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West Valley detective cleared in shooting of man upset by wife's cancer

Ricardo Jose Lopez, 26.
Ricardo Jose Lopez, 26.
Salt Lake County Jail

SALT LAKE CITY — A West Valley police detective was legally justified when he shot an armed man who had reportedly fired his gun in the air and fought with family members after learning that his wife could be dying of cancer, an investigation determined.

In a report released Friday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said the officer was justified in using deadly force in the March 1 incident when the man refused orders to drop his gun, instead raising it toward officers.

West Valley police detective Jason Vincent fired two shots, one of which wounded Ricardo Jose Lopez, 26. Vincent reasonably believed that he or other officers were at risk of being shot, Gill wrote in the report.

"When Mr. Lopez disregarded detective Vincent's lawful command and turned toward detective Vincent, raising his elbow and arm with the gun, detective Vincent reasonably believed that Mr. Lopez was about to use deadly force against him or other police officers in the immediate vicinity," Gill said.

Lopez and another man were standing in the middle of the road near 3300 West and 4060 South on March 1 when Lopez pulled out a gun and fired two rounds into the air, prompting neighbors to call 911, police say. Lopez was upset after receiving a disheartening prognosis about his wife's cancer, according to investigators.

"Witnesses reported that Mr. Lopez was drinking alcohol during the day and becoming depressed as he talked with (his wife) about her outlook. Mr. Lopez's mother tried to console Mr. Lopez but to little avail," the report states.

Vincent heard dispatchers report the incident over the radio in his vehicle and recognized the address. The detective had been to the home before with a drug enforcement task force investigating "allegedly significant drug distribution activity," according to the report. At the time, Vincent had been advised there were probably weapons in the home.

Meanwhile, Lopez, who lived nearby, went into the basement apartment of his house. When Vincent and other officers arrived, Lopez walked out of the basement still holding a gun, according to investigators.

"Detective Vincent said that when he saw the man come up the stairs from the basement, he thought, 'That man should not be armed,'" Gill wrote.

Vincent shot Lopez after he ignored his commands to put down the gun, instead turning and raising his arm, leading the detective to believe Lopez "was making that turn to get shots off."

Vincent told investigators his next thought was, "I need to shoot or I'm going to be shot."

Lopez was treated for two days in the hospital before he was taken to the Salt Lake County Jail. After posting bail and being briefly released, Lopez was arrested again March 11 on a federal charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

Lopez pleaded guilty to the charge in May, according to court records, and is scheduled to be sentenced July 27. He faces the possibility of up to 10 years in federal prison.

An investigation into the March 1 incident suggests Lopez was upset and had been drinking after learning that his wife has terminal cancer.

"Ricardo was upset about (his wife's) current medical condition," a search warrant states. "Ricardo had spoken with her doctor and was told that (she) had two years to live. Ricardo was upset and crying when he heard this."

Police say Lopez is a documented gang member who goes by the moniker "Crooks." He is currently facing misdemeanor charges stemming from an unrelated DUI incident, according to court records.

Lopez pleaded no contest to an assault charge in 2014. In 2008, Lopez was convicted of charges related to a stolen vehicle and a chase with police, and he was sentenced to up to five years at the Utah State Prison.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero