- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A young man killed by police while wielding a samurai sword was not shot because of his skin color, but because of his reckless actions, said an attorney Wednesday representing a Utah city and two of its officers.

Lawyer Heather White said Wednesday at a news conference that the two Saratoga Springs officers acted appropriately to defend themselves and to prevent 22-year-old Darrien Hunt from harming others at a nearby bustling shopping center. Hunt was acting violently and irrationally that day, White said.

“We’re not saying Darrien Hunt is a bad person, but he made some bad decisions that day,” said White, a private attorney hired to work the case. “The officers did not who he was and could only respond to him based on how he acted.”

Last month, Hunt’s family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the city. It contends that Hunt wasn’t a threat and was fatally shot on Sept. 10, 2014, after he tripped while running from two Saratoga Springs officers. The federal lawsuit seeks more than $2 million in damages, family attorney Robert Sykes said.

Sykes said Hunt had done nothing wrong until police confronted him about the sword and demanded he give it up. He was provoked by police, Sykes argues.

The notion that Hunt was a threat to the officers and people in the shopping center is a “fabrication to justify an illegal, unconstitutional shooting,” Sykes said.

“He was no threat to anybody,” Sykes said.

The issue of Hunt’s race came into play when, days after the shooting, Hunt’s mother Susan Hunt said she believed her son was shot because he was black. She still believes that, Sykes said. He is not sure, and points out that belief is not in the lawsuit.

The family says Hunt probably didn’t swing the sword, which was part of a Japanese anime costume, according to the lawsuit. He only took it out after officers asked him to hand it over, they said.

White strongly disputed that version, saying two witnesses saw Hunt swing his sword at the officers. One witness said one officer would have been hit had he not quickly moved back.

As Hunt ran away, he was heading toward several businesses that were crowded with people. Officer Matthew Schauerhamer shot at Hunt to prevent Hunt from getting where he could harm others, White said. The other officer involved was Nicholas Judson.

“He had a choice. Had he had not swung the sword at the officers and run toward a crowd of people, he would have been alive today,” said White, standing next to a picture of a narrow, metal, 3-foot long sword that authorities say Hunt had that day.

Prosecutors ruled the shooting legally justified, saying the officers feared for their lives and the lives of others. Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said that investigators found no evidence that race or ethnicity played a role in the shooting

The NAACP has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review whether police violated the civil rights. Sykes said he hasn’t heard from any federal investigators in the case.

Saratoga Springs is a city of 23,000 people that counts 93 percent of its population as being white and only less than 1 percent being black, U.S. Census figures show.

White said the city and the officers have not talked with the Hunt family about a settlement and intend to vigorously defend themselves.

White said she doesn’t know how much the lawsuit will cost Saratoga Springs, but recognized that it will be expensive. She said a trial could be years away.

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