SALT LAKE CITY — The actions of three Salt Lake police officers who fired their weapons during a confrontation with a man who they say had just killed his girlfriend were determined Friday to be legally justified.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced that officers Kristopher Jeppsen and Hayden Cassity reasonably believed their lives and the lives of others were in danger when they shot at Michael Tyson Nance, 30, of Salt Lake City.
Officer Chad Miller also fired his weapon, but under different circumstances, according to Gill. He, too, was determined to be justified in using deadly force.
About 3:45 a.m. on Feb. 10, Natalie Thurber, 34, of Salt Lake City, called 911 and left the line open. Based on a cellphone tower ping, officers went to the area of 125 S. 300 East to figure out what was happening.
Dispatchers could hear a man and woman talking about a knife, “the man saying I don’t want to kill you, something about not letting the woman leave,” among other things, according to Gill’s final report on the officer-involved shooting.
When officers arrived in the area, they reported hearing screaming coming from an apartment. Jeppsen heard what he described as “a quiet scream and gurgling from a woman inside the apartment,” according to the report, as well as a man telling her “to be quiet.”
Jeppsen went to tell other officers he believed he had found the apartment, and returned to stand outside the window where he could hear the situation getting worse, according to the report. He drew his gun and kicked the glass window in, the report states, and saw Nance on top of Thurber “choking her out.”
“Police! Drop it or I will shoot you right now. Let me see your hands!” Jeppsen is heard yelling on body camera video.
Nance said, “OK” and let go of Thurber and walked behind a wall, according to the report. Thurber looked at the officer and said, “Help.”
As the officer turned to speak into his police radio, his body camera recorded Nance’s hand coming into view “holding a handgun from around the bathroom door frame,” according to charging documents. “The handgun is turned toward Natalie’s head and (Nance) fires the gun.”
Two shots were fired, according to Gill’s report. After the first shot there was a slight pause, followed by a second shot and Gill said that was intended for Miller who was also standing outside the window.
“I’m hit, I’m hit. I’m hit on my leg,” Miller can be heard telling his colleagues on body camera video while remaining amazingly calm.
Miller later told investigators that he “heard one of two pops and my leg felt weird and then the next thing I knew I was on the ground,” the report states.
It was determined that Miler was shot in the leg. He was treated at a local hospital but police said in February that he would have a “long road” to recovery. Salt Lake police on Friday said Miller is back to “light duty,” meaning he does some work in the office but is not ready to go back on patrol.
Jeppsen told investigators ”everything happened very fast, and that as his mind caught up to what had just occurred, he realized the sounds he heard were gunshots,” according to the report.
“Officer Jeppsen aimed his weapon at the wall where he believed the man was located and fired his police weapon. When he stopped firing, officer Jeppsen said he heard a man screaming,” the report states.
Cassidy arrived on scene just as Miller was shot. When he heard a third gunshot coming from inside the apartment, he also fired his weapon at the wall he believed Nance was standing behind, according to the report.
About a dozen shots were fired by at least two officers into the apartment window. It was determined that Miller fired a round at the same time he was shot, according to Gill’s report. But Miller did not remember shooting his gun and did not believe he had. The report concluded that Miller likely either accidentally fired a round as he was hit, or the trauma of being shot caused him to not remember firing his gun.
Nance ran out the back door but was spotted a short time later bleeding heavily from his face near 200 South and 500 East. It was determined that he shot himself, with the bullet entering through his chin and exiting through the bridge of his nose, according to police.
Nance was later charged in 3rd District Court with aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and aggravated kidnaping, all first-degree felonies, in addition to aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.
A two-day preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin Oct. 7.
As Gill showed body camera video from the officers during a press conference, he paused and choked up as he pointed out that Thurber could be seen kneeling on the ground just before she was shot. Gill again became emotional as he took time to acknowledge Jeppsen’s efforts to save her.
“The effort that officer Jeppsen demonstrated, and the initiative that he took to discover where (Thurber) was, the urgency which he alerted the officers and came down there and tried to assist somebody,” Gill said before pausing to collect himself. “In some incredible circumstances. I know that his efforts fell short, but it was not because he wasn’t trying. And I think that needs to be commended.”
Those who experience domestic violence can call police dispatch at 801-799-3000; the 24-hour victim advocate hotline at 801-580-7969; the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-7233; or the Utah LINKLine at 800-897-5465.