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Saratoga Springs disputes wrongful death claims; Hunt family says officer’s blog post shows bias

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Posted at 3:44 PM, Jan 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-03 00:21:00-05

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah -- The family of Darrien Hunt is filing a wrongful death lawsuit and seeking $2 million in damages after Darrien was shot and killed by Saratoga Springs police, and on Friday a law firm representing the city and the officers involved issued a press release in which they disputed several claims made in the lawsuit.

The press release from the law firm representing the City of Saratoga Springs, Cpl. Matthew Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson comes the day after the Hunt family spoke to media about their intent to file the wrongful death lawsuit in federal court, click here for comments from Hunt family attorney Bob Sykes regarding the lawsuit.

The Hunt family claimed Darrien was not a threat when he was killed, and they contested the claim made by police that a witness told officers Hunt swung a samurai-style sword at police before they opened fire. The fatal shooting occurred September 10.

The press release issued Friday states: "The City and the officers dispute many of the critical factual allegations in the complaint and intend to vigorously defend against those claims. The Utah County Attorney's Office conducted a thorough investigation of the facts and, based on those facts, determined the officers were justified in using deadly force. The complaint filed by the Hunt family mischaracterizes the important facts that support this finding and omits statements by civilian witnesses that support what occurred."

Hunt's aunt, Cindy Moss, spoke to FOX 13 News Friday and reiterated the family's belief that race played a factor in the shooting, as Darrien Hunt is half African-American. Moss pointed to a blog post written by one of the officers and published on a local news website in which the officer makes the case that people who dress certain ways or enjoy certain styles of music are more likely to be drug users. Officer Matt Schauerhamer states in the blog post that he believes people who listen to Bob Marley and dress in styles associated with Rasta culture are more likely to be drug users.

The blog states in part: "Just because you have an entire archive on your iPod that is specifically dedicated to Bob Marley, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a drug user....However, if your child is listening to Bob Marley’s 'Kaya,' is wearing a Bob Marley shirt with Bob Marley on it smoking a joint, has a Bob Marley poster in his room, and is wearing a Rasta hat (red, yellow and green), it is highly likely your child is highly high. If they have Rasta colored anything, it is a good bet your child uses or hangs out with drug users."

Moss said Hunt's hairstyle and clothing choices are similar to some of the styles mentioned in the post, and she said she believes the post demonstrates that the officer had preconceived notions about people based on their appearance--which she believes played a factor in the shooting. Click here to read the complete blog post, which was posted June 26, 2014 on Crossroads Journal's website. Crossroads Journal is a news outlet covering the Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs area.

Heather White, the attorney for the city and the two officers, responded to that assertion.

“That has nothing to do with race," she said. "A person can listen to Bob Marley and have a Rastafarian look and be as lily white as the day, it has nothing to do with race."

The press release from the law firm provides a summarized account of the events that police say occurred the day Hunt was killed. The press release states officers did not compel Hunt to stop, and that he stopped willingly to speak with officers. The document states the officers asked Hunt to put the sword on the hood of the car while they talked, but did not demand that he do so.

An evidence photo courtesy of the Utah County Attorney's Office showing the sword involved in the fatal shooting of Darrien Hunt

An evidence photo courtesy of the Utah County Attorney's Office showing the sword involved in the fatal shooting of Darrien Hunt

"When Hunt refused, they did not take the sword from him or threaten to arrest him but simply tried to persuade him to put it on the hood of the car," the release stated. "While they were talking, Hunt suddenly and violently unsheathed the sword and swung it at the officers. The officers jumped back, according to a civilian witness. She said if they had not, one of the officers would have been struck in the stomach. To defend themselves, both of the officers shot at Hunt."

That account differs from the one presented in the Hunt family's lawsuit.

Sykes said Thursday: “You read his lengthy oral interview, and what he says is, ‘I assumed Darrien swung his sword at the officer because the officer fired his gun.’ He didn’t actually see it. So that’s the kind of stuff when you get all the evidence, it becomes clear. He didn’t see the swing at the officer. He assumed it.”

Sykes did not mention a female witness who may have observed Hunt allegedly swinging the sword when he spoke about the case Thursday. White said that witness account is more certain than the account from the man referenced by Sykes.

“And she stated specifically that the officers both jumped back, and had they not jumped back, the sword would have hit one of them in the stomach," White said.

The lawsuit also claims that Hunt was not a threat when he was hit with the fatal shot, as he was running away and was already injured.

Sykes said Thursday: “How far is a kid that’s been hit in the arm, and the hip and shoulder going to go? It was unreasonable of him to finish Darrien off as he was falling. There was no threat to anybody, and it was an unjustified shooting. It was illegal and these officers should be held to account.”

The press release again conflicts with the complaint and alleges Hunt was an "immediate threat", stating that Hunt did not drop the sword and surrender and instead ran toward a business with customers, despite officers yelling for him to stop.

The release states: "Corporal Schauerhamer shot at Hunt several times just before Hunt could have turned the corner to a busy gas station or proceeded straight toward a crowded Walmart parking lot, which made Hunt an immediate threat to others. Several of those shots hit Hunt in the back and arms, causing him to drop the sword and fall to the ground."

"Contrary to Plaintiffs’ allegations, Hunt was not shot because he was running from the officers nor was not shot while on the ground. In truth, had Hunt dropped the sword before fleeing, the officers would have continued chasing him on foot."

White re-iterated that claim when she spoke to FOX 13 Friday: "He was not shot because he was running away. He was shot because he was running toward people with a sword and was a danger to those people."

Click here for FOX 13 News’ ongoing coverage of the case.

See below for the complete text of the press release from the law firm of Snow, Christensen & Martineau.

Hunt v. Saratoga Springs Press Release January 2 2015