Officer Joel Schow was justified when he fired three shots and killed Birtes Lee Wilson Jr., both the Salt Lake County attorney's office and the city's Use of Force Review Board have determined.
After a monthlong investigation into the controversial shooting, prosecutors said the Salt Lake police officer believed his life was in danger when he shot Wilson, who was wielding a tree branch."He reasonably believed the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself and/or officer (Michele) Rendon," wrote Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom.
No criminal charges will be filed against Schow, but Wilson's widow is still threatening to file a civil lawsuit contending the officer had options other than killing Wilson. The decision came as no surprise to her attorney, David Sanders.
"I fully expected Mr. Yocom's office to decide that," Sanders said. "They fawn on the Police Department. They're almost dictated to by the Police Department."
Not only did the five-member citizen-review board clear Schow, but members unanimously said they believe he "showed restraint and that the use of force continuum was followed."
Ortega accepted the board's findings and said no further action will be taken by the department against Schow.
Wilson's wife called police about 3:40 a.m. April 10 and asked them to help her retrieve her car and apartment keys from her "soon to be ex-husband," according to a police report. Wilson gave the keys to Schow and Rendon but later became irate and threatened the officers.
Rendon sprayed the 29-year-old with pepper mace, but it had no effect. Schow struck Wilson with his police baton when Wilson jumped at the officer. Wilson punched both officers during the melee, according to the report.
Wilson held up a bicycle during the scuffle and held it in the air while Schow sprayed him again with pepper mace. Wilson threw the bike, but no one was hit. Wilson apparently told Rendon he was going to kill her because she had sprayed him.
Wilson ran around a carport, then picked up a tree branch - 10 feet 2 inches long and about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Both officers were pointing their guns at Wilson as he walked toward them with the branch, the report says.
Rendon said she slipped to the ground to avoid being hit as Wilson swung the branch toward her. Schow fired three shots. The first bullet entered Wilson's wrist, the second entered his right upper arm and the third went through his left upper chest.
Wilson died a short time later.
The local NAACP president strongly criticized the shooting, saying the officers could not have believed their lives were in danger. Some questioned whether Wilson was killed because he was black and alluded to racist overtones.
Police Chief Ruben Ortega has asked the FBI and U.S. attorney's office to conduct an independent civil-rights investigation into the shooting to look into allegations of racism, excessive force and police bias. Their investigation is not completed.
Yocom said his investigation showed that Wilson had committed several assaults on the officers and Schow's attempts to restrain and apprehend Wilson were reasonable.
"Due to the mental state of Mr. Wilson, it would have been unreasonable not to pursue him and attempt to take him into custody for the unlawful acts which had been committed in their presence," Yocom wrote.
The investigation also revealed that Wilson had "substantial levels of cocaine" in his blood when he died. Such a quantity could cause "abnormal behavior," such as excited and aggressive actions as Rendon and Schow described, police spokesman Phil Kirk said.