Recently released bodycam footage shows Utah police fatally shooting a man from behind as he attempts to run away from officers, once again sparking tensions between the black community and police officers, and sparking accusations of racial profiling and police brutality.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has cleared a Salt Lake City police officer who fatally shot 50-year-old Patrick Harmon on Aug. 13, saying the shooting was justified, after authorities say that Harmon pulled a knife and threatened to injure officers who were trying to arrest him, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
The decision comes despite the fact that bodycam footage clearly shows Officer Clinton Fox shouting, “I’ll fucking shoot you,” before firing three bullets at Harmon’s back as he tried to run in the opposite direction.
“They just murdered him flat out,” Alisha Shaw, Harmon’s niece, told The Guardian on Thursday. “They are lying. There is no way they were threatened by anything. He was only trying to get away.”
The encounter started when officers pulled over Harmon for riding a bicycle without a light. How does a man wind up dead from a traffic stop over a bicycle?
Nonetheless, Salt Lake City officials insist that the shooting was justified because officers feared for their lives. Of course. It is completely natural to fear someone who is running in the opposite direction from you. Never mind that footage clearly shows that another officer had deployed his Taser at the same time Fox fatally shot Harmon.
According to The Guardian, the district attorney’s office claimed that Harmon said, “I’ll cut you,” then turned and faced officers with a knife as he was running.
The video seems to tell another story, however, since Harmon cannot be heard making that threat and never appears to turn toward officers before he is shot.
Editor’s note: Video contains graphic footage.
“He was scared. All he did was run,” Adriane Harmon, another niece, told The Guardian. “It hurts. … They said, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and they shot him three times. He’s just moaning on the ground.”
According to the Tribune, when officers stopped Harmon for his alleged traffic infraction, Harmon apparently gave the officer a name that did not have a match in the police database. The officer again asked Harmon to spell his last name, and according to the district attorney’s report, Harmon gave “a couple of different names.”
Footage shows Harmon spelling his name quietly as the officer asked for clarification several times. Eventually the officer went back to his squad car, and Harmon admitted to the officer that he may find a warrant out for a felony charge.
The officer called for backup, and two more officers arrived on the scene.
Eventually, the officer did find out that Harmon had arrest warrants out, including one for a felony related to an aggravated assault charge. The warrant was issued in April after Harmon did not show up for sentencing after pleading guilty.
There was also another warrant out for Harmon regarding his not complying with probation requirements after pleading guilty in a misdemeanor drug-possession case, the records show.
And so, officers informed Harmon that he was going to be arrested under those warrants.
As officers started to detain him, Harmon was heard pleading with officers, apparently not wanting to go to jail, and he appeared to be crying. And that’s when he bolted.
The officer who originally stopped Harmon drew his stun gun, but the other officer, Fox, decided that three shots at a fleeing suspect were appropriate.
Fox told investigators that he saw a knife in Harmon’s hand with the blade exposed and believed that another officer was in danger’s way.
All of that is, again, not clear in the video.
What is decidedly clear is Fox shouting, “I’ll fucking shoot you!” before firing at Harmon’s back.
Despite the fact that Harmon was critically wounded, officers still handcuffed him, though they attempted to give him first aid at the scene.
Investigators say they found a knife on the ground.
As The Guardian notes, Salt Lake City had previously been praised for its “de-escalation” training, and the department is known for giving out “de-escalation awards.” However, such de-escalation seems not to have come into play in Harmon’s case.
“The police are going to stick together no matter if it’s wrong or right,” Antoinette Harmon, Harmon’s older sister, told The Guardian. “They don’t care about black lives.”
“That officer disregarded his de-escalation training,” Lex Scott, a local Black Lives Matter organizer, told The Guardian. “It’s just brutal. How could anyone with eyes and ears believe that that officer was justified?”
The Salt Lake City Police Department declined to answer any questions about the case, but Police Chief Mike Brown released a statement: “We trust the process and support the decision from District Attorney Sim Gill. I believe our officers have the training and judgement and ability to make split-second decisions in dynamic situations.”
Read more at the Salt Lake Tribune and The Guardian.