SALT LAKE CITY — A West Valley police officer who shot and killed an armed parole fugitive while working with the U.S. Marshals apprehension team was justified in using deadly force, but a second officer was not legally justified when he also fired his weapon during the incident.
Those conclusions came from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and were announced Friday.
District Attorney Sim Gill said Friday that his office cannot yet determine whether to file a criminal charge against that second West Valley police officer because he doesn't have enough information.
“We are ruling his shooting to be unjustified,” Gill said during a press conference to announce his findings, adding that he has no context to explain why Sgt. Jason Vincent fired his weapon.
On Aug. 27, members of the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team were looking for Damien Evans, 38, of West Valley City, whom marshals described as a “violent parole fugitive.” Evans was paroled from the Utah State Prison during the summer of 2020, but a warrant was issued for his arrest after he committed a parole violation in August, according to the district attorney’s report.
Officers looking for Evans had received information that he “had made statements that he would not go back to prison and that he would ‘shoot it out’ with police,” the report states.
Evans was located in the parking lot of an apartment complex near 1000 S. Main in Salt Lake City and police moved in to arrest him.
A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter was overhead keeping an eye on Evans, who apparently saw the helicopter. The helicopter recorded video of Evans running from the parking lot and several officers chasing after him both in their vehicles and on foot.
As one marshal got close to Evans, he saw him “remove a handgun from his waistband and hold it in his right hand,” according to the report. The deputy reported that information to the others.
As Evans ran across Main Street to Fayette Avenue into the parking lot of a strip mall, other officers followed and several reported either seeing a gun in Evans’ hand or that Evans actually pointed a gun at them, according to the report. Video from the helicopter clearly showed Evans holding a gun.
As Vincent ran after Evans through the parking lot, a shot was fired. Other officers heard the shot and believed that Evans had fired it. One marshal even saw Evans turn toward the officer at the same time the shot was fired, leading him to believe it was Evans shooting, according to the report. It was later determined that the gun Evans was carrying had a full 15 rounds in it and that it was “improbable” he fired a round.
Gill said Vincent was the one who fired a round from 25 to 50 yards away. But what prompted him to shoot remained unknown Friday.
The shot missed Evans and he continued running through the parking lot. A vehicle with West Valley police officer Clinton Moore and his police K-9 Tank entered the parking lot and Moore released his dog, which chased down Evans.
Evans is seen on video running into an alley that came to a dead end with a wall and fences. Police shouted several commands to “Stop!” and “Drop the weapon” as they chased Evans.
According to interviews with other officers on scene, Evans is believed to have put his gun in his pocket in order to climb the fence to get away from the K-9. He was about halfway up the fence when the dog latched onto him, according to the report.
As Evans was being pulled off the fence, officers said his hand reached into his pocket and a “gun comes out,” the report states. Several officers said they saw Evans with his hand on the handle of his gun, which he was pulling out of his pants pocket when Moore shot him six times, according to the report. Evans fell to the ground with his gun sticking halfway out of his right pocket.
Both Moore and Vincent refused to be interviewed by the team investigating the police shooting.
Vincent “did not elaborate or offer any other information” as to what prompted him to shoot, and he “refused to be interviewed by protocol investigators or provide a statement explaining his apparent decision to use deadly force,” the report states.
When the district attorney’s office asked if he would answer a follow-up question, Vincent said through his attorney that he fired a shot while chasing Evans through the parking lot, but declined any further follow-up questions.
Likewise, Moore declined to be interviewed or provide a written statement, though he did clarify through his attorney that he was at the end of the alley when he fired his shots.
Neither officer was wearing a body camera. Even though both are West Valley police officers, they were working as part of the fugitive apprehension team that day and U.S. Marshal’s Office policy forbids the use of body cameras — even if the local police departments that they work for require them.
In September, Gill called that practice prohibiting body cameras “deeply problematic,” “unnecessary” and “misguided.” Matthew Harris, head of the U.S. Marshals Office in Utah, said Gill’s comments were inappropriately political.
Harris added on Friday that it’s not because his team is against body cameras, he said his deputies don’t wear them because that was the policy of the federal government at the time. However, Harris said the U.S. Justice Department recently changed that policy and marshals in some states have begun using body cameras on an experimental basis. Harris predicted marshals in Utah will be using them before the end of the year.
As for the officers not offering a statement, Harris said that is their constitutional right. He also noted the aura of distrust between law enforcers and Gill that has developed over the past several years.
Gill agreed it is the officers’ right to decline to comment. He said at least 25 other witnesses were interviewed for the shooting investigation.
But while the totality of the other evidence gathered led Gill to conclude that Moore was legally justified in his use of deadly force, “we cannot make a similar conclusion about Sgt. Vincent’s use of deadly force.
“We can’t say whether Sgt. Vincent reasonably believed deadly force was necessary because we don’t know what he believed,” the report states. “We don’t know why Sgt. Vincent fired his weapon.”
As for potential criminal charges, “If we don’t have enough facts to know what happened, we’re unable to answer the question of whether a criminal prosecution should commence,” the report states. “We cannot make a decision on criminal charges when we don’t have enough information.”
Harris said he doesn’t like the idea of having potential criminal charges hanging over the officer.
“Either you have the evidence or you don’t,” he said.
If the district attorney doesn’t have enough evidence to prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt in court, then the officer shouldn’t be “left hanging,” Harris said.
West Valley police issued a brief prepared statement following Gill’s announcement regarding their two officers.
“We are currently reviewing the decision of the district attorney’s office. We are also in the process of an internal review of this incident. We look forward to completing this process in the near future.”
Gill’s report also notes that after the shooting, Vincent went to a convenience store near 3300 South and 500 West and sat on a curb. While doing so, his gun apparently slipped out of his holster.
When the officer went to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office to turn in his weapon, as per protocol for shooting investigations, he realized he didn't have it. Vincent went back to the store and found his gun on the curb. The report says investigators do not believe the gun was tampered with during the time it was left on the curb.