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Grandmother: Cop killer's romance with Utah teen caused family strife

Published February 22, 2014 8:45 pm

Crime • Meagan Grunwald's relationship with shooter split family allegiances, says grandmother.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Draper • Before Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui killed a cop, he cleaved a struggling Draper family in two.

Garcia-Jauregui died Jan. 31, one day after he fatally shot Utah County Sgt. Cory Wride and was gunned down by pursuing officers.

But six months earlier, he was just a mysterious 27-year-old parolee who walked into the life of Riverton High School student Meagan Grunwald.

The 17-year-old girl fell head-over-heels for Garcia-Jauregui, but when he moved into her family's home his presence ignited a series of escalating domestic battles. The shooting happened just weeks after the most serious of those conflicts, and left Meagan jailed and charged with an array of felonies including aggravated murder.

The story that ends with Wride's murder, Meagan's criminal charges and Gracia-Jauregui's death begins in September of last year. Meagan had taken a janitorial night job at a meat packing plant in Draper, and at some point she crossed paths with Garcia-Jauregui, who deboned meat at the same business, according to neighbor and longtime family friend Joyce Craig.

"I think she was just enamored of him," Craig said.

Meagan soon began introducing Garcia-Jauregui to her family. In an interview Thursday, Meagan's grandmother, Renate Grunwald, said she first met Garcia-Jauregui in mid-September, when he showed up at her home with her granddaughter. Renate admitted that she didn't like Garcia-Jauregui from the beginning.

"I thought he was a hard guy," Renate recalled, adding that what most stood out about him was his large neck tattoo and how he always seemed hyper.

A few weeks later Renate learned Garcia-Jauregui had moved into Meagan's home, setting off a conflict between her parents, Jerry Grunwald and Tori Grunwald. Jerry — who is Renate's son — wanted Garcia-Jauregui out of the house but, according to Renate, Tori wanted to let him stay.

Renate also said Garcia-Jauregui was supposed to pay hundreds of dollars a month in rent — both Jerry and Tori have mental disabilities and are on a fixed income — but never did.

Tori Grunwald did not respond to knocking on her door and could not be reached via telephone. Jerry Grunwald also did not want to be interviewed.

The conflicts in the home escalated through the fall, and all the while Meagan was changing,her grandmother said. In the past, she had always been a happy-go-lucky girl and a bit of tomboy. She was active in Future Farmers of America and wanted to be a veterinarian. For years she had also spent time Renate's back yard, fishing in the nearby canal. Renate recalled fondly a time earlier in 2013 when Meagan and a friend spent the night fishing, running into the house for snacks before going back down to the water.

Craig added that Meagan had always been close to her father and was "such a good girl." The father and daughter went four-wheeling together and Meagan helped Jerry with his disabilities, which include being confined to a wheelchair.

But the longer Meagan was with Garcia-Jauregui, the more she withdrew from others. Renate said Meagan alienated most of her friends. Meagan also had a tendency to follow others and gravitate toward those who showed her attention, Renate said — traits Garcia-Jauregui seemed to capitalize on.

The conflict in the Grunwald home came to a head on Nov. 16, Renate said. That night, Jerry saw that Garcia-Jauregui and Meagan were in her room with the door closed. Jerry ordered them to keep the door open, but the intrusion set Meagan off and she began breaking things. Then Tori called the police.

Not much came of the conflict but over the next two months the family's relationships continued devolving.

Renate mentioned several other fights at the Grunwald home, but the biggest and most definitive happened Jan. 11.

It began as an argument over money — a topic that had been a source of conflict between Tori and Jerry's relationship for years. Jerry kept arguing that he wanted Garcia-Jauregui out of the home, Renate said, and at some point Meagan knocked him out of his wheelchair. As Jerry was getting back up he grabbed Meagan's arm and left a mark, according to Renate.

Renate was not there during the argument but was later told that Garcia-Jauregui pulled a gun on Jerry, though Meagan later claimed it was an air soft pistol.

Court records confirm that at least something did happen that day. In a case filed Jan. 13, prosecutors charged Jerry with disorderly conduct, assault, and interfering with an arresting officer, all class B misdemeanors. The case ended Feb. 6 when Jerry pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct. Court records also show that the judge signed a protective order in the case against Jerry, though the records do not provide additional details about the order.

Renate said the order prohibits Jerry from contacting Tori or Meagan.

Whatever happened, the incident appears to have brought the family to a tipping point. Both Jerry and Tori have criminal histories, but before Garcia-Jauregui arrived they had also both been on a relatively good streak. Tori last was convicted of a crime, misdemeanor theft, in 2011; while Jerry's last conviction, for simple assault, was in 2008.

After the Jan. 11 fight, Jerry moved out and was charged in the misdemeanor case. He filed for divorce Feb. 5. Divorce attorneys for both Grunwalds declined to comment on the case.

Meanwhile, sometime in January, Meagan left school. Jordan School District communication director Sandy Riesgraf said Meagan graduated early, an option she was eligible for because she had earned enough credits to finish school.

Renate said she lost contact with Meagan last month, as did Craig and several other friends and neighbors who asked not to be named. No one seemed to know what was happening between Meagan and Garcia-Jauregui until Jan. 30, when the couple set off in a Toyota Tundra and allegedly killed Wride.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jimmycdii