SALT LAKE CITY — The officer-involved shooting last year of a man who police say robbed a Mexican restaurant in Kearns at knifepoint — before a worker chased him away with a bigger knife — has been deemed legally justified.
On Oct. 17, James Lyle Kuehn, 61, of Kearns, came into Fiesta Olè, 4098 W. 5415 South, and went into the kitchen, stopping near the register. The worker said "the male was holding a small blade in his hand which he described 'looked like a prison shank,'" police said.
The worker reported he was able to retreat into the back area of the kitchen as Kuehn followed him, according to police. The worker told officers he then picked up a two-foot long "cheese knife," which he swung at Kuehn, police said, and Kuehn left the restaurant.
Officers from the Unified Police Department soon found Kuehn hiding behind a large bush in a home's front yard at 4450 W. 5700 South, according to a letter from Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on April 18. An officer "challenged" him and "ordered him to surrender."
But instead of complying with the command, Kuehn charged toward the officer while the knife remained in his "extended" right hand, according to Gill.
That officer fell backward "trying to keep his distance" from the man with a knife, the letter states. Another officer, Unified police detective Geoff Clark, yelled at Kuehn to stop.
"As Mr. Kuehn quickly closed the distance to (the officer) and then (Clark), (Clark) drew his firearm and fired three shots at Mr. Kuehn who went down," Gill wrote. Officers saw a 2 1/2 inch folding knife lying by Kuehn, the letter states.
Kuehn died a few days later after being in critical condition at a hospital.
In Clark's written statement about the incident, he said he heard Kuehn yell "Shoot me, you're not taking me down for this!" before he emerged from the bush with the knife, the letter states.
After the other officer drew his Taser, Kuehn took "an offensive stance with his hands clenched," according to Clark's account. Kuehn was standing between eight and 10 feet away from the other officer, the letter states.
After the officer unsuccessfully tried to stun Kuehn with the Taser, Clark said Kuehn then "brought his arms down by his sides while still holding the knife in his right hand and ran at (the other officer). The look on his face was one of complete rage," according to the letter.
Clark said "he closed the distance between us too quickly" and he feared Kuehn would kill or injure him.
Several neighbors and other officers witnessed the shooting, Gill wrote.
Prosecutors concluded that Clark believed deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious injury to him or others on scene, Gill said. The use of force was deemed justified and charges will not be filed against him.