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Family's lawsuit claims police shooting of Woods Cross man unjustified

Published July 11, 2012 5:36 pm

Courts • But investigation cleared officers involved.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A civil lawsuit filed Monday alleges law officers used unreasonable and excessive force when they fired on and killed an intoxicated, suicidal Woods Cross man two summers ago.

The complaint was filed by the wife and sons of William C. Oakden IV and names as defendants the cities and police departments in Woods Cross, West Bountiful and Bountiful; Davis County and its attorney's office; and officers, investigators and detectives involved in the case. The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated several of Oakden's constitutional rights. It seeks damages for medical and burial expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of earnings because of Oakden's untimely death.

Oakden, 30, slit his wrists and then attempted to get help from a neighbor on July 9, 2010. Oakden banged on the side of the neighbor's trailer home and told the man to call for help or he would put the knife through his own heart. The neighbor called 911 and told dispatchers he could see Oakden outside his window holding a knife in his hand. The neighbor came outside after making the call and found Oakden sitting on his own porch.

According to the lawsuit, the neighbor could see Oakden had a gun tucked in the waistband of his pants but couldn't tell if it was real. When the neighbor reached for the gun, Oakden slapped his hand away. Police arrived about that time and one heard the neighbor say to Oakden, "Don't do it."

The neighbor said he was pulled away by officers, who then ordered Oakden to raise his hands. When he did, Oakden's shirt rose and revealed the gun tucked in his pants. Two officers ordered Oakden, who was later determined to have a blood alcohol content twice the legal limit, to keep his hands in the air but he allegedly dropped them, pulled out the gun and pointed it at the officers.

"Even though his shirt would have fallen down over the gun in his waistband as he lowered his arms, Mr. Oakden still somehow go the drop on both officers," the lawsuit states.

One officer told investigators he ordered Oakden to drop the gun. The other said he then heard the gun — later found to be an airsoft toy gun — fire and he returned fire, as did the other officer.

Accounts differ as to whether Oakden, who was struck 16 times, was sitting or standing when the officers shot him.

A review later found the two Davis County officers acted lawfully after Oakden pulled the black-handled gun from his pants and fired it at officers.

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said Tuesday the lawsuit came as a "surprise," in part because Scott Cottingham, the family's attorney, was given "unprecedented" access during the investigation of the shooting to evidence and witnesses. That was done to give the family "confidence that the investigation was proceeding and the evidence was being accumulated and vetted properly."

He said Cottingham also was invited, but did not take advantage of that offer, to review the decision before it was released publicly and give input on any shortcomings or errors in its findings.

"We're absolutely confident in the decision that was made to not prosecute the police officers involved for criminal activity," Rawlings said. "The investigation was thorough, complete and fair. We believe that as we defend this civil action, all that is going to happen is our process and decision making will be exonerated and vindicated, and we look forward to it."

brooke@sltrib.com