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Longtime advocate in Salt Lake ordered to stand trial for shooting at truck after crash

Jon Michael Clara’s attorneys say he acted in self-defense after driver intentionally rammed his SUV last November

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Michael Clara, un candidato para el consejo de la ciudad de Salt Lake City, habla de su campaña el miercoles, 10 de agosto, 2011. (Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah) Michael Clara, a Salt Lake City council candidate, talks about his campaign during a meeting in Salt Lake City Wednesday, August 10, 2011. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

El Observador de Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge ordered a longtime Salt Lake City community organizer to stand trial Thursday on charges that he fired seven rounds at a truck that crashed into his car and drove away last year.

Defense attorneys for Jon Michael Clara, 56, argued during the preliminary hearing in 3rd District Court that their client acted in self-defense. But prosecutor Christopher Alberico said Clara’s reaction to the crash wasn’t reasonable.

Judge Todd Shaughnessy ruled Thursday that prosecutors met their burden of probable cause to support seven counts of felony discharge of a firearm, a third-degree felony. The judge said brief testimony from two Salt Lake police officers could be seen as favorable to either side.

The case cost Clara his job of three years as a west-side community organizer with Crossroads Urban Center. He sued the center last month for wrongful termination, saying Utah employees can’t be fired for defending themselves like he had. Crossroads has not yet responded in court.

On Nov. 23, police said Clara was driving a Toyota 4-Runner near 900 West and 100 South when he was hit from behind by a stolen truck with a snowplow on it, causing Clara’s truck to spin.

Salt Lake officer Ricardo Franco said Thursday that he arrived to find Clara and a passenger standing outside the SUV, and Clara reported he fired in self-defense.

Court documents say police determined Clara should not have fired the shots in the busy area near a freeway entrance. But Clara’s attorney Clayton Simms argued Utah law says a person can’t be charged with the counts Clara faces when shooting in self-defense or to protect others.

Clara sat next to his attorneys in the hearing held over videoconference. Alberico, the deputy county attorney for Salt Lake County, said Clara’s decision not to testify Thursday means “at this point, to say he was acting in self-defense is a bit premature.” 

Court documents say Clara told police he thought the truck was going to turn around and hit him again, so he got out of his vehicle and started shooting at the pavement in back of the truck.

Another driver who was stopped near 900 West and 100 South heard several shots before one hit his rear window and exited the windshield. The man’s 12-year-old daughter was in the back seat and got glass in her hair, but was otherwise uninjured, police said.

A passenger in Clara’s car told police that they were hit three times by the truck but it began driving away by the time Clara got out and began shooting.

The truck with the snowplow had been stolen and was found crashed a short time later near 820 West and 200 South. Police have not found the driver.

Clara is also a former Salt Lake City School Board member and was a transit planner with UTA for nearly 20 years. Clara later won a whistleblower claim against UTA.

The judge entered not guilty pleas on Clara’s behalf. He returns to court Nov. 13 for a pretrial conference.