Woods Cross police keep changing story about officer who pulled gun on child, attorney says
Chief apologizes, says he’ll ask county attorney to review the incident
WOODS CROSS — Woods Cross police continue to defend an officer who drew his gun on a 10-year-old black boy while responding to the report of a violent crime, but asked the Davis County Attorney's Office to review the incident.
Chief Chad Soffe also apologized at a press conference Monday to DJ Hrubes, his mother, Jerri Hrubes, and any other family members who "may have been traumatized" during the encounter last week.
"We are truly sorry," he said.
Centerville police received a call about a shooting last Thursday at 12:37 p.m. After a chase through Centerville and Farmington, the suspects fled from their car in West Bountiful and ran through a church parking lot. Two of those in the car were described as black, Soffee said.
A Woods Cross officer driving with his lights and siren on saw a black male running toward the street about 380 yards from the church, Soffe said. The officer pulled over and told him he wanted to talk to him and the young man looked at the officer and started running across the front lawn of the yard, he said.
"Our officer draws his gun and gives commands for the young man to get on the ground, thinking this is one of suspects we are looking for," the chief said.
"Once the suspect is face down on the ground, my officer approaches him from in front of his car to the sidewalk, as he get closer he realizes this is not the suspect, he immediately holsters his weapon at the same time that this young man's mother comes out and is yelling, 'This is my 10-year-old son.'"
Soffe said the officer told the boy and his mother that police were looking for two armed suspects and that they needed to go inside their house. The encounter, he said, "was very short — far less than a minute."
Karra Porter, a Salt Lake attorney for the Hrubes family, said she has now heard four versions of the story from Woods Cross police.
"I'm hoping they'll settle on one soon," she said.
The officer did not activate his body camera during the encounter with the boy, police said.
Porter appeared at a news conference with Jerri Hrubes Friday during which the boy's mother sought an independent investigation into what she calls a racially motivated incident. She said she sees it as a case of "clear prejudice" against her son.
Woods Cross police in earlier statements did not say any of the suspects were black. On Thursday, police said one suspect was described as Hispanic but the race of the second suspect was unknown by officers.
Asked Monday if the officer stopped the boy because he is black, Soffe said, "The officer said he matched the description that had been given to him earlier."
Jerri Hrubes said DJ, who she said is mentally delayed and sight-impaired, was playing in the front yard when the incident occurred. The family lives in Montana, but returns to Utah about once a month so DJ can receive medical treatment.
Members of the Hrubes family and two passersby who saw the encounter have said the officer pulled up in front of the house, got out of his car, pointed a gun at DJ's head and told him to get on the ground, an order they say the boy complied with immediately.
The officer then drove off without explaining his actions to her or her son, Hrubes said. She said the officer returned later in the day to apologize to DJ, telling the boy, "I am so sorry I pointed my gun at you."
Soffe acknowledged that gun "could have been" pointed at the boy when he went to the ground as the officer held it in a "low ready" position at about a 45-degree angle. "But it is not our training to point our guns at anyone's head at any time," the chief said.
The officer, Soffe said, did not violate any of the department's policies and responded in accordance with police protocol and training. He described the officer as a seasoned veteran and he remains on duty.
"I'm not going to stand here and second-guess the actions of my officer. It's a tough thing," he said.
Still, Soffe said he has asked the Davis County Attorney's Office to "review" the incident to be "totally transparent and to alleviate some of the concerns brought up by the media and other people in the public." Soffe emphasized that it is not an investigation.
"We're not investigating the actions. We're reviewing them to see if there's any changes we might be able to make in our policies," he said.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings had no comment Monday.
Porter said she's concerned that Woods Cross police are just going to give the county attorney the officer's version of events. She said the county attorney needs to determine what happened and then review that.
"But if all they're doing is saying here is the set of facts that we want you to assume because this is what our officer says now, obviously I have a real problem with that," she said.
Jeanetta Williams, president of NAACP Tri-State Conference for Idaho, Nevada and Utah, said there needs to be an independent investigation not just a review.
"I think an investigation would maybe take it a little bit further into looking exactly step-by-step everything that occurred," she said.
Williams said she didn't want to say whether the officer acted appropriately in drawing his gun on the boy. But she said the officer should have done more to determine whether the child matched the description of the people police were chasing.
"Any time that you pull a gun, it could easily go off. We've seen that happen before" she said.
They have yet to tell the same story twice. – Josianne Petit, Black Lives Matter Utah organizer
Organizers of Black Lives Matter Utah on Monday again called for the officer to be fired.
“They have yet to tell the same story twice,” organizer Josianne Petit said of Woods Cross police version of events.
Centerville Police Chief Paul Child said both his department and Wood Cross police realize their communities are predominantly white.
"There are very few that are minority in this area and we care about them. We want them to feel safe. We want them to feel like we value them in our community," he said.
Child said the incident that led to the police chase involved four victims in one car and three suspects in another driving recklessly and at high speeds. One victim claimed someone was shooting at him. Descriptions of those involved were Hispanic, Polynesian and black, he said.
Police, he said, still don't know the identities of all those involved, though he said one of the victims is black.
Officers found a handgun discarded on I-15 but didn't find anyone who had been shot or any bullet holes in the car, though they don't know where a shooting might have happened, Child said.
One man was taken into custody and released. No arrests have been made.
"There's a lot to this story we don't know yet," Child said.