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Officer ‘did everything right’ in moments before Holladay police shooting, DA says

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A motorcycle is pictured in the road a members of law enforcement investigate an officer-involved shooting at 4500 South and 2300 East in Holladay on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor says a Unified police officer was legally justified in shooting and injuring a man who had just fired at him with a gun the man had just taken from another officer.

But District Attorney Sim Gill said he wants to focus on the actions of that second officer, the first to encounter the suspect in September 2020.

Officer Jason Hudgens “did everything right,” Gill said Friday.

Hudgens believed the man who ran away from him after a crash in Holladay was bluffing when he claimed to have a gun. So Hudgens holstered his own handgun and opted to use a Taser instead, Gill said Friday.

“This officer was doing everything right,” Gill said. “I think he made the right calls. He did the right things. And at that moment, he valued that person’s — suspect’s — life, and he put his (own) life in danger.”

Eric Wyatt Pectol, 50, had told a family member he wanted to take his own life, and determined that day he would die by police fire, he later told investigators. But Gill said the officers believed Pectol was a threat to more than just himself after he ran away from the intersection where his motorcycle collided with a pickup truck on Sept. 17, a crash that threw him onto the road.

Police body cameras did not capture the shooting or the rapid chain of events beforehand. One officer tried and failed to turn his device on, while another had recently started his shift and hadn’t yet picked up the camera, according to the district attorney’s report.

In announcing that he will not file any charges against officer John Saulnier, Gill said Pectol first pointed the weapon at Hudgens. When Saulnier arrived and ordered him to drop the gun, Pectol pointed it at Saulnier so that the Saulnier “was looking down the barrel” before seeing the muzzle flash and hearing the “snap” of a bullet coming by.

Saulnier returned fire, shooting Pectol four times on the left side of his body: in the neck, below the ribs and twice in the hip.

Saulnier was reasonable in believing the deadly force he used was necessary to prevent death or serious injury, so a jury likely would find him not guilty, Gill concluded.

Pectol survived. He is a parolee who was wanted in connection with a crash days earlier, Gill said. Charges brought against Pectol in the crash have since been dismissed, court records show. A message left with his most recent attorney wasn’t immediately returned.

In the moments before the shooting, Hudgens happened to see the motorcycle crash while at a gas station and ran over to see if anyone was injured. That’s when Pectol warned Hudgens that he had a gun and ran into the field at 4500 South and 2300 East, according to Gill.

There, Pectol advanced toward Hudgens, who deployed the Taser to no effect before the men fought, the officer dropped his handgun and Pectol grabbed it.

After the shooting, more officers arrived and helped render aid until an ambulance arrived. Investigators later discovered a bullet had traveled in the direction Pectol allegedly fired and went through a glass door of a home, landing in a fireplace.

Pectol denies that he fired a shot. In an interview with investigators, he said, “I never wanted to hurt him, I wanted him to kill me,” explaining that he wanted to die because he’d rolled his Jeep days earlier, leaving his girlfriend in a coma and paralyzed, according to Gill’s report.

A family member reported that Pectol had said after the earlier crash he was going to take his own life, according to Gill.

In an interview with investigators, Saulnier said he was trying to turn his body camera on during the incident and saw that it was completely off until after Pectol was shot, so he hurried to turn it on and record. He reported he didn’t have a dash camera in his car, according to Gill.

Hudgens told investigators he had come from a meeting at one Unified office in Holladay at the beginning of his shift and was on his way to another in Millcreek, where he returns his camera each night.

The investigation relied on interviews with the officers, Pectol, and several witnesses. It also considered video from surveillance and cellphone footage, although the recordings either failed to capture all or most of the incident.

Gill said Cottonwood Heights police are investigating Pectol’s actions that day and are working with federal prosecutors. Formal charges have not yet been filed.