SALT LAKE CITY — A federal appeals court reinstated an excessive force lawsuit filed by the family of a man shot and killed by Salt Lake City police.
In a unanimous ruling issued this week, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Patrick Harmon, Sr. against the Salt Lake City Police Department.
"In viewing the well-pled allegations in the light most favorable to the Estate, Mr. Harmon was unarmed and did not start back toward the officers. Accepting these facts as true, use of deadly force would not be justified," Judge Paul Kelly Jr. wrote in the ruling. "We must conclude this factor, at this stage, favors the Estate."
The ruling means the Harmon family's lawsuit can proceed in federal court in Salt Lake City.
"Today’s decision by the court is procedural in nature, holding that due to the early stage of the litigation, the court must accept the Plaintiff’s allegations as true, and as a result, the matter will be sent back down to the trial court," Brent Weisberg, a police department spokesperson, said in a statement on Thursday. "The SLCPD maintains the officers involved acted reasonably and lawfully and that the use of force was appropriate given the threat they faced. We are confident the trial court will agree the use of force, although tragic, was lawful once the City has the opportunity to present all the evidence."
In September, FOX 13 reported on the arguments before the 10th Circuit, where judges appeared skeptical about Salt Lake City's arguments. The Harmon family sued Salt Lake City police and Officer Clinton Fox, alleging racial bias (Harmon is Black and the officer is white), excessive force and a violation of Harmon's constitutional rights. A judge dismissed some of the lawsuit, ruling that what officers did was "legally, objectively reasonable" but also allowing some claims of racial bias to go forward in state court.
Harmon was stopped by police while riding his bicycle on State Street in 2017. Officers found Harmon did have a warrant out for his arrest, and police claimed as he was being handcuffed, Harmon broke free. Police claimed that Harmon had a knife and threatened officers when he was shot numerous times. The Harmon family contends that while a weapon was found nearby, the body camera footage did not show him holding it.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill found the shooting legally justified. Harmon's name has been invoked in protests against police brutality and racial injustice in Salt Lake City.
Read the lawsuit here: