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Provo officers justified in shooting man, prosecutors say

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PROVO — Provo police officers were justified when they repeatedly shot and killed a man who had a gun at a grocery story in May, according to an investigation by the Utah County Attorney's Office.

Ronald John Ethington, 35, was shot as many as 18 times after he attempted to shoplift beer and tried to pull a gun on two security guards at a Provo Smith's store, 350 N. Freedom Blvd., the report states.

Ethington entered the store on May 8 shortly before 8:30 p.m. A Smith's security guard saw Ethington carrying a six-pack of beer and a satchel at his side. Later, the guard saw Ethington with no beer and a full satchel. According to the report, the guard questioned Ethington and told him to put the beer back, but Ethington responded incoherently.

When Ethington tried to flee, the guard put him in a headlock and held him on the ground. Another Smith's employee helped move Ethington to a back room, and a cashier called 911. While Ethington was emptying the bag as instructed, one of the employees saw the handle of a gun in the bag and thought he saw Ethington trying to take it out of a holster, prosecutors wrote.

The employee grabbed the gun while Ethington was holding it and yelled, "He has a gun!" The two employees ended up behind Ethington, trying to get the gun from him, and then they wrestled and hit Ethington until police arrived two minutes later, the report states. Both employees repeatedly yelled, "Let go of the gun!" but investigators say Ethington would not let go.

When officer Troy Cook arrived at 8:43 p.m. and entered the back room, all three men looked up, and one yelled, "He has a gun!" Cook saw the barrel of a gun in their hands as officer Chris Chambers entered and approached the men with his gun drawn, the report states.

Both officers said they yelled for Ethington to drop the gun and put his hands up. When the employees looked up at officers, Ethington yanked the gun away from the workers, according to the report. One employee dropped to the floor, and the other backed away.

With both their guns drawn at Ethington and only 5 to 10 feet between them, Cook and Chambers ordered Ethington to drop the gun. Instead, prosecutors say, Ethington turned directly toward the officers with the gun in his left hand and started to lift and point the gun at them. That's when Chambers fired three to four rounds at Ethington. Ethington paused momentarily, then began to raise the gun toward the uniformed officers.

Chambers shot him with another three or four rounds, but Ethington raised the gun again, the report states. In all, this exchange continued four times.

After the third time Chambers shot him, Ethington fell to his knees but again started raising his gun at police, investigators say. Chambers and Cook both then shot Ethington "probably with one round each," the report states.

After that, Chambers rendered first aid to Ethington until paramedics arrived at 8:48 p.m., but Ethington was dead by that time.

An autopsy revealed Ethington had a blood alcohol level of 0.08, according to the report.

Utah law states that officers may use deadly force when "the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or other person."

Provo Police Capt. Cliff Argyle said both Cook and Chambers have been back at work for some time, even before the investigation was finished.

"It was pretty clear that there weren't going to be any concerns with the officers in this incident," Argyle said.

e-mail: ashaha@desnews.com