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

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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

18 comments

  • Arnie L Schwartz

    I’ve got no problem with this frivolous lawsuit filed on behalf of a dead felon, so long as the losing party pays 100% of the legal fees of the winning party.

    Most lawyers are money-grubbing scumbags who care nothing for the law or the citizens of the United States. Make them pay if they lose and suddenly the frivolous lawsuits stop.

    • Trace

      You clueless? What felony did he commit? He was running for his life from two thugs with badges. They have video of him running and an officer shooting at his back. You have no sense of right or wrong. Keep up your SHEEPLE MINDLESS FOLLOWING!

      • Jason

        He committed a felonious aggravated assault with a sword, his victims were two police officers. Prior to committing said felonious act he stated on social media that he was going to commit suicide by cop.

      • Trace

        Then why did he have time to sheath the sword after he allegedly swung it at the officers? You see it sheathed when he is running in terror as these LOSER COPS were chasing him and shooting him in the back. Why won’t they share the Cypress CU Video? HOW CLUELESS ARE YOU? Mr Jason SHEEPLE

      • Nana

        Jason…please get your facts straight! What was mentioned to the detectives was Darrien’s friend (his sister’s boyfriend) SAW a post on face book… once again he SAW a post that said “someone was shot at the Top Stop and was carrying a sword.” His friend NEVER said Darrien posted anything on face book. Hmmm…I wonder why this information was twisted on the search warrant document to make it appear like it was suicide by cop. Also, I will believe the assault with the sword only if they release the Cypress Credit Union and I see it for myself.

    • bob

      We definitely need a “loser pays” rule as part of serious tort reform. The taxpayers will be forced to spend money to defend this lawsuit. Our MONEY is the real target. Lawyers would never take the case if the officers themselves were the only targets, since they don’t have any MONEY.

      If they lose, they should be forced to repay the taxpayers.

  • Phil Simms

    All current evidence never once demonstrates Darrien Hunt brandishing his replica sword, much less unsheathing it from the protective scabbard. Yet, police investigators DO still have in their possession exterior security footage from the Cyprus Credit Union.

    This surveillance video could potentially corroborate or expose inaccuracies in the official police statements.

    Therefore, I would like an official statement from Saratoga Springs police about the existence, whereabouts and contents of this still unreleased footage that they have in their custody.

    • Nana

      Thanks Phil…I keep wondering the same thing. I can only think of one reason why they don’t want any of us to see this footage. Until they release this video I personally will not believe anything these two officers say. I find it interesting that the officers told conflicting stories when they were interviewed concerning what took place when Darrien swung the sword?

    • bob

      People keep saying “replica sword”, as if the fact that it’s not an authentic 500 year old Samurai sword means it’s not “real.”

      I have a replica 1851 Colt Navy revolver, but I bet it I shot you in the brain with it you’d probably die. The sword is a “replica”, but it’s also a sword.

      And I AM curious to know why the guy said he was going to commit suicide-by-cop. If that’s true then the lawsuit faces a pretty steep climb. The guy said it, then he DID it.

  • Phil Simms

    Asked on Tuesday whether the drive-through forecourt where Hunt and the officers had their first encounter was covered by surveillance cameras, Jessica Taylor, a spokeswoman for Cyprus, said in an email: “Yes. The credit union has external security cameras on our branch in Saratoga Springs.”

    “We provided footage from our outdoor camera to the authorities for the times requested,” said Taylor. “Cyprus is cooperating with all requests from the authorities.”

    The above statements regarding this still unreleased video were recorded by the UK Guardian.
    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jan/02/darrien-hunt-police-shooting-utah-civil-rights-suit

    Why hasn’t the media demanded release of the exterior security footage from the Cyprus Credit Union, where police allege that Mr. Hunt first waved a replica sword?

    • miles (dave)

      i think i may have a legitimate reason why, weather the footage shows the cops in the wrong or darrien in the wrong the courts dont want the public jumping to conclusions after seeing the footage then some of the public to go do some vigilante justice because they would only have the footage and not all the facts to exact proper justice. instead they will leave the judgment to the jury whom they will expose to all of the evidences.

      however im with you as far as wanting to see it. im hoping after the case is over that the footage becomes available to the media.

      also if you put you and me in those “certain cloths” and listened to that “certain music” and had those “certain hair stiles” (quotes paraphrased from the news story) i dont think we would be very more likely to use drugs but i do think it would have a impact, people who sell the drugs and people who use them will be more likely to have those kinds of conversations with you because they too think those stereotypes, and id bet after a while one of those conversations would be a invitation to use with them. but that dosnt mean you or me would take them up on it unless we were inclined to do it anyway. however i do think if you were already into drugs then your more likely to get interested in the lifestyle and the items associated with it if the drugs are something you are passionate enough about. so its not unreasonable to say that if someone has some of those “certain” things i mentioned earlier that they are more likely to use drugs, it dosnt mean its a 100% likely hood but it dose mean they are more likely than someone who dosnt have the “certain” things. people who are not passionate about drugs are less likely to have the items associated with it.

    • bob

      Phil: File a Freedom Of Information Act request. Don’t just ask why OTHER PEOPLE don’t do stuff that you can do yourself.

      • Phil Simms

        According to Susan Hunt’s Facebook, the family has requested to see the Cyprus Credit Union footage, but was denied. She wasn’t specific as to the reason, legitimate or otherwise, and whether it was a GRAMA or FOIA request. I’m just raising awareness, while implicating the media in not asking the right questions in this case.

    • ANOTHERBOB

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_v._Garner
      The Supreme Court of the United States held that under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may use deadly force to prevent escape only if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

  • Matt

    This whole situation is sad, however, both Utah Code and a Supreme Court decision (Tennessee v Garner – 1985) back the officers in their actions. The DA has also ruled on the situation. We (the public) can debate the aspects of this situation all day long but in the end it is not the court of public opinion that will decide things, rather, a jury in a court of law.

    Since this is a civil suit there will be a jury, usually nine (9) citizens, and they will hear the evidence presented. At the end, and within five days, the jury will reach a verdict. All of this is based on the preponderance of the evidence. The jury will then be given a specific set of instructions from the judge. It is probably best to allow the court to decide what the verdict will be. This, of course, does not mean that you all cannot have your own opinions on the matter. You can and should. Just understand that things will be very different in court.

  • bob

    People who listen to reggae and affect a “Rastafarian” persona might be more likely to smoke pot?

    What a controversial thought!

Comments are closed.

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