SALT LAKE CITY — The actions of five police officers who fired 43 shots and killed a man were legally justified, an investigation concluded.
Members of the Joint Criminal Apprehension Team "had a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force against (Ronald Manuel Ontiveros) was necessary to protect their lives, other officers and nearby residents," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill wrote in a letter to Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank Friday.
In the letter, Gill wrote that several officers reported that Ontiveros, 37, pointed a gun at them and fired at least one shot. Five officers apparently fired in return.
Ontiveros was hit in the foot and head and later died from his injuries, Gill wrote.
Details of the shooting
JCAT, a multi-jurisdictional task force led by the U.S. Marshals Service, was trying to track down a fugitive named James McIff, who had active arrest warrants. They learned he may by staying with his girlfriend, Amber Gray, at 1149 Foulger St. in Salt Lake City and several officers responded to a location near that address on March 19, Gill wrote.
The team set up a surveillance on the home and witnessed a black Honda pull up, with two men exiting the vehicle. One of them was identified as possibly being McIff by the man's probation and parole officer.
That man entered the home on Foulger Street, but a second man remained outside and appeared to be cleaning the car, Gill wrote. U.S. deputy marshal Bobby Arnes decided 10 officers would make contact at the home and lined up in a "stick" formation, with Ames in the lead.
"The remaining officers followed in a single file line," Gill wrote. "Each officer wore tactical clothing with large bright colored insignia identifying themselves as police officers. Officers carried either rifles or handguns, most in a low ready position."
The officers proceeded toward the home at a "slow jog," but when they were within two houses of the residence, the man who appeared to be still working on the car looked up. The officers identified themselves as police and the man ran first to the north and then to the east before turning back to the west. Multiple officers shouted "Police," Gill wrote.
"As he ran, Ontiveros pulled out a silver colored handgun from the area of his waist," the letter states. "Onitveros fired at the officers. Officers in the stick returned fire."
The man fell to the ground and dropped the weapon nearby, but he was still moving and was close enough to again use the weapon, prompting officers to hold him at gunpoint until a police dog moved the man to a safe location. He was transported to University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Both McIff and Gray surrendered to SWAT officers who were called in to assist JCAT. An investigation at the scene showed that the weapon Ontiveros dropped was a Beretta 9mm, which was consistent with a single casing found in the driveway where the man fired a shot.
The ammunition was different than those used by the five JCAT officers who opened fire and shot a total of 43 times. Deputy marshals Mark Thomson, Bobby Arnes and Jamie Ziegler as well as Unified police officer Aaron Lavin and Syracuse Police Sgt. Lance Jensen all fired their weapons.
The officers at the scene reported first telling Onitveros that they were police and ordering the man to stop before realizing that the man had a gun that they saw was pointed toward them. Some reported seeing the man fire the weapon.
Gill said the officers were justified in pursuing Ontiveros in an effort to ensure that he didn't interfere with the arrest.
"However, once Ontiveros pulled out … a handgun and pointed it at the officers, they were faced with a completely different and more dangerous situation," Gill wrote, noting that the officers' testimonies and evidence at the scene indicated Ontiveros fired at the police officers. "Given that fact, the officers had a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force against Ontiveros was necessary to protect their lives, other officers and nearby residents."
Gill wrote the letter to Burbank because the shooting took place in Salt Lake City.