Police ask for 'patience and understanding' during investigation of shooting

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SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs Police Department broke its silence Monday with a prepared statement from its chief regarding the controversial shooting death of Darrien Hunt.

"The city of Saratoga Springs and the Saratoga Springs Police Department understand the desire on the part of the media, the family and the public for more information about what occurred," Chief Andy Burton said in his prepared statement. "We ask the media and the public for patience and understanding of our position and lack of ability to answer all the questions posed at this time."

While Burton's letter explained the process of how officer-involved shootings are investigated — calling them "extremely complicated and very in-depth" — no new information about the confrontation that transpired last week between two of his officers and the 22-year-old Saratoga Springs man were revealed.

The chief's statement comes a day after a candlelight vigil was held in front of the Panda Express restaurant where Hunt was shot and killed. The Utah County Attorney's Office previously stated that on Sept. 10, the officers confronted Hunt near a credit union in the area of Crossroads Boulevard and Redwood Road. Hunt was carrying what has been described by police as a Samurai sword and by the family as a 3-foot long souvenir Katana sword with a rounded blade.

"Preliminary evidence suggests that Mr. Hunt brandished the sword and lunged toward the officers with the sword," Chief Deputy Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor said in a prepared statement over the weekend.

On Monday, Taylor took questions from the media for the first time regarding the investigation. He said he asked one of his investigators to show him a picture of the sword in question so he could see for himself what was being talked about.

"It is a real sword with a steel blade on it. I've seen the pictures. That blade is probably, I don't know, 2, 2 ½ feet long. It has a sharp point on it. I don't know how sharp it is. It looks like it has a pretty good edge on it, but I didn't touch the sword," he said. "So it's not a pretend sword. It's not a plastic or a wooden sword.

"When you look at that sword, it definitely looks like it could cut somebody," he said.

Hunt is black and comes from a mixed race family who believes his race played a role in his death. Saratoga Springs police and prosecutors have denied those assertions.

Interracial family shares lessons learned from Saratoga Springs shooting
By Nkoyo Iyamba

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The shooting death Darrien Hunt hits close to home for one interracial couple. Danor and Jarrah Gerald say Hunt's family looks like their budding family.

"Our children, they're biracial. When they go out in public, when we go out in public, we may be looked at in similar ways," said Jarrah Gerald.

"My kids are going to grow up and look just like (Hunt)," Jarrah's husband, Danor Gerald, said.

In the past 10 years the Geralds have lived in Saratoga Springs, they say for the most part, they've had a good experience. But something about Hunt's shooting death touched their family, especially their two young boys.

"One of my sons has been studying Taekwondo, and he could've easily been walking down the street with nunchucks or something and been in the same situation," Danor Gerald said.

Growing up, Danor Gerald lived in Mississippi and is no stranger to racism.

"I was in the shadows of segregation," he said.

He remembered is great-grandmother giving shelter to people who were involved in the civil rights movement, particularly Freedom Summer.

"My mom remembers the KKK burning crosses in front of that house because they were having people come from the north to help with the voter registration," Danor Gerald said.

After attending Sunday's vigil, the impact for the Gerald kids was obvious as they began to ask questions about what happened.

"It's not like they can just go to their best friends' house and say, 'Guess what happened? Let's talk about what happened.' It's something they're going to have to process for a while," Jarrah Gerald said.

In a statement, Saratoga Springs officials said: "Any claim that our officers' actions were a result of Mr. Hunt's race are completely unfounded and speculative. The Utah County Attorney's Office continues to investigate the incident."

The Geralds don't necessarily believe race was a factor in Hunt's shooting death as their neighbor, Susan Hunt, mother of Darrien believes; they just see the situation as a teaching moment for their kids.

"When we had Family Home Evening, I had to tell my kids how to handle themselves around police … Not just police officers, I'm not trying to point a finger at them, but anyone in a position of authority," Danor Gerald said.

"I tell them, 'You have to be a little bit better behaved. You have to get a little bit better grades to level the playing field for you."

That's quite a quite a responsibility for this small family, but one they say they're willing to take on.

"Wherever we go we are noticed, and people are watching," Jarrah Gerald said. "And because of that, we have a responsibility to try to live a certain way so that we change people's minds."

Email: niyamba@ksl.com

An attorney representing the family says an independent autopsy shows that Hunt was shot six times from behind, making it difficult to understand how police shot him while he lunged at them with the sword.

The family has since been demanding answers about what transpired between police and Hunt and why the confrontation at the bank ended with Hunt being shot dead 200 yards away at the restaurant. The family has launched a petition for a citizen's review board to investigate the case.

"We fully support an independent and unbiased investigation. Our inability to respond to this situation has caused much frustration, not only for the media and the public, but to the city and the police department," Burton stated.

That frustration culminated on Sunday when a post was made on the Saratoga Springs police Facebook page that stated, in part, that "news outlets have ratings they need to gain. They don't report facts. They use innuendo, opinion and rumor and then report it as fact."

That post gained national attention as articles in the New York Daily News, L.A. Times, and Gawker.com made reference to it on Monday.

"We apologize for this comment and have removed the comment. We ask the media and the public for patience and understanding of our position and lack of ability to answer all the questions posed at this time," Burton wrote in the statement.

But while Sunday's Facebook post was removed, a similar comment posted by Saratoga Springs police on Saturday was still visible on the Facebook page Monday. It states: "Everyone should keep in mind that the news media often reports things as facts when in reality they are not facts. They have ratings they need to gain. And there are many true facts yet to be released."

Burton pleaded for patience and understanding as the Utah County Officer Involved Shooting Protocol Team conducts its investigation into the fatal incident, noting it may take some time.

Taylor also noted that his office had not fully interviewed in-depth the two officers involved. That is scheduled to take place this week. Until then, Taylor said he can't speak as to what might have happened during the confrontation with Hunt.

"It appears that there were two locations they engaged Mr. Hunt," he said. "We're trying to figure out how he got from A to B, what happened along that course, how many shots were fired, who fired the shots."

Taylor confirmed what Hunt's family said on Friday, that it appears a first shot was fired during the confrontation at the bank, though it was unclear Monday whether that shot struck Hunt. Hunt ran from the bank toward the restaurant where there was a second confrontation, he said.

Even though Hunt family attorney Randall Edwards talked about Hunt being shot six times from behind, Taylor said his office had not yet received any autopsy report from the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office, and noted that it could be five to six weeks before toxicology tests and the final report is complete.

Taylor said his office was in the process of collecting surveillance video from surrounding businesses as well as putting out flyers asking for anyone who saw Hunt or the shooting last week to contact his office. On Sunday, Edwards was also passing out flyers to people at the vigil looking for witnesses. Taylor said he contacted Edwards on Monday and asked if he would share contact information from anyone who stepped forward.

"We're not going into this with any preconceived ideas. We want the evidence to lead us," Taylor said.

The shooting protocol team consists of investigators from the Utah County Attorney's Office as well as officers from different Utah County-based police agencies.

Contributing: Andrew Adams


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