SALT LAKE CITY — Two officers who shot and killed a wanted fugitive in a confrontation that also resulted in the death of a decorated police K-9 were legally justified in using deadly force.
That was the conclusion the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office reached and announced on Friday.
On Feb. 13, the U.S. Marshal’s Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team was looking for Brian Francis Filion, 41, a wanted parole fugitive from Salt Lake City with a violent criminal history. He was a suspect in a homicide and had a no-bail warrant out for his arrest, according to police. He was spotted just before midnight in downtown Salt Lake City near 400 East and 300 South.
Herriman Police Sgt. Ben Ricks deployed his K-9, Hondo, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois who was one of Utah’s most decorated police K-9s, and the dog chased down Filion and brought him to the ground.
Prior to shots being fired, another marshal said it appeared that Filion had Hondo in a headlock and a gun pointed at him, according to the report.
As Filion was on the ground, he pulled out a .45 caliber handgun, according to District Attorney Sim Gill’s final report. Several officers yelled that Filion had a gun and both Ricks and officer Jared Holland with the Department of Homeland Security fired at him, striking Filion twice in the head, the report states.
The investigation determined that Filion did not fire his weapon and Hondo was struck by friendly fire. When officers discovered Hondo had also been hit, he was rushed to a local vet clinic where he died as a result of his injuries.
As part of the officer-involved shooting investigation, many officers and witnesses were interviewed, yet Ricks and Holland declined to be interviewed, according to Gill’s report.
There was also no body camera footage available to review because “U.S. Marshal Service police prevents officers from wearing body-worn cameras during a VFAST (Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team) operation, irrespective of the policy of the individual officers’ own police department policy,” the report states.
But based on the totality of the evidence, Gill determined that if the case was brought to trial, a jury would find the officers reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury of law enforcers.
Still, Gill said he is bothered by the fact that even though the federal agency uses state and local officers who are using equipment paid for by state taxpayers to pursue criminals in local jurisdictions, the rules implemented by some cities that require officers to wear body cameras do not apply.
“I don’t know what their rationale is,” Gill said.
While Gill said he is appreciative of the services that the U.S. Marshals and the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team provide, he believes it should be up to state authorities to decide whether body cameras are worn while local police officers are participating in federal task forces.
“In this day and age, and the time we’re in with the technology available and the commitment expressed to use it, to consciously not use that seems problematic,” the district attorney said.
A call placed to the U.S. Marshals Office on Friday for comment was not immediately returned.
John Jackson, who is running for a seat in the Utah House of Representatives, agrees. In a news release issued Friday, Jackson stated “such federal policy is shameful. It begs the question of whether officers want to keep the public from knowing what they are doing. And if they are knowingly doing something wrong.”
Specifically, Jackson pointed to the recent fatal shooting of Damien Evans by the U.S. Marshal’s Violent Fugitive Apprehension Team team on Aug. 27 as he ran from officers.
“The case involving Damien Evans is especially troubling. I understand Damien was wanted for no more than ‘absconding,’ which is the term for when a person no longer lives at the address they are supposed to be living at. So, we have someone who wasn’t living where he was suppose to, and we deem it necessary to bring in a federal task force to haul him back to prison? And, we end up killing him?” Jackson questioned. “I call on city leaders throughout Utah to inform the federal government that its policies must be changed.”
Members of Black Lives Matter held a rally Wednesday in West Valley City with Evans’ parents to protest his shooting death.
Although Gill could not comment specifically on that case, it will likely be another one that he has to reach a conclusion about what happened without the assistance of body camera video.
Overall, Gill said he finds the nonuse of body cameras by federal agents “deeply problematic” and “unnecessary.” While Gill does not believe the agencies are purposely trying to hide anything, he still has the job of figuring out what happened during an officer-involved shooting.
“The federal task force can do what they want. But if you’re going to use state police officers, if you’re going to use state resources, then you need to follow local policies,” he said.