A man accused of using a stun gun and pepper spray on Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020 did not appear to be acting in self-defense, a judge ruled Tuesday during a justification hearing.
Randall Craig Schroerlucke, 45, is charged with threatening to use a dangerous weapon during a fight and three counts of assault, class A misdemeanors; two counts of assault, a class B misdemeanor; and disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor.
Charging documents accuse him of pepper spraying four people and using a Taser, or stun gun, on one person.
In video taken during the protest, Schroerlucke at one point said, "Let's have fun with this, I haven't tried it yet," apparently referring to his stun gun.
Third District Judge Vernice Trease said that comment and other video footage from private cameras helped her make the decision that Schroerlucke was not acting in self-defense. She also specifically cited that Schroerlucke was armed while the others were not.
Under a new state law that took effect in May 2021, a person charged with a crime of unlawful use of force who claims self-defense can request a justification hearing up to 28 days before a case goes to trial. In such hearings, the decision about whether someone acted in self-defense shifts from a jury to a judge.
If the judge decides that the actions were in self-defense, prosecutors must prove with "clear and convincing evidence" — a high legal bar — that the person did not act in self-defense or was not justified in the use of force. If prosecutors are not able to meet that burden of proof, the judge must dismiss the charges with prejudice, meaning they cannot be refiled.
Defense attorney Robert Cummings argued that he only needed to prove that there was an impression that his client acted in self-defense, meaning it was up to prosecutors to show otherwise.
Deputy West Valley City attorney Yvette Rodier asked Trease to take time to watch the body camera videos before making a ruling, and argued that the video makes it clear that a claim of self-defense does not apply.
Nicholas Bradberry, the man says he was hit with the Taser, testified during the first part of the justification hearing on April 7 that he was attempting to provide security for the event and protect protesters and was trying to get Schroerlucke to move away from the protesters.
Trease said it was obvious that people involved in the protest did not want Schroerlucke there and tried to get him to move in a different direction. Bradberry at one point said he held his hand up in an attempt to stop Schroerlucke and the two began yelling at each other.
"It appears to me, frankly, that at some point, this is something that may arguably be viewed as mutual combat," the judge said.
She said the defendant claimed that another person assaulted him first, but there was not evidence that he had any need to defend himself. She said words he said like, "Let's have fun with this, I haven't tried it yet," do not fit with coming from someone who is afraid.
This Black Lives Matter protest on Sept. 16, 2020, was located outside the West Valley City Police Department to protest the fatal shooting of Damien Evans, 38, who was shot while fleeing from the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Apprehension Team in Salt Lake City.
With Trease's ruling, the criminal case against Schroerlucke will now move forward. A jury trial was set for him in August. Trease specified that he could still present a claim of self-defense to the jury.