Prosecutors announced Monday that they would not file charges against the police officers who shot and killed 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, as he carried a sword his mother said was a toy. The officers will also have their jobs reinstated in a few days, after retraining.
Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said the shooting of Hunt was “justified” because Hunt was swinging the sword at officers and did not respond to their commands.
He said Hunt did indeed run away after an initial confrontation with the officers, but that the police were justified in continuing to shoot even then, because his sword could have posed a threat to someone else, or the officers.
Buhman also relied upon testimony from a witness who he said described Hunt as swinging the sword. That witness, however, told local news outlet KUTV that he never saw Hunt swing the sword, and Saratoga Springs officials mischaracterized his statement.
“I only saw the flash of the sword as it was unsheathed,” Leonard “John” Zogg told KUTV. He said he didn’t see Hunt swing it. He also said he told investigators “that officers didn’t shoot until he was running away,” even though Zogg is described in an affidavit as having said that officers started shooting before Hunt ran away.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” Zogg said.
Buhman said Hunt’s sword was not a toy in the context of the situation, because its edge was not completely blunt and was capable of cutting things. His mother said it was a souvenir blunt-edged Japanese sword known as a “katana” from a gift shop.
After Buhman’s two-month investigation, he determined that the scenario of events went like this: Someone called the police to report a “suspicious” person. Police reported to the scene and began talking to Hunt, and believed he was carrying a real sword.
During that conversation, Hunt told officers he needed a ride, but refused to relinquish his sword. Buhman said Hunt then took his sword — which they believed to be real — out of the sheath and swung it at the officers. After officers began shooting, Hunt started to run away. But at that point, officers deemed Hunt a threat to the public, and so were justified in continuing to shoot. The entire interaction lasted 37 seconds.
“The time it would have taken for Mr. Hunt with the sword still in his hand after having stabbed or sliced at officers, it would have been a matter of seconds before he reached someone else,” Buhman said.
A state autopsy released last week showed that the six shots that struck Hunt hit him toward the back of his body, suggesting he was not facing the officers. Hunt’s lawyer said he still does not “believe there was a swing taken” with the sword, but that even if there was, deadly force was not justified.
Hunt’s family plans to file a civil lawsuit. While criminal charges are the most severe consequence for an officer alleged to have misused deadly force on the job, lesser disciplinary measures are also an option. In the United States, however, officers face few repercussions for using excessive force. And the local Fox affiliate reports that these officers will be reinstated to their posts in the next few days after only retraining. Last month, Milwaukee police fired a cop over a deadly shooting incident, after a change in state law meant that police disciplinary decisions no longer hinged on the results of a criminal investigation.
At the time of his death, Hunt was wearing an outfit that bore a striking resemblance the Japanese anime character Mugen, from the series Samurai Champloo. In the weeks after his death, his family found drawings of a number of Japanese anime characters, including several carrying swords. Friends at his funeral called Hunt artistic, shy, and gentle. And Hunt’s mother has said she believes her son was killed because he was black. Saratoga Springs is 93 percent white and 0.5 percent black.