- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Salt Lake County district attorney announced Tuesday that the minority police officer who fatally shot an unarmed white suspect was “legally justified,” in a case that drew national attention in the aftermath of the racially charged police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said at a press conference Tuesday that Officer Bron Cruz was cleared of wrongdoing because the investigation showed that he believed 20-year-old Dillon Taylor had a firearm and was prepared to use it.

The officer’s recounting of events was backed up by footage from his body camera. That footage, released to local media Tuesday, shows Mr. Taylor behaving erratically after he was told to stop and put his hands up.

“As events unfolded, Officer Cruz’s belief that Dillon Taylor was armed with a gun and intended to use it against the officers was reinforced by Dillon’s actions and the actions of others,” said a statement from Mr. Gill.

The shooting drew national attention in part because it took place Aug. 11, two days after a white police officer fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. Mr. Brown was black and unarmed, and the shooting touched off widespread rioting and looting.

In the Salt Lake case, the racial element was reversed: Mr. Taylor was white, while Officer Cruz was identified by the police chief as “not a white officer.”

Family and friends decried the shooting, saying Mr. Taylor was wearing earbuds and couldn’t hear the officer’s command. On the Facebook page “Justice for Dillon Taylor,” dozens of people criticized the district attorney’s decision.

“I am just sickened by the decision by the DA that this was justified. I saw the video on TV. This is just wrong!” said Cherie Garcia.

Officers responded to calls saying a man was waving a gun at a convenience store in South Salt Lake. The footage shows the police car pulling into the parking lot and stopping in front of Mr. Taylor, his brother and his cousin.

The brother and cousin stopped immediately when approached by police, but Mr. Taylor walked away. Two officers followed Mr. Taylor with guns drawn as one officer shouted, “Get your hands out now!”

Mr. Taylor turned and began walking backward, lifted his shirt and appeared to reach in the front of his pants. “Nah, fool,” he said, and the officer shot him.

No gun was found on Mr. Taylor afterward, but his blood alcohol content was tested at 0.18 percent, more than twice as high as the legal driving limit.

Mr. Taylor had a warrant outstanding for his arrest on felony robbery charges, although officers were unaware of that at the time of the shooting. In the days before he was shot, Mr. Taylor posted despondent messages on Facebook such as “ill die before I go do a lot of time in a cell.”

In a transcript from a deposition taken after the shooting, Officer Cruz said he was “100 percent convinced” that Mr. Taylor had a gun when he turned around, according to the Deseret News.

“I was scared to death. The last thought I had go through my mind when I pulled the trigger, and I’ll never forget this … was that I was too late. I was too late. And because of that, I was going to get killed. Worse, my [partner] was going to get killed,” the officer said in the deposition.

The shooting touched off several peaceful protests in Salt Lake City from those accusing the police of excessive use of force. Another rally against “police violence” is scheduled for Saturday at the Salt Lake Courthouse.

“Everybody here would be fairly naive if we don’t acknowledge that there are issues that are going around the country that are raising concerns about interactions and trust within the community and law enforcement,” Mr. Gill said at the televised press conference Tuesday.

“But I think it’s important to recognize that the national conversation, and as well as the local conversation, is changing,” Mr. Gill said. “And that we have both the technology and the responsibility to be accountable to our citizens. We are a public institution that has incredible power, and with that power comes an incredible amount of responsibility.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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