SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The NAACP has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review whether police violated the civil rights of a young Utah man who was wielding a samurai sword when he was fatally shot by officers.
The information that authorities have released does not seem to justify the shooting of 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, who was carrying the sword as part of a Japanese anime costume, NAACP Salt Lake Branch president Jeanetta Williams said at a news conference on Monday.
The organization has asked for a review of the entire incident, whether officers were meeting law enforcement standards and whether the Justice Department can recommend changes to the Saratoga Springs police department.
Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Utah, acknowledged the request Monday and said the office appreciates the organization's concern but will not comment about investigations.
The branch sent a request to the Department of Justice last week after local prosecutors had finished their review of the shooting, Williams said.
The Utah County attorney's office ruled last week that the two officers involved were justified in shooting Hunt because they feared for their lives and the lives of others. Messages left with Tim Taylor, chief deputy at the county attorney's office, were not immediately returned Monday.
Owen Jackson, a spokesman for the city of Saratoga Springs, said the city welcomes any outside, official investigation.
Hunt's family disagrees that the shooting is justified and have said he was treated differently because of his race. Hunt was black; the officers who shot him were white.
Speaking at the news conference Monday, Hunt family attorney Bob Sykes said the family plans to file a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit in about a week.
Williams said Monday that she doesn't know yet if the NAACP would join such a lawsuit.
Police encountered Hunt Sept. 10 after receiving reports of a suspicious person walking with a sword at a shopping center in Saratoga Springs, a city of about 23,000 that sits south of Salt Lake City.
When Police Cpl. Matthew Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson spotted Hunt, they spoke with him and asked him to give up his sword, Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said last week.
Hunt refused, his demeanor changed, and he swung the 3-foot metal sword toward the officers, according to Buhman.
The officers shot at Hunt, who fled despite being hit by gunfire. He continued to disobey police commands to drop the sword, Buhman said, and was seconds away from being able to reach someone else. The officers fired again, and Hunt fell to the sidewalk. He died before medical responders arrived.
Buhman said investigators found no evidence that race or ethnicity played a role in the shooting. Sykes disputes that account, saying it's unlikely that Hunt was aggressive.
Hunt was shot six times, including several times in the back, according to an autopsy.
A search warrant released in late October showed Hunt's brother told investigators that Hunt had been making and using a hallucinogenic drug. He had recently been fired from his job after failing to show up, and his mother had told him he needed to get a job or leave the house by the end of the week, according to the warrant.
He had no drugs in his system at the time of his death.
Investigators wrote that a friend reported Hunt had posted a message on Facebook the morning of his death that said, "I have a sword and I'm going to get shot."
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(Photo: AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Al Hartmann)