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Judge to decide if Darrien Hunt’s mother should be forced to accept settlement

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Posted at 1:17 PM, Jan 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-19 21:26:08-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge will decide if the mother of Darrien Hunt should be forced to accept a settlement over his death.

In arguments in federal court on Tuesday, Susan Hunt's attorneys argued that she never agreed to a final settlement in her lawsuit against Saratoga Springs over her son's death -- especially one that bound her to a nondisparagement clause. But the city said Hunt, through her former attorney, Bob Sykes, agreed to $900,000 and a joint statement over the settlement.

"Susan will not be muted," her attorney, Michael Wright, told reporters outside of court. "She thinks this was a situation that should not have occurred and she wants the ability to tell folks what happened."

Susan Hunt leaves federal court surrounded by family and attorneys at the end of a hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (FOX 13 News)

Susan Hunt leaves federal court surrounded by family and attorneys at the end of a hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (FOX 13 News)

Darrien Hunt, 22, was shot and killed by two Saratoga Springs police officers in 2014 responding to a call about a man with a sword. He was dressed in a costume and carrying a sword with a rounded blade that his family said was cosplay. Hunt's parents filed a $2 million lawsuit over his death, accusing the city of violating Darrien's civil rights. The Hunt family has said they believe the shooting was racially motivated. The Utah County Attorney ruled the shooting justified, but the U.S. Justice Department is reportedly reviewing it.

An attorney for Saratoga Springs argued in court on Tuesday that the first they had heard Hunt was rejecting any settlement was on the one year anniversary of Darrien's death, when she told reporters the settlement was "hush money" and claimed it prohibited her from discussing what happened to her son. Heather White pointed to a paper trail of emails and conversations about the amount of money and terms with her former attorney that indicated Hunt signed off on the settlement terms.

"She agreed to those terms and simply had second thoughts after the settlement was reached," White told reporters outside court.

Hunt fired Sykes and has retained new lawyers. They argued to the judge that Sykes did not have any authority to bind her to a settlement, but conceded she did accept a $900,000 offer.

"It came off the rails when the city insisted on a nondisparagement clause," Hunt's attorney, Samuel Starks, said.

Susan Hunt's attorneys speak to reporters outside U.S. District Court on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (FOX 13 News)

Susan Hunt's attorneys speak to reporters outside U.S. District Court on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (FOX 13 News)

U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell focused heavily on Sykes' authority as Hunt's lawyer, and the scope of his ability to negotiate.

"Clearly Ms. Hunt was not going pro se," the judge said. "She was represented. So there has to be some concession that throughout a very long period of time, Mr. Sykes was Ms. Hunt and the estate's attorney and, therefore, it's agent, correct?"

Starks said that once Saratoga Springs insisted on a nondisparagement clause it created a new contract. However, White argued there is no evidence Hunt had a problem with the clause -- and they negotiated with the understanding Sykes had authority to act on her behalf.

Judge Campbell said she would issue a ruling on the settlement dispute within three weeks. Hunt left court surrounded by family and attorneys, declining to comment.

"She will not let any monetary amount dictate her ability to talk about what happened to her son," said Wright.

Hunt's former attorney, Sykes, sat in court listening to the arguments.

"I know it's uncharacteristic," he told FOX 13 as he left. "No comment."