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Police justified in shooting TRAX bomb suspect, district attorney says

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SALT LAKE CITY — The actions of an officer who shot and killed a man who said he had a bomb at a downtown TRAX station were deemed to be justified Thursday.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill notified Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank of the decision in a letter, stating that officer Alma Sweeny's decision to shoot Anthony Kenshiro Mayhew “was justified, given the danger Mayhew presented at the time.”

“Officer Sweeny was justified in using deadly force because he reasonably believed that the use of such force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officers or other persons,” Gill wrote.

Mayhew, 39, came to the attention of police Sept. 27 when he called 911 and KUTV to report that he was on the TRAX station near 300 West and Main Street — across from the TV station’s newsroom — and was armed with a “suicide bomb.” According to Gill, Mayhew threatened to detonate the device unless the chief of police responded to talk to him about his belief that federal agents had been in his home, watching him.

“Specifically, Mayhew stated that the device included a battery attached by wires to 10-15 shotgun shells in his backpack which were also attached to a trigger he held in his hand, and that the device carried a blast radius of 40 yards,” Gill's letter states.

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The first officer, Uppsen Downes, confirmed that the man had a red backpack with a black cord coming out of it leading to Mayhew’s right hand. In the man’s hand, the officer said he saw a black device with a button on top and that the man’s thumb was over the button.

Gill wrote that the man told the officer that he didn’t want to hurt anybody, but needed help to “figure this (expletive deleted) out.” Downes was able to convince the man to move his thumb to prevent him from detonating the device accidentally.

Officer M. Lealogata, reported hearing Mayhew threaten Downes not to come any closer, stating that he had an explosive device on him.

“Officer Lealogata further observed Mayhew to be very aggressive, upset and belligerent,” Gill wrote, adding that the officer asked Mayhew why he wanted police help. “Mayhew described what he had in his backpack and stated, ‘If you do not take me seriously and do an investigation on the feds, I will blow this bag up.’”

SWAT officers, including Sweeny, arrived soon after. A commander notified them of the perimeter they should maintain for safety purposes and advised them to not allow Mayhew to leave the perimeter with the device, the report states.

A bomb squad technician told the SWAT commander to tell his officers that if Mayhew approached them, “proper force should be used to stop (him),” Gill wrote. The officer also estimated that the potential bomb’s blast radius could actually be closer to 850 yards.

The officer negotiating with Mayhew withdrew, explaining that he was going to investigate Mayhew’s claims. “Mayhew responded that he understood that he could not leave the area and acknowledged he could see the officers,” Gill wrote. “Mayhew initially sat down but became visibly more upset and aggressive. Mayhew then stood up, collected all of his belongings and turned and took a few steps north, toward the containment line.”

Officer L. Smith, yelled “Police, Don’t move!” loud enough that other officers said they heard the admonishment, the letter states. Instead, Mayhew kept moving, turning to approach Smith and another officer. He did not cross the containment line, but lunged toward the officers, “visibly angry.”

Other officers, including those stationed around the perimeter next to Sweeny, “indicated that they were preparing to fire when officer Sweeny discharged his weapon,” the letter states.

One officer said he saw Mayhew stand up and “feared for the safety of officers as he observed Mayhew’s demeanor,” Gill wrote. The officer said he heard the command to stop, followed by Mayhew shouting, “Shoot me, (expletive deleted),” and a single gunshot that prompted Mayhew to fall to the ground.

Sweeny, a police officer of seven years, said he noticed Mayhew’s behavior change when the negotiating officer left. He reported that “Mayhew became upset and agitated, began tapping his foot, his back was shaking and he wiped his eyes as though he was crying.”

Other officers, including those stationed around the perimeter next to Sweeny, “indicated that they were preparing to fire when officer Sweeny discharged his weapon,” the letter states.

Sweeny said Mayhew appeared to be “squaring himself away” when he gathered his belongings and started walking toward Smith. Sweeny “was informed that if Mayhew walked 5 feet past the established perimeter … snipers would lose sight of him and they would not be able to intervene if needed.” Sweeny heard Smith command Mayhew to stop and the man’s response to shoot him, the letter states.

“As Mayhew’s left arm made a movement towards the backpack, officer Sweeny said he feared for his safety, along with the safety of the other officers and the public within the blast radius,” Gill wrote. “Officer Sweeny stated he feared death or serious bodily injury to all persons within the blast radius if he did not act. Officer Sweeny then fired one round from his M-4 SWAT issued rifle, striking Mayhew in the chest once.”

Mayhew was still holding the trigger device in his hand and a robot was used to move the backpack and trigger device away from the man. A robot camera showed wiring, a power source, a potential trigger and “at least four PVC pipe sections with end caps” were in the backpack. Gill said it appeared that the bag contained pipe bombs.

“Subsequent investigation confirmed the combined components would constitute an explosive device under (Utah law),” the letter states.

Mayhew was transported to University Hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.

Investigators later went to the man’s home and found PVC pipes with a diagram related to the explosive device involved in the incident.

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Mike Headrick


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