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Racial bias lawsuit over police shooting may be revived in state court

Posted at 8:39 AM, Aug 08, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — A lawsuit alleging racial bias over the shooting death of a Black man at the hands of police may be revived in state court.

Attorneys for the family of Patrick Harmon Sr. filed a motion in federal court on Friday, asking a judge to send portions of the lawsuit to state court to be litigated. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby last month dismissed a bulk of the Harmon family's lawsuit, ruling the officer was "legally objectively reasonable" in shooting him back in 2017.

But Judge Shelby did not dismiss claims that could be pursued under state law, including a civil rights violation and excessive force claim.

"Plaintiffs respectfully request that those claims be remanded to the state court from which they were removed so that they may proceed to resolution on the merits in a just, speedy, and efficient manner," Harmon family attorney Corey Riley wrote in the motion obtained Saturday by FOX 13.

Harmon's death is among those included 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.

"During those chaotic seconds, Officer Fox observed Harmon resist arrest, begin to flee, turn back towards the officers, assault an officer, begin to flee in the opposite direction, again turn back towards the officers, and—according to Officer Fox—pull a knife before suddenly moving towards Officer Fox who was several feet away. When Officer Fox shot Harmon, he believed Harmon was armed with a knife and coming towards him," 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 aspects with prejudice -- meaning they could be pursued further in the courts. The judge has not yet ruled on whether the case will be moved to Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court.

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