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Darrien Hunt's conduct dictated actions of police who shot him, attorney says

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the attorneys representing Saratoga Springs and the two officers who shot and killed Darrien Hunt said Wednesday that it was Hunt who dictated the actions of the officers.

"Darrien Hunt's death was a preventable tragedy. He had a choice. Had he not swung the sword at the officers and run with it towards a crowd of people, he would be alive today," said attorney Heather White. "The reality is Mr. Hunt's reckless actions dictated the actions the officers took that day."

Last month, the family of Hunt, 22, filed a $2 million civil rights lawsuit against Saratoga Springs, Cpl. Matt Schauerhamer and officer Nicholas Judson.

In September, the two officers stopped Hunt near Crossroads Boulevard and Redwood Road to question him about why he was walking with a 3-foot sword. The family says the sword was a souvenir katana sword. The officers responded after receiving a 911 call from a witness reporting a suspicious person.

After an initially peaceful confrontation, in less than a minute Hunt allegedly unsheathed his sword and swung it at officers who responded by firing three shots. Hunt ran off and the officers chased him across a parking lot, firing several more times. Hunt was shot a total of six times, all from behind. He fell outside a Panda Express restaurant where he died.

The Utah County Attorney's Office determined the shooting was legally justified, noting that the officers reasonably believed Hunt, who was still carrying the sword while running away, could have potentially hurt or killed others at nearby businesses.

On Wednesday, the officers and the city responded to the lawsuit, restating many of the points outlined by the Utah County Attorney's Office, while also emphasizing that they want the public "to know the facts."

White said in addition to the two officers, the city had at least two witnesses who saw Hunt swing his sword at the officers. One witness said one of the officers had to jump back or he would have been hit, White said.

"It's important to note that there are no witnesses that denied it occurred," she said.

But attorney Robert Sykes, who represents the Hunt family, said one of the big questions he has is why each officer reported that it was the other who Hunt swung at.

"I'm very curious to get an explanation from the officers about why officer Judson said that there was an alleged swing of the sword at Schauerhamer and Schauerhamer says it was at Judson. One and one is two. But one and three is not two. So they can't both be right. They're in conflict," he said.

When Hunt ran from the officers, who continuously yelled at him to stop, it got to the point where Hunt became an "imminent" threat to other nearby business employees and patrons, White said.

"Hunt was not shot because he was running away from the officers. Hunt was not shot while he was on the ground. Hunt was shot because he was running with an unsheathed sword toward a busy retail area with innocent people. Had Hunt dropped the sword at any time, the officers would have continued chasing him," she said.

Schauerhamer and Judson used the appropriate amount of force necessary to defend themselves and protect the public from Hunt's "violent and irrational behavior," she said.

What would have been worse, according to White, is if the officers had done nothing and Hunt had harmed someone.

"Officers are not trained to wait to act until something bad happens. They are trained, and we expect them to prevent bad things from happening," White said. "They could only respond to him based on how he acted."

She strongly refuted claims that the officers continued shooting while Hunt was on the ground and that race played any factor in the confrontation.

"We're not saying that Darrien Hunt is a bad person. But he made some bad decisions that day," she said.

Now that the city had filed its response to the lawsuit, Sykes said he can begin the process of gathering interviews from the officers and witnesses.

"We can start taking depositions shortly and find out what people actually know and will say under oath," he said.

What's next, Sykes said, is months of legal work.

"We believe that's a very good (lawsuit). We believe there was no basis to shoot Darrien in the back six times. And we believe the truth will come out. And Darrien's character will be vindicated."

White admitted Wednesday that defending the lawsuit will be expensive, but said "it's important for the issues to be out in front of the public and have a jury decide this."

She said she intends to "vigorously" defend the officers and will not offer a settlement.

Both sides believe a trial is still more than a year away.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam