Prosecutors on Tuesday filed misdemeanor criminal weapons charges against state Rep. David Bresnahan, R-West Jordan, for firing a warning shot while chasing an alleged hit-and-run driver and his companion.
Chief Deputy Salt Lake District Attorney Bud Ellett said Bresnahan could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted of unlawfully firing his handgun in a public place on Oct. 5.He could also be reprimanded, censured or even thrown out of the Legislature if an ethics committee is convened and lawmakers determine the crime is one of moral turpitude.
Ellett said a summons would be issued and that Bresnahan would not be arrested. Bresnahan, in a news release, said he is looking "forward to my day in court."
Bresnahan said the "facts of the case do not support the contentions made" by the District Attorney's Office in a complaint filed in 3rd District Court.
Bresnahan, a conservative seeking a second two-year term for the District 42 seat, said he saw a van run a red light, strike a car and then leave the scene of the accident. He and several others gave chase.
Bresnahan, who possesses a permit to carry a concealed handgun, said two men jumped out and ran down the banks of a nearby canal.
The state representative and radio talk-show host grabbed a .25-caliber handgun he keeps in the glovebox of his car and ran after the men, followed by three other pursuers.
Bresnahan said that when the suspects started climbing over a fence, he fired his handgun into the water of the canal. The men stopped, climbed back over the fence and surrendered.
"The perpetrators were fleeing an injury accident, a felony," Bresnahan said in his prepared statement. "They obviously showed lack of regard for others."
Bresnahan said he was worried the suspects were going into the backyard of a home and thought they could steal another car or even take hostages. And, he said, there were children nearby on bicycles.
Ellett laughed when told of Bresnahan's reasoning Tuesday. The fact that there were children in the area when Bresnahan fired the gun only makes things worse, he said.
Moreover, Ellett said, there were no injuries in the accident.
"None of that makes any difference," he said. "His (concealed weapons) license is predicated and issued only for the lawful self-defense of the applicant. There was no self-defense here."
Ellett said even a police officer cannot shoot a fleeing felon unless the officer reasonably believes that another forcible felony is about to be committed or that the officer's life or the lives of others are in "imminent danger."
"That's not what happened here," Ellett said. "A hit-and-run does not constitute a forcible felony," the definition of which includes homicide, armed robbery, aggravated assault or an aggravated sex crime, he said.
Bresnahan will likely lose his gun permit, Ellett said.
K.D. Simpson, deputy director of the Division of Law Enforcement, said the division is conducting an investigation into the incident.
Guidelines for training sessions for those applying for concealed carry permits expressly prohibit warning shots. A police officer would be reprimanded - and possibly fired - for firing a warning shot, Simpson has said.