Prosecutors cleared the Salt Lake City police officer who shot an unarmed man last month outside a convenience store, saying his actions were justified because he felt threatened.
But the family of 20-year-old Dillon Taylor said went into the confrontation with a “biased viewpoint” and expecting to shoot.
“Why do officers have this mind-set?” Kelly Fowler, an attorney for the family, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “When you’re a hammer, all you’re going to see is nails.”
Officers were called the evening of Aug. 11 to a 7-Eleven, where witnesses reported seeing a man waving a gun around.
Taylor, his cousin and brother closely matched the descriptions provided by a 911 caller, investigators said, and police said the three men were “making a scene” on their way to the store.
Polices ordered them to raise their hands, but investigators said Taylor continued walking away from them with his hands in his waistband.
Body-camera video shows Officer Bron Cruz following Taylor with his gun drawn, repeatedly screaming at him to “get (his) hands out” of his pants.
Taylor turns around, hands still tucked in his waistband, says “nah, fool,” and walks backward for a few feet, the video shows.
Cruz again orders him to get his hands out, and Taylor complies and pulls up his T-shirt – which police are trained to perceive as part of a possible weapon draw.
That’s when Cruz quickly shoots him twice, in the chest and abdomen.
“Officer Cruz’s belief that Dillon Taylor was armed with a gun and intended to use it against the officers was reinforced by Dillon’s actions and the acts of others,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled on Tuesday. “By the time Dillon drew his hands from his waistband, Officer Cruz’s belief that Dillon was presenting a weapon [and … would use the weapon against officers] was reasonable.”
Cruz called for backup after spotting the three men as they approached vehicle stopped at a red light near the 7-Eleven, prosecutors said.
The officer said Taylor talked to the driver while the other two men were “throwing their hands in the air, kinda making a big scene.”
But Fowler, the family’s attorney, told The Salt Lake Tribune the officer inaccurately perceived their gestures as confrontational, “some punks crossing the street, causing problems.”
The attorney said the men were actually greeting a friend with a “friendly sort of wave.”
Cruz and two other officers who arrived at the scene waited until the men left the convenience store because they did not want to confront a possibly armed suspect inside.
Police learned after Taylor’s fatal shooting that none of the three men had a weapon.
“He was digging at something,” Cruz told prosecutors. “He was manipulating something. I knew there was a gun in those pants.”
The officer told prosecutors he did not want to shoot Taylor in the back, and he was “scared to death” when Taylor turned around and took his hands out of the waistband of his pants.
“The last thought I had go through my mind when I pulled the trigger … was that ‘I was too late. I was too late,’ and because of that I was gonna get killed,” Cruz said.
Taylor was wearing headphones during the incident, his cousin and brother said, but prosecutors said they were unable to determine whether they were in his ears or playing music at the time.
But prosecutors said that shouldn’t matter, because body cam video shows Taylor looking directly at Cruz as the officer points a gun at him.
Fowler said officers gave conflicting orders to the three men during the encounter, which lasted about 20 seconds before the shooting.
“His brother and cousin [said they] were confused,” Fowler told the newspaper. “They had all these officers yelling at them, ‘Put your hands up!’ ‘Get on the ground.’ Where’s the time to comply?”
Taylor’s blood-alcohol content at the time of his death was 0.18, more than twice the legal limit for driving.
He was wanted on an outstanding warrant and wrote about his fear of returning to jail in a series of Facebook posts in the days before he was killed.
“I feel my time is coming soon, my nightmears are telling me,” Taylor posted on Aug. 7. “im gonna have warrants out for my arrest soon … ill die before I go do a lot of time in a cell.”
“I finely realize I hit rock bottom,” he posted on Aug. 9. “im homeless I havnt slept in two days … as I walk thrw this vally of shadow of death I am fearing evil. its about my time soon.”
Prosecutors said they weren’t sure if Taylor might have wanted police to kill him.
“Maybe, maybe not,” said Gill, the district attorney.
Taylor’s family did not agree with the district attorney’s decision in the case, saying the shooting could not be justified because he was not armed.
But Gill said no actual threat was necessary to justify the shooting – only a reasonably perceived threat.
“Nothing that Mr. Taylor did assisted in de-escalating the situation,” Gill said. “If anything, it escalated things.”
Watch body camera video from the incident posted online by The Salt Lake Tribune: