SALT LAKE CITY — The family of a Sandy man who was shot and killed on I-80 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the law enforcement agencies and officers they feel used "unreasonable, excessive deadly force."
The family of Christopher Joseph "Joey" Tucker, including his parents, then-fiance and young daughter, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court Wednesday. In it, they seek "money damages" from Salt Lake City, its police department, Chief Chris Burbank, three police officers who were involved, the state of Utah, the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Department of Public Safety to compensate for the loss of the 30-year-old man.
The lawsuit and the report issued by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office offer markedly different stories of events leading up to Tucker's death.
The family alleges that on Aug. 6, 2009, Tucker had not taken his diabetes medication and was going to discuss a visitation issue with his fiance. His concerned family contacted police and told them the man was not armed, did not have any weapons and had not been drinking. Officers began to follow the man, but stopped when he entered I-215 because it was outside of their jurisdiction.
The lawsuit states Salt Lake police officers saw Tucker get into a "fender bender accident," but never attempted to stop him. When Tucker exited the freeway, officers followed him again, but made no attempt to pull him over or communicate with him.
Dash cam videos on the officers' vehicles show that Tucker was not speeding, was stopping at traffic signs and lights and was using his turn signal, according to the lawsuit.
When Tucker entered I-80, Salt Lake police enlisted the help of UHP troopers, who attempted a PIT maneuver, which was unsuccessful. A second maneuver sent Tucker's vehicle spinning and backed it into a concrete barrier, where he was quickly surrounded by officers, including Salt Lake police officer Louis Jones.
"Joey did not accelerate backwards or forwards," the lawsuit states. "The dash cam videos reveal that Joey did not take any action, make any threats, or do anything to cause any immediate or eminent threat of harm to any of the officers. Joey was simply sitting in his vehicle with the vehicle in reverse up against the cement barricade on the freeway when officer Jones fired three shots, killing Joey."
The family uses words like "callous," "reckless," "indifferent" and "negligence" to describe the actions of those involved in the incident in the lawsuit.
But the incident played out differently, based on a review by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, which cleared the officers of any wrongdoing. The officers said they received calls reporting a possible suicide attempt and two hit-and-run accidents.
Officers said Tucker was veering "dangerously" back and forth, sometimes almost driving into oncoming traffic and other times almost going off of the road.
Jones said he saw Tucker "repeatedly reaching for something inside of the truck," initiated his lights and sirens, and used his public address system to try to get the man to stop.
According to the DA, after the PIT maneuver, Tucker accelerated in the direction of officers, ramming one trooper's car.
"Mr. Tucker reversed, then turned the wheels to drive forward toward officers who were on foot when officer Jones fired three shots into the truck, striking Mr. Tucker in the neck and torso," the district attorney said in a statement.
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