Two Salt Lake police officers have been found to be legally justified in shooting a man who pointed a shotgun at the officers after threatening to shoot firefighters.

Officers Taylor Adair and Carson Jones were cleared Friday by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

On July 9, 2022, Salt Lake firefighters were called to 1423 S. Utahna Drive on a report that Peter Michael Larsen, 45, had set the weeds in his backyard on fire. When informed “that the fire he had set was against the law and that a fire investigator would be in contact with him,” Larsen became “extremely agitated and told firefighters that he would not speak to anyone,” according to charging documents.

Approximately eight hours later, a neighbor called 911 saying that Larsen had started another fire in his backyard. Firefighters again responded to Larsen’s house and began putting out the fire. But a short time later, they were confronted by Larsen, who “threatened to sic his dog on the firefighters and threatened to shoot them if they came on his property,” according to the charges.

Police were called and officers Adair and Jones responded. They went into a backyard area adjacent to Larsen’s house.

“They could see into the backyard through a hole in a burned-out section of the fence as well as through spaces between burned fence slats,” Gill’s final report states.

Larsen then stepped out of his home holding a pistol-grip shotgun. After the officers yelled commands for Larsen to drop the weapon, he briefly went back into the home, then stepped back out and “started bringing his shotgun up and leveling it at the officers,” according to the report.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill talks about a July 9, 2022, officer-involved critical incident involving suspect Peter Michael Larsen during a press conference at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 12, 2023. Gill said the Salt Lake City police officers’ use of deadly force, which did not kill Larsen, was justified. Larsen was shot in both hands. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“What was in his hands was going to kill me or my partner, or other people in the community,” Jones later told investigators, while noting that he had a clear view of Larsen holding the shotgun. He said when Larsen came out of his home the second time and raised his shotgun, it became a matter of “saving my life and saving my partner’s life because a shotgun (was) being leveled, pointed directly at us.

“Once it became an immediate danger, that’s when we took lethal action,” Jones said. “That’s when we reacted with deadly force.”

Likewise, Adair told investigators that when Larsen raised the shotgun, “he didn’t feel safe enough to let the suspect get the rest of the motion in. Officer Adair said he brought his rifle up all the way and started shooting,” the report states.

He said, he thought, “I was about to get shot. ... I could see the shotgun coming up. To me, that is a, ‘I’m going to shoot this weapon,’ and so I wanted to beat him to the punch. I wanted to eliminate the threat before it got to the point where officer Jones and I could’ve actually gotten shot.”

Adair fired a total of 12 rounds from his rifle, while Jones fired two shots from his handgun, the report states. The officers then repeated their commands to “Drop the gun” and, “Let me see your … hands.”

The officers eventually entered the backyard and started a conversation with Larsen, who retreated into his house through an open door. Larsen was shot in both hands and was taken into custody.

During a press conference on Friday to announce his decision, Gill showed a picture taken at the scene of a “mass number of shotgun shells” in the entryway where Larsen had been standing with his shotgun. Although it did not play into his decision in determining the shooting to be legally justified, Gill noted that it showed the confrontation “could have gotten out of control really quickly because the amount of ammunition that he had there within reach right inside the door.”

He also noted that he was “extremely appreciative” that the two officers agreed to be interviewed as part of the police shooting investigation — something that has become rare in recent years in Salt Lake County. Gill says by having the statements from the officers, he does not have to make inferences about what they were thinking or seeing when they pulled the trigger.

“Our question is: At the moment that the decision is made to fire, what was the perception of the officer and how does it fit into the objective facts? And when that statement is not given to us, it does not absolve our responsibility to our community of citizens to demonstrate what happened to the best of ability,” he said.

“In this context, having those statements was really critical because while we can put the context into the use of force, we don’t have the line of sight here. And what is really crucial, those statements from both officers actually help us demonstrate that those two officers exercised incredible professional restraint, and the sequencing of that decision that was made.”

Gill said it was very important as part of the investigation to know that the officers did not shoot the first time Larsen exited his house and was seen holding the shotgun.

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“They are concerned about it. They’re certainly alarmed about it as they should be situationally aware. But since that gun was not in an immediate danger of being pointed at them, they made a very conscious decision — both of them, independently — not to fire at that suspect,” he said.

It wasn’t until Larsen stepped out of his house a second time and raised the shotgun that officers felt their lives were in danger. Gill said without the statements from the officers, he wouldn’t have been able to articulate that in his report.

Larsen pleaded guilty in November to assault on a police officer and arson in exchange for eight other counts being dismissed. On Jan. 17, he was sentenced to a term of one to 15 years in the Utah State Prison.

Following Gill’s decision, Salt Lake City police released a prepared statement that stated, in part, “As members of law enforcement, we have a responsibility to protect our community and ourselves from harm. The decision to use force – at any level – must always be made with great care and consideration.”

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