Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Body cam helps justify fatal South Salt Lake police shooting

By Pat Reavy  |  Posted Sep 30th, 2014 @ 8:15pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — The officer's gun is raised.

Dillon Taylor, 20, is clearly looking at the officer but refuses to take his hands out of his waistband as he was ordered to do and continues to walk backwards.

"No, fool," Taylor is heard saying.

Moments later, Taylor quickly lifts his shirt and takes his hands out of his waistband. Salt Lake police officer Bron Cruz reacts by firing two quick shots, striking Taylor in the chest and stomach. Taylor died as a result of his injuries.

No weapon was ever found on Taylor.

But based on the totality of the situation — and based largely on what the video from the incident shows as recorded by the body camera Cruz was wearing — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill determined Tuesday that the shooting was legally justified.

What the body camera saw

On Aug. 11, Salt Lake police were called to a report of a possible man with a gun near 2100 South and State Street. A witness claimed three men were flashing a gun in the area.

Cruz was in the area and arrived first. He spotted the three men based on the witness description and observed their actions. As they went into a 7-Eleven, 2102 S. State, he called for backup and waited for the trio to walk out, believing that at least one of them was armed, Gill said.

The body camera video from Cruz shows that as he drove his car into the 7-Eleven parking lot, two of the men — Taylor's brother and cousin — immediately stop and put their hands in the air. Taylor holds his head down and keeps walking.

Believing that he had a gun, Cruz follows Taylor with his own gun now drawn. Another officer approaches from the other end of the parking lot. In the video, Cruz can clearly be heard yelling, "Get your hands up now."

Dillon Taylor, 20, was shot and killed by Salt Lake police on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, after investigators say he failed to comply with orders. The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office determined Tuesday that the shooting was legally justified. (Photo: Family photo)

The fatal shooting of Taylor sparked outrage from the family and some members of the community who claimed Taylor was shot in the back while walking away from officers and that Taylor couldn't hear them because he was wearing in-ear headphones.

Gill acknowledged that while such earphones were found on Taylor, the investigation was inconclusive as to whether they were in his ears at the time of the shooting. Regardless, Gill said, the video clearly shows that Taylor could see uniformed officers, including Cruz who had his gun drawn, in addition to their police vehicles with the overhead flashing lights turned on. Gill further noted that investigators believe Taylor heard Cruz yell at him because of his response, "No, fool."

As Taylor is facing Cruz, he quickly lifts his shirt while appearing to pull something from his waistband as he continued to walk backwards.

A transcript of Cruz's deposition with the district attorney's office was provided Tuesday. In it, the interviewer notes that Cruz became emotional as he recounted the shooting.

As Taylor continued to walk away from the officer and refused to show his hands, Cruz said, "I was 100 percent, 100 percent convinced when I saw him turn around it was gonna be a gunfight. I knew he had that gun, that he'd be trying to kill us."

The officer told investigators that Taylor wasn't just "pulling up his pants" when he had his hands in his waistband.

But even though Cruz said he thought there was about to be gunfire, he said he "wasn't about to shoot him in the back." By the time Taylor turned around and Cruz was forced to fire his weapon, he thought it was already too late.

I was scared to death. The last thought I had go through my mind when I pulled the trigger, and I'll never forget this … was that I was too late. I was too late. And because of that, I was gonna get killed. Worse, my (partner) was gonna get killed.

–Officer Bron Cruz, SLCPD

"I was scared to death. The last thought I had go through my mind when I pulled the trigger, and I'll never forget this … was that I was too late. I was too late. And because of that, I was gonna get killed. Worse, my (partner) was gonna get killed."

Other officers told the district attorney's investigators that they, too, thought Taylor was about to take a gun out of his waistband, and they would have shot if Cruz hadn't.

Even though Taylor did not have a gun, Gill said Cruz had to use what information was available to him at the time. Based on the totality of the situation, and what the officer reasonably believed was about to happen, Gill said the use of deadly force was appropriate.

Gill met with Taylor's family before holding a press conference Tuesday. He said he offered his condolences and then told the family of his decision. The family members, he said, did not agree with his conclusion and were upset.

"I also told them that they don't have to agree with my conclusions. But my job as district attorney is to be fair, to be thorough, to be as objective as we can be, and to piece together the information and call it as we see it," he said. "I think they were certainly upset with my decision in the sense that they think since he didn't have a weapon that he shouldn't have been shot."

Questions left unanswered

As for a possible motive for Taylor's actions, Gill said he would not speculate on whether it was an act of suicide by cop. However, he did note that Taylor had made posts on Facebook in the days leading up to the shooting that indicated he knew he had warrants out for his arrest for a prior burglary, that he was homeless and that he felt his life had "hit rock bottom."

"I feel God can't even save me on this one," he posted on Aug. 7. In another post on Aug. 9, he wrote, "It's about my time soon."

Dillon Taylor's family maintains shooting was not justified

Following Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill's ruling and the release of the video Tuesday, Taylor's relatives insisted that not following the Cruz's orders didn't warrant a use of deadly force.

"He didn't commit a crime that day. He did not have a weapon. The only thing he didn't do was comply as the police officer wanted him to at that time," said Gina Thayne, Taylor's aunt.

Taylor's brother and cousin, who were with him when he was shot, also disagree with Gill's ruling.

"I still say it was unjustified. The officer made a split-second decision, and Dillon already had his shirt up in the air when the officer fired," said Adam Thayne, Dillon Taylor's cousin. "I just want people to look at Dillon the way he was. He was a good person."

The family intends to continue speaking out against police use of force, Gina Thayne said. They are exploring options to respond to the ruling, including future public protests, meetings with other families impacted by officer-involved shootings, and a possible civil lawsuit.

"We don't want this to ever happen to anyone else again," she said. "Dillon is still important. He's not a throwaway kid. This is going to happen a lot more times before people get it."

The Utah State Medical Examiner's Office also noted that Taylor had a blood-alcohol content of 0.18 at the time of the shooting, more than twice the legal limit for driving.

Gill stressed, however, that neither Cruz nor his colleagues knew about the Facebook posts nor the blood-alcohol level at the time of the shooting and that information was not a factor in his decision to clear the officer.

The case marks the first time the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office has had the assistance of body-cam video to help them determine whether an officer-involved shooting is justified.

"I think it's a very important piece of evidence," Gill said. "It assists everybody to get to the truth in a transparent and objective way."

About a half-dozen Salt Lake police officers also attended Gill's press conference, listening from the back of the Salt Lake City Council chambers.

Deputy Police Chief Terry Fritz said the body camera did what it was intended to do.

"I believe that the camera was extremely helpful to enlighten the community on what the officers actually saw at the scene and the decision making process the officer went through," he said.

Currently, 125 police officers have been issued body cameras. Fritz said Chief Chris Burbank has pledged to outfit all uniformed first responders with body cameras within a year.

Now that Cruz has been cleared, Fritz said Salt Lake police will complete their own internal investigation of the shooting. He said the video would also be used to make adjustments to policies and procedures, if needed, and may also be used as a training video for other officers.

Contributing: Sandra Yi and McKenzie Romero


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