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Judge revives racial bias lawsuit over 2017 SLC police shooting

Posted at 9:23 AM, Aug 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-14 17:57:31-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has revived a part of a lawsuit alleging excessive force and racial bias in a 2017 shooting by Salt Lake City police officers.

In an order handed down Friday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby sent a portion of the lawsuit filed by Patrick Harmon Sr.'s family to state court to be litigated. In June, Judge Shelby dismissed the bulk of the family's lawsuit, ruling the officer who shot Harmon was "legally objectively reasonable."

But Judge Shelby did not dismiss claims of excessive force and a civil rights violation. The Harmon family's attorneys asked to have that portion sent to state court to be litigated. The judge granted it.

Harmon's name is among those chanted in recent protests against racial inequality and police brutality. Harmon was shot and killed by Salt Lake City Police Officer Clinton Fox after being stopped on State Street. He was in the process of being arrested on outstanding warrants, police said, when he threatened to stab officers.

The officer claimed that Harmon pulled a knife and began to move toward him. The officer believed Harmon had a knife, Judge Shelby wrote in his order dismissing the lawsuit. But supporters of Harmon's family said he was not holding a knife. A weapon was found nearby, but Harmon family lawyers have argued body camera footage shows he is not holding it. The family sued Salt Lake City police and Officer Fox alleging racial motives in the lawsuit (Officer Fox is white).

While Judge Shelby rejected claims of racism directed at Officer Fox specifically, he did not dismiss those allegations with prejudice -- meaning they could be pursued further in the courts.

The shooting itself was found legally justified by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. The Harmon family disagreed with that determination.