A federal judge must decide whether to allow the widow of a Utah National Guard member to take the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office to trial over the shooting death of her husband.

During a hearing last week on a motion filed by Salt Lake County to dismiss the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart heard arguments on the merits of the claim, which accuses the sheriff's office of negligence, battery, assault and wrongful death.

The lawsuit concerns 32-year-old Chad Thomson, who was a full-time employee at Camp Williams for 10 years. According to reports, deputies were dispatched to a domestic dispute on April 18, 2004, at a house near 2200 West and 13600 South.

A caller said Thomson was "drunk, irate and en route" to the home of his estranged wife. Deputies arrived to find Thomson's truck but not the man. About an hour later, another caller stated Thomson was pointing a loaded shotgun at his wife. Thomson fled the house with the shotgun, and police pursued him until he was cornered in a neighbor's yard.

A police dog was unleashed after Thomson failed to respond to several orders to drop the shotgun. A Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy fired one round, striking Thomson in the temple. He died a short time later.

A year later, Thomson's wife, Amy Thomson, sued the county in U.S. District Court.

During Tuesday's hearing, Thomson's attorney Ryan Hancey argued that Chad Thomson was suicidal and that officers "rushed in with guns drawn" and unleashed a police dog on the man. Hancey added officers shouldn't "get off" from their mistakes because of governmental immunity.

Hancey also argued that unleashing the police dog on Thomson constituted use of deadly force.

Nicholas D'Alesandro, attorney for the county, said deputies were dealing with a man armed with a shotgun and a pocketful of shells who was running from them. D'Alesandro pointed out that Thomson had several opportunities to lay down his gun.

"It was Chad Thomson who determined his fate that day," D'Alesandro said.

The judge said case law states that use of a police dog does not constitute deadly force and rejected that claim. Stewart also said Hancey was willing to assume that deputies knew Thomson was suicidal at the time, while ignoring indications of homicidal actions and statements.

Stewart said he plans to issue a written ruling soon.


E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com