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Lawsuit claims racial bias in fatal Salt Lake police shooting of black man

FILE - Supporters hug members of Patrick Harmon's family at the rally demanding justice for the August death of Patrick Harmon at the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The children of Patrick Harmon, a black man fatally sh
FILE - Supporters hug members of Patrick Harmon's family at the rally demanding justice for the August death of Patrick Harmon at the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The children of Patrick Harmon, a black man fatally shot by a Salt Lake police officer two years ago, claim in a lawsuit that the killing reflects a pattern of racial bias and use of excessive force.
Adam Fondren, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The children of a black man fatally shot by a Salt Lake police officer two years ago claim in a lawsuit that the killing reflects a pattern of racial bias and use of excessive force.

Patrick Harmon, 50, was shot and killed by officer Clinton Fox on Aug. 13, 2017, after Harmon threatened to "cut you" while holding a knife and facing three officers close by, according to a report from the district attorney's office.

Harmon was initially stopped by police for riding his bicycle across six lanes of traffic on State Street near 1000 South and for not having a required tail light, the report states. After giving officers several different names, police learned that Harmon had several warrants out for his arrest.

As officers put Harmon’s hands behind his back to handcuff him, Harmon ran from them, stopping at one point and turning around to face the officers while holding a knife, according to the report.

Harmon’s son, Patrick Harmon II, and daughter, Tasha Smith, dispute that account of the incident.

“All three officers later claimed that Mr. Harmon, while fleeing, yelled words to the effect of 'I’ll stab you,' and then lunged at the officers, knife in his hand. The problem with this description of events is that all three officers wore body cameras. From three different angles, there is no knife visible in Mr. Harmon’s hands,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which names Fox and Salt Lake City as defendants, was initially filed in state court but was moved Monday to federal court.

Harmon’s race was a "substantial motivating factor" in Fox’s decision to use excessive force against him, the suit says.

"Salt Lake City has an unfortunate history of racially biased policing and use of force," according to the lawsuit.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office found in October 2017 that Fox was legally justified when he shot and killed Harmon.

"Fox said Mr. Harmon came at the officers with something in his hand. Officer Fox said he was terrified by how close Mr. Harmon was to the officers when Mr. Harmon stopped and turned toward them," the report states. "Officer Fox said he feared if he didn’t immediately use deadly force, Mr. Harmon was going to stab him and/or the other officers."

Fox fired his weapon three times, according to the report.

"Officer Fox said that in 10 years of law enforcement and two military deployments, it was the scariest situation he had ever been in," investigators wrote in the report.

In November 2017, Salt Lake City's Civilian Review Board determined that Fox followed department policy.

Harmon's death led to protests outside the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building — including members of Harmon's family from St. Louis — demanding body camera footage and policing reforms.

"Mr. Harmon did not lead a perfect life," the lawsuit says. "But, prior to his death, he had found renewed spirituality. He had reunited with his son and daughter, Patrick and Tasha, who looked forward to rebuilding their relationship with their father. Despite his mistakes, Mr. Harmon deserved the opportunity to grow with grace."