SALT LAKE CITY — The parents of a 13-year-old boy with autism who was shot multiple times by Salt Lake police in September has filed a lawsuit against the department.
The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Utah, alleges that an officer shot Linden Cameron 11 times from behind and failed to use less lethal force or deescalate the situation beforehand.
It also alleges multiple failures from the police department and responding officers during the incident. The officers didn't adequately assess the situation when they responded, failed to seek guidance from superiors, exacerbated the situation by using aggressive language and actions, and intentionally turned off body cameras during and after the shooting, the suit alleges.
"Chasing down a young child and shooting him 11 times from behind is certainly the most glaring of the wrongdoings," attorneys for the family wrote in a statement. "However, multiple other failures in protocol and procedure increased the probability of unnecessary violence."
In addition to the officer who is accused of shooting Linden, Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown, the Salt Lake City Corporation and 10 other unnamed people are named defendants in the suit.
KSL.com chose not to identify the officer who is accused of shooting Linden in this story because criminal charges have not been filed against him. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill's office is still investigating the case for any possible charges. The officer was placed on administrative leave following the shooting.
In a statement Tuesday, the police department said it had not been served with a lawsuit in relation to the shooting. The department did not provide any further comments due to the ongoing investigation and pending litigation.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall's office declined to comment on the case.
About 10 p.m. on Sept. 4, Salt Lake police responded to a home near 500 South and Navajo Street. Police said they were responding to a call of a juvenile having a "violent psychological issue."
Golda Barton, Linden's mother, had asked dispatchers for a crisis intervention team member to respond. When police officers arrived at the house, she told them Linden was afraid of police and would likely have an adverse reaction to seeing them, according to the suit.
Body camera footage released in September shows Barton telling officers she didn't think Linden had access to any guns but might have a fake firearm. An officer replied that police have to treat any weapon as if it's real to protect officer safety, the footage shows.
However, body camera footage of the incident from after officers spoke with Barton reveals that Linden was unarmed and his hands were empty before the shooting, according to the lawsuit.
While officers were interviewing Barton, the officer who shot Linden and another officer were discussing the situation but said they could not recall if police department policy allowed them to approach Linden under the circumstances, according to the suit.
The other officer said "if this is a psych issue, I don't see why we should even approach" and recommended they call a sergeant, according to the suit. In the same conversation, the officer who later shot Linden replied "especially when he hates cops, it's going to end in a shooting," the suit says.
However, they didn't seek guidance or call the sergeant, the suit alleges. Instead, several officers "descended on (Linden's) home with their guns drawn," the suit states.
Linden then ran out of a back door of the home and down an alley, encountering an officer whose body camera footage showed Linden was not armed, according to the suit.
The officer who later shot Linden kicked through a wooden fence and, with his gun drawn and pursued Linden, the suit says.
In the body camera footage released in September, Linden appears to tell one officer "I have a gun," though the Monday lawsuit alleges that the officer had a light shining on Linden that clearly showed he was not armed.
As officers pursued Linden down the alley, they announced they were police and instructed him to stop and get on the ground, but he refused, according to body camera footage.
An officer says "Pull your hands out, dude. Pull your hands out," directly before Linden is shot. It's not clear from the September footage what prompts the officer to open fire.
The officer had a Taser during the encounter but didn't use it or attempt to use any other less-lethal weapons, the suit alleges. At no point did any officer tell Linden he was under arrest or accuse him of violating any law, the suit states.
After the shooting, Linden told the officer that he couldn't feel his left arm, but the officer pulled Linden's arm out from under him and handcuffed his arms behind his back and then rolled the boy over onto his back.
"The officers on scene criticized (the officer) for shooting (Linden) but nevertheless left (Linden) handcuffed with the full weight of his body pressing down on his arms that remained behind his back," the lawsuit states.
Linden was seriously and permanently injured from the shooting and still has several bullets from the incident inside his body, according to the lawsuit. His left arm is paralyzed, he required ankle surgery, and he suffered internal organ damage, the suit states.
"We are grateful that the bullets were not fatal, however, many of his injuries appear to be permanent and will forever change the trajectory of his life, both physically and emotionally," the statement from the family's attorneys says. "This tragic shooting should not have happened."
In the aftermath of the shooting, Mendenhall last month announced that all Salt Lake City first responders will now receive sensory inclusive training. The training will be administered through KultureCity, a nonprofit that provides training to organizations around the country on how to handle interactions with those with invisible disabilities and sensory needs.
"We are at the beginning of an evolution in the way our city addresses public safety," Mendenhall said when the initiative was announced. "And through this work, we will live in a Salt Lake City that is more safe for its residents and for the officers who serve to protect us."
During the announcement, Brown added, "It is my sincere hope that SLCPD is known for being the best trained and well-equipped department to respond with empathy, compassion and the necessary skills — particularly when interacting with those who are the most vulnerable. We want to help in an inclusive way and look forward to working with KultureCity."
Linden's family members will hold a press conference about the lawsuit on Dec. 7 at 10 a.m., according to their attorneys.