 S. Shafer Lane and ran inside, according to Gill's final report regarding that incident.
When police tried to negotiate with Lopez to come out of the house, he threatened to kill officers. "When you guys do come in I'm going to stab you," he said, according to the report.
A SWAT team arrived and attempted to use pepper spray and tear gas to get Lopez out of the house, but were unsuccessful, the report states.
Later, Lopez charged at officers with a knife. One officer attempted to use a Taser but was unsuccessful.
West Valley police officer Andrew Swanger then fired two rounds at Lopez, stopping him, according to the report.
None of the officers, however, saw a knife in Lopez's hand until after he fell to the ground, but could see that he was trying to hide something as he came at them, the report states. Gill noted that he does not know exactly what Swanger saw because he declined to be interviewed.1 comment on this story
But again, based on the totality of the evidence, Gill said the shooting would likely be found justified in court.
Lopez, who was later booked into jail after being treated at a hospital for his injury, was charged in 3rd District Court with three counts of assault on a police officer, a second-degree felony; injuring a police K-9, failing to stop for police and possession of a weapon by a restricted person, third-degree felonies; and six other misdemeanor crimes.
Lopez was also shot by West Valley police in 2016 in another incident that was determined to be justified.