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.