SALT LAKE CITY — Two Salt Lake police officers who shot and killed a man holding a knife to the throat of another man in front of a grocery store were legally justified in using deadly force, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Friday.
On July 25, police responded to a Smith’s grocery store, 455 S. 500 East, on a report of two men who were stealing items inside the store. Witnesses say at some point the men got into an argument inside the store that continued when they exited into the parking lot.
In a recording of a 911 call, a store employee tells police dispatchers that the men were still in the parking lot and appeared to be intoxicated.
“I think they’re drunk or something. They keep fighting each other in the parking lot,” he said. “They can’t even walk straight.”
Salt Lake police officers Seyedsherwin Mansourbeigi and Dorothy Rose Wilde responded to the call.
As the first officer arrived, his body camera recorded the men walking on the sidewalk in front of the store on 500 South near 571 East. Andrew Jacob Preece, 34, is seen holding a knife to his side and has his other hand on Emmanuel Valentino Montez and appears to be leading Montez down the road.
As the video shows Mansourbeigi approaching the men, the officer pulls out his Taser and tells Preece to “drop the knife.”
“I will tase you if you don’t stop,” the officer says in his recorded body camera video. “Put it down, put it down!”
As Wilde pulls up, Preece steps behind Montez, grabs him with his left hand around his waist, pulls him closer and holds the knife to Montez’s neck with his right hand.
“He’s got a hostage,” Mansourbeigi calls out on his police radio as he pockets his Taser and unholsters his gun.
“Dude, it’s not worth it,” Wilde yells. “I guarantee it dude, I promise you.”
With both officers now positioned 90 degrees from each other with their guns pointed at Preece, the video shows that he ignores several commands to put the knife down.
Both officers fired at almost the same time, according to Gill’s report. Four to five shots were fired as Montez was still being held. As Montez pulled away from Preece, more shots were fired.
A total of 11 shots were fired during the confrontation, according to the report. Preece suffered five gunshot wounds.
Contrary to what some witnesses told police, an autopsy determined that Preece was not shot in the back, according to the district attorney’s report.
Both officers declined to be interviewed for Gill’s shooting investigation. He noted that investigators also attempted to interview Montez, but he was in too much of an intoxicated state for a valid statement to be taken.
Even though there were reports of both men being intoxicated on that day, Gill said there was an escalation of events that happened — from the men arguing, to Preece lifting the knife to Montez’s throat — that prompted the shooting. And at the moment when the officers pulled the triggers, it was because of the potentially life-threatening situation Montez was in.
“The question for us, really, fundamentally is, at the time the officer goes to use that lethal force, what is known to them? And what is the basis on which they are making the decision at the moment that they decide to pull the trigger?” Gill asked.
He pointed out that Mansourbeigi’s initial inclination was to use his Taser.
“It is only when (Preece) takes the knife up to the throat ... that (the officer) goes, ‘This has escalated,’” he said.
Furthermore, the level of both men’s intoxication was not known to officers at the time, Gill added.
“What (the officers) were trying to do was to try to address the immediacy of the threat that was before them,” he said.