Police knew their execution of a no-knock search warrant late Thursday was taking them into dangerous territory long before the shooting started, Police Chief Dennis Nordfelt said Friday.
Two West Valley officers were shot and one returned fire, fatally wounding 32-year-old Mark Joseph Pyle in his home at 4507 S. 3600 West during a police operation that was the culmination of a yearlong drug investigation.Pyle was prohibited from possessing weapons or ammunition because of a felony theft conviction, but police and federal agents working together on a narcotics cultivating and distributing investigation considered him to be armed and dangerous.
Nordfelt said a "source" had contacted the Salt Lake office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to report that Pyle had acquired two fully automatic M-16 rifles. His house was fitted with motion detectors that turned outside lights on while a guard dog protected the house, according to information given to the judge who issued the no-knock search warrant.
Officers feared that a daytime approach to the house would endanger them and any passersby in the neighborhood, or that knocking on the door and announcing their presence would give Pyle more time to arm himself.
"Knowing what was inside that house, last night's raid could have been fatal for my officers if they had knocked on the door and given Mark Pyle additional time to procure the other weapons," Nordfelt said.
After breaking in the door of Pyle's home at about 11:45 p.m. Thursday, officers found more than 9,000 rounds of ammunition, seven M-16 magazines capable of holding 20 to 30 rounds of ammunition each, a live military-issue smoke grenade and a 12-gauge pump shotgun loaded with the same buckshot rounds police officers carry, Nordfelt said.
And that discovery was made only after Pyle opened fire on Detective Kelly Rushton and Sgt. Ed Spann with a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
Rushton was hit in the chest but was protected by body armor he was wearing. Spann was hit once in the leg, and another round hit and disabled his service weapon.
Rushton returned fire, hitting Pyle four times in the chest. Pyle died about 1 a.m. Friday at LDS Hospital.
Nordfelt said Pyle unnecessarily endangered himself, his wife and his two children, who were in the house at the time of the police raid. "Mark Pyle had a choice. He left us no alternative. He deliberately fired at my officers with a .45-caliber pistol. He made the wrong choice."
None of the other family members was injured during the shooting spree, and Nordfelt said he takes comfort in knowing the arsenal is now out of the neighborhood.
Detectives investigating the case had been told earlier by several sources that Pyle had threatened them. "From his conduct this evening, it is clear that he had the mental state and the hardware to make good on his threats," Nordfelt said.
R. Drew Moren, agent in charge in Utah for the Drug Enforcement Agency, said he has participated in more than 500 narcotics raids in his 28-year law enforcement career. "This type of entry is essential to the safety of officers, suspects and occupants of nearby residences."
Police officers are routinely placed on administrative leave with pay after any shooting. Rushton was participating in a review of the incident by the Salt Lake County attorney's office later in the day Friday but had routine days off over the weekend, leaving Nordfelt more time to decide whether a leave from duty would be necessary.