SOUTH OGDEN — The family of a man shot and killed by a South Ogden police officer in 2019 filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the officer and his department.
In addition to suing officer Christopher Freestone, the family of Frederick Jeremy Atkin also named the cities of South Ogden, Ogden and Riverdale in their suit. The lawsuit was filed by Blake Atkin, a relative who is also an attorney in Clifton, Idaho.
Atkin. 42, of Ogden, led officers from several jurisdictions on a 45-minute chase on Dec. 27, 2019. When the chase came to an end in the area of 40th Street and Wall Avenue, Freestone went up to the driver’s side window, leaned in and fatally shot Aktin a short time later.
In June, the Weber County Attorney’s Office determined the shooting was legally justified and that no charges would be filed against the officer. The investigation determined that Atkin was not armed and Freestone declined to be interviewed as part of the county attorney’s investigation.
The family contends in their lawsuit, “It is clear that Jeremy Atkin did not pose a threat to himself or others that early morning.”
The incident began when officers tried to pull Atkin over for running a red light, but he kept driving. Although police did not report that Atkin was speeding — at one point he was driving an estimated 5 mph, the county attorney’s report states — he continued to ignore officers’ commands to pull over. At another point, he stopped at a red light, used his turn signal when making a turn, and continued driving even though an officer was behind him.
Officers twice attempted to use spike strips to stop Atkin, successfully deploying them once, and also blocked him with their vehicles, the report states. But Atkin continued to drive around them.
According to his family, Atkin “continued his aimless travel through the mostly abandoned city streets.” At one point, Freestone pulled up next to Atkin’s car and used a bullhorn to tell him to pull over, the lawsuit states.
“There was a point when Atkin’s vehicle was traveling so slow that Freestone was able to exit his vehicle and run alongside the passenger side of Atkin’s Mustang,” according to the county attorney’s report. “It was during this interaction the shooting occurred.”
Atkin’s car was “slowly rolling forward” and the passenger side window was down, according to the report. Freestone ordered Atkin to “put it in park” and Atkin replied, “I am sorry.” When Freestone gave the same order again, Atkin yelled back, “I don’t want to.”
“The officer appeared to enter his upper body into the vehicle, and then the Mustang came to a sudden stop. There was a loud revving of an engine then one shot is heard,” according to the report.
The investigation concluded that Atkin “was a heavy meth user who suffered from a number of mental health issues related to his meth use,” and that he “had a history of acting in bizarre ways when under the influence.” Toxicology tests conducted during the autopsy found that Atkin had a “significant amount” of methamphetamine in his system at the time, according to the report.
One officer who was interviewed by the county attorney’s office said that Atkin had a thousand-yard stare and was “looking right through me” when he saw him.
Other officers said they, too, had their weapons drawn because they were unsure if Atkin was going to run them over or if he had a weapon in his vehicle, the report states. At least two said they also heard Freestone order Atkin to “show me your hands.”
But the family contends in the lawsuit that “officer Freestone did not have probable cause to believe that Jeremy posed a threat of serious physical harm to himself or others.
“There was no need for police to use deadly force to effectuate the arrest of Jeremy Atkin,” according to the lawsuit. “As can be seen from the angry profanity used by officer Freestone prior to the stop, officer Freestone was animated by hatred and anger when he went up to the passenger window and shot Jeremy dead.”
The county attorney report notes that as per his constitutional right, Freestone declined to be interviewed for the report and that “without officer Freestone’s explanation for his decision to use deadly force against Mr. Atkin, it remains unclear what officer Freestone was thinking or feeling, or even what he saw when he discharged his service weapon. ... In this case the evidence is insufficient for us to know with certainty whether officer Freestone’s weapons discharge was intentional or accidental.”
The report also noted, “There is evidence to suggest that officer Freestone had his duty weapon in his left hand when it was discharged,” although his holster is on his right side.
The lawsuit contends that the officers involved that night did not receive proper training by their departments and “as a direct and proximate result of that failure of training on the part of one or more of the cities, Jeremy Atkin is dead and (his family has) been deprived of his love, support and friendship.”
The lawsuit requests that a jury determine damages.
The South Ogden Police Department deferred comment Tuesday to the Weber County Attorney’s Office.