Man shot from behind by police, family says; prosecutors: he lunged with sword
(CNN) — To hear prosecutors tell it, Darrien Hunt lunged at officers with a “samurai-type sword” before he was killed.
To hear his family tell it, police shot the 22-year-old several times while he was running away. An independent autopsy proves he was shot from behind, his family’s attorney said.
And while there’s no consensus about what happened last Wednesday morning, the Utah case is already drawing comparisons to the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Hunt’s mother said she believes race played a role in her son’s death.
“They killed my son because he’s black,” Susan Hunt told CNN affiliate KSL. “No white boy with a little sword would they shoot while he’s running away.”
But the Utah County Attorney’s Office said there is “currently no indication that race played any role in the confrontation between Mr. Hunt and the police officer.”
“Police officers from the Saratoga Springs Police Department responded to a report of a suspicious individual walking around a local business with a ‘samurai-type’ sword,” Chief Deputy Tim Taylor of the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
“When the officers made contact with Mr. Hunt, preliminary evidence suggests that Mr. Hunt brandished the sword and lunged toward the officers with the sword, at which time Mr. Hunt was shot.”
Hunt family attorney Randall Edwards challenged that version of events.
An independent autopsy shows Hunt was shot six times from behind, Edwards told CNN.
“We are not going to release the independent autopsy results or the name of who performed it until the Utah State Medical Examiner releases its results,” Edwards said.
The claim that Hunt lunged at officers with the sword “seems to be inaccurate,” Edwards said, “based on witnesses who saw him running from police officers and our independent autopsy.”
The county attorney’s office said the case is under investigation. Two officers have been placed on paid administrative leave while the shooting is investigated, KSL said.
“Rest assured that there is more to this story,” police said in a statement on their Facebook page. “Many of the details cannot yet be shared due to the ongoing investigation.”
Hunt was arrested in January on several charges, including assault, child abuse and intoxication, according to county records.
Edwards said that arrest had nothing to do with last week’s shooting, and that Hunt had no history of interactions with the Saratoga Springs Police Department. The arrest came after a fist fight with one of Hunt’s siblings, Edwards said, “and since it was his first offense he was able to have it dropped from his record if he pleaded guilty to the charges.”
“We don’t know exactly what happened, but the fact that a black kid with an Afro was shot while walking down the street by two white officers in a city that is 96% white is concerning,” Edwards said. “There are serious questions as to why officers were questioning him and the use of force in this situation.”
While some have speculated that race played a role in the shooting deaths of Hunt and Brown, there’s one key difference between the two cases: Brown was unarmed when he was shot, and Hunt was reportedly carrying a 3-foot sword around a Panda Express restaurant and other businesses.
“I believe that maybe my son thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try to get a job at Panda, maybe this sword will impress them,’ ” Susan Hunt told KSL.
She said that the sword was purchased at a local Asian gift shop and that it could not actually cut anything.
In a statement Monday, Panda Restaurant Group spokesman Thien Ho said the Saratoga Springs location was closed at the time of the shooting.
“We do not have first-hand details of what occurred,” Ho said.
CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said the case, like the Brown shooting, highlights the issue of when police can use deadly force.
Officers are justified in using deadly force, she said, to defend their lives or to stop a fleeing felon whose escape would pose a serious threat to the officer or to the public.
“So when I see this fact pattern where someone may have been shot in the back, that someone must have been committing a violent crime and pose a threat to society, the public, for that officer to be justified in shooting the person,” Hostin said. “These cases are very case and fact-specific. But it does seem to odd to me that, if he was running away with this fake sword, that deadly force would be appropriate.”
But there are other questions to consider, she said, including whether the sword looked fake.
“Maybe the sword looked to be a real sword,” Hostin said. “And was there a violent crime committed with that sword?”