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10th Circuit: District court erred in 2007 fatal shooting decision

10th Circuit: District court erred in 2007 fatal shooting decision

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VERNAL — A federal appeals court decided Tuesday that a district court previously erred in excusing Uintah County sheriff’s officials from the exhaustion of a tribal investigation in connection with a 2007 fatal shooting on a Ute Indian reservation.

The Ute Indian Tribe alleges that current Uintah County Sheriff Vance Norton trespassed onto the Ute reservation and shot Todd Murray, 21, in April 2007, following a police pursuit.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the district court erred in its decision and that the officers "asserted superior authority over tribal lands and barred a tribal official from accessing the scene of the Murray shooting,” court records say.

The chase that preceded Murray's death began when a Utah Highway Patrol trooper tried to pull over a 17-year-old driver for speeding on U.S. 40 in Uintah County. Murray, 21, was a passenger in the car.

The teen took off and speeds reached 125 mph before he crashed on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation, troopers said. The teen and Murray ran from the car in opposite directions, and the trooper caught the driver. An off-duty Vernal police detective, a Uintah County sheriff's deputy and a second UHP trooper arrived and were asked to search for Murray.

After finding Murray, Norton ordered him to the ground but Murray did not obey, court records say. Norton then fired two shots toward Murray. Murray died from a gunshot wound to the head, but the parties disagree whether Murray shot himself or was shot by officers.

Raymond Wissiup, a Ute tribal member and certified law enforcement officer, arrived shortly thereafter, but the officers prevented him from accessing the scene, the court records said.

The Ute Indian Tribe claims that Norton’s associates trespassed on the reservation and destroyed evidence to cover up Norton’s shooting of Murray. Court documents say that Murray was not suspected of committing any off-reservation violation, and the officers were not cross-deputized to enforce state law on the Reservation.

Murray’s parents, his estate, and the Ute Indian Tribe sued the officers involved in Ute Tribal Court for wrongful death, trespass, and other torts, according to court records. The officers then filed suit in federal court against the Tribe, its Business Committee, the Tribal Court, the Acting Chief Judge of the Tribal Court, and the other Tribal Plaintiffs.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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