COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — A former Cottonwood Heights police officer being sued for shooting a fleeing man in the back resulting in his death wants the lawsuit dismissed.
Casey Davies and his attorney filed a motion Tuesday in federal court asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Aaron and Tiffany James.
On May 29, 2018, the couple's son, Zane Anthony James, 19, robbed two stores at gunpoint, according to police. About 10 minutes later, as officers were chasing a motorcycle driven by the suspected robber, Davies joined the pursuit.
As James sped through a residential area near 6675 S. 2200 East, he hit a speed bump and crashed just two blocks from his house.
James began running away from the officer, and while doing so, kept putting his hands near his waistband, according to a report on the officer-involved shooting from Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
James was shot twice in the back in the front yard of a home at 2209 E. 6675 South. Davies, who had not been in the office yet, was not wearing a body camera.
Police officers put James in handcuffs for their safety and began administering first aid. A realistic looking pellet gun was found in James' pocket, according to investigators.
Doctors determined James would likely be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. He communicated for three days with doctors and his parents using eye motions and a dry erase board. After three days, James asked that he be taken off life support and no efforts be made to restore him, his parents said.
Due mainly to the fact that James was believed to have just committed two armed robberies and he kept reaching for something in his pocket, the shooting was determined to be legally justified by Gill.
But Davies declined to be interviewed as part of Gill's review of the shooting. And Aaron and Tiffany James said when they attempted to talk to Cottonwood Heights police, they didn't get anywhere. Because of that, the James family filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages. They said the goal is to create policy changes within the police department for more transparency.
In the motion to dismiss filed Tuesday, attorney Heather White argues that her client is protected under the Fourth Amendment.
"Davies’ use of deadly force was reasonable under the circumstances. This entitles officer Davies to qualified immunity under the first prong of that analysis. It additionally entitles Cottonwood Heights to dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims against it because a municipality may not be held liable where there was no underlying constitutional violation by any of its officers," the motion states.
Because Zane James had committed two robberies and was fleeing, White said her client could legally use deadly force.
"Although officer Davies did not give a verbal warning to James or order him to drop his weapon, James had already manifested noncompliance with police commands because he knew he was being pursued by the police but continued in his escape attempt," according to the motion. "From officer Davies’ perspective, James was an armed suspect escaping onto a narrow neighborhood street surrounded by homes. Officer Davies could have reasonably feared that any delay caused by issuing a warning would allow James an opportunity to escape into or near those homes, placing civilian lives at risk."
White argues that deadly force was necessary to prevent James from escaping.7 comments on this story
"The manifest intentions of James regarding any threat toward officer Davies and others are admittedly unclear, except that officer Davies believed James to be armed and James had intentionally threatened serious harm to another during a robbery that occurred mere minutes before the shooting," the motion states, adding that Davies "could have had a reasonable belief that James posed a significant threat of death or bodily injury to himself or others."
The James family and their attorney, Robert Sykes, will now have a chance to file a response to the motion.
Davies currently works for the Herriman Police Department.