Prosecutors late Tuesday charged state Rep. David Bresnahan, R-West Jordan, with unlawful discharge of a firearm.
The conservative lawmaker and radio-show host could lose his permit to carry a concealed gun and face a possible ethics investigation by fellow legislators.Bresnahan also faces a class B misdemeanor, which carries a possible jail term of up to six months and a $1,000 fine.
"I believe what I did was right, it was lawful. I would do it again, and I believe a jury of my peers will support me," Bresnahan said. "I look forward to my day in court."
Bresnahan said he witnessed a van run a red light, strike a car and then leave the scene of the accident. He and several others chased the suspects as they crossed an irrigation ditch and headed into a residential area.
The state representative pulled a .25-caliber handgun from the glovebox of his car and ran after the men, followed by three other pursuers.
He fired a single shot from the semiautomatic weapon into the canal bank as the suspects tried to climb a fence, he said. The fleeing men stopped, climbed back over the fence and surrendered.
"The perpetrators were fleeing an injury accident, a felony," Bresnahan said in a prepared statement. "They obviously showed lack of regard for others."
Bresnahan said he was worried the suspects were going into the back yard of a home and thought they could steal another car or even take hostages. And, he said, there were children nearby on bicycles.
Salt Lake Deputy District Attorney Bud Ellett scoffed at Bres-nahan's reasoning Wednesday. The fact that there were children in the area when Bresnahan fired the gun only makes things worse, he said.
"And what they (the suspects) might have done is something for police to worry about. It's not his job," Ellett said. "I guess it's admirable that they chased these guys down, but it's also pretty stupid because if those guys had guns, we might have had some dead peo-ple."
Moreover, Ellett said, Bres-nahan had no legal right to fire a warning shot.
"His (concealed weapons) license is predicated and issued only for the lawful self-defense of the applicant. There was no self-defense here."
Not even a police officer can 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 is not a forcible felony," he said. State law indicates a forcible felony is a homicide, burglary, armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault or a sex crime.
Bresnahan could face some problems before his House colleagues should he be convicted or plead guilty to the alleged crime.
Several years ago former Democratic Rep. Dionne Halverson was charged with shoplifting. After she pleaded no contest, the House Ethics Committee met secretly to consider her fate. Threatened with some kind of retribution, even expulsion from the House, Halverson resigned.
Bresnahan said Wednesday he doubts he'd have troubles like that. "I was trying to stop a felony suspect. And I did. I was trying to uphold the law, not break it," he said.
Ellett responded that the state's 13,000 concealed-weapons permit holders must realize it allows them to defend themselves, not "indiscriminately" fire their weapons.