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Family of man shot by police files wrongful-death lawsuit

Published March 16, 2011 7:32 pm

Court • Suit says officers used unnecessary force after '09 pursuit.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The family of a Sandy man shot and killed by a Salt Lake City police officer nearly two years ago after he failed to pull over to the side of Interstate 80 near Saltair has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Law enforcement used unnecessary force when fatally shooting 30-year-old Christopher Joseph Tucker, known as Joey, on Aug. 6, 2009, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court. Police also failed to identity Tucker's medical and mental health issues, which didn't allow them to respond to the situation in a reasonable manner, the lawsuit states.

Salt Lake City police Officer Louis "Law" Abner Jones shot Tucker on the highway after Tucker led authorities on a low-speed chase, rammed a police vehicle and threatened another swipe at officers with his car, according to police reports and a review by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office. The office ruled the shooting justified.

Tucker's father, Perry, called police concerned that his son had taken sleeping pills but not his diabetes medication, according to the complaint. Perry Tucker has previously told The Salt Lake Tribune his son was despondent after an argument with his girlfriend.

Tucker was suspected in two hit-and-run crashes the day he was shot, the reports state. Jones spotted him near 2600 West and 1500 South in Salt Lake City and pursued him onto State Road 202, before following Tucker onto I-80, where the Utah Highway Patrol took up the chase, the reports state.

UHP unsuccessfully tried to stop the vehicle. Both police agencies then followed Tucker west on I-80. UHP Trooper Lawrence Hopper used a PIT maneuver to bring Tucker's Chevrolet pickup to a stop, the reports state, though the vehicle swerved across the highway.

Tucker then rammed the truck into the trooper's car, reversed and turned the wheels toward the officer, the report states. Jones then shot three times into the truck, hitting Tucker in the neck and torso. Tucker died at the scene.

The District Attorney's Office ruled Jones was justified because his actions were "necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person."

Tucker's family, however, alleges the situation should have been handled differently and that a dash cam video in Jones' vehicle shows that the incident unfolded differently from how police described.

The video of Jones pursuing Tucker shows that Jones did not turn on his lights, use sirens or other methods to let a distraught Tucker know he was trying to stop him, the family's lawsuit states. The dash cam video also shows that Tucker wasn't speeding, stopped at stop signs and used turn signals, their complaint states.

Tucker didn't attack the authorities with his vehicle, the lawsuit alleges. And after Jones fired on Tucker, when UHP had joined the pursuit, the dash cam captures Hopper's reaction to the three shots Jones fired, according to the complaint.

"Oh, no! Oh, sh—!" Hopper shouted, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit later accuses Jones of lying about the circumstances around Tucker's death.

"Officer Jones is trained and coached to twist the records, the facts, the circumstances to claim immediate peril, fear and harm to justify his unlawful actions and the use of excessive and unjustified deadly force," the lawsuit states.

"[Tucker's] alleged traffic offenses, medical conditions and the use of sleep medication do not support the use of deadly force nor is there a significant governmental interest to deadly force."

The plaintiffs are Tucker's parents, his girlfriend Brieanne Matson, and his daughter, Desree.

Named as defendants are Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake City Police Department, Salt Lake City police Chief Chris Burbank, Jones, Salt Lake City Police Officer Lisa Pascadlo, the Utah Department of Public Safety, UHP, Trooper Lawrence Hopper, and the state.Spokesmen for those agencies declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon, citing the pending litigation.

Burbank is included for "failure to take corrective action with respect to Officer Jones and Officer Pascadlo, who were improperly, inadequately and insufficiently trained and supervised," according to the complaint. The lawsuit also accuses Burbank of failing to implement "meaningful procedures and polices to discourage lawless official conduct."

The lawsuit claims the state, including the Department of Public Safety and UHP, didn't properly train Hopper.

Tucker's father told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2009 his son may have been in insulin shock and unable to deal with police in a logical manner.

"He's not a criminal by any means," Perry Tucker said. "He had a lot of personality, a lot of love for his family and for his little daughter."

Tucker often overlooked tending to his insulin when he became upset, and family tried to keep tabs on him to make sure he rebounded, his father said.

"He had his problems over the years," said Perry Tucker, noting his son landed in court on several occasions for drug and alcohol abuse. "We'd seen him in moods [like the one he was in Thursday] before. It's not his fault, it's the disease. If he got upset, he wore his feelings on his sleeve."

The lawsuit states that Salt Lake City police allowed Tucker to drive away from the scene of Wasatch Electric, where his girlfriend worked, despite protests from Tucker's family to have authorities detain him there because of his mental condition.

Perry Tucker said authorities managed to corner his son in a parking lot on Salt Lake City's west side at one point. But Tucker drove away from the parking lot toward State Road 201 with police in pursuit.

Perry Tucker said he had a chance to talk to his son in person at the parking lot and begged him to get out of the truck.

"I was worried about his health," Tucker said. "I was just trying to get him to stop. I was telling him things will work out."

Perry Tucker followed his son as he drove from the parking lot and watched as Tucker clipped another vehicle on California Avenue. Perry Tucker said he stayed behind to provide information to the motorist who had called police to report the hit-and-run accident with Tucker.

He tried to follow as his son led police through SR 201 to I-80 west, but authorities asked Perry Tucker to pull over and wait near 8400 West and SR 201. Perry Tucker said police called him while pursuing his son and asked if Tucker had any weapons.

Perry Tucker told police his son was unarmed — a point reiterated in the lawsuit.

"The dash cam videos reveal that Joey did not take any action, make any threats, or do anything to cause any immediate or eminent threat of harm to any officers," the lawsuit states. "Joey was simply sitting in his vehicle with the vehicle in reverse up against a cement barricade on a freeway when Officer Jones fired three shots killing Joey."

The case has been assigned to Magistrate Judge Samuel Alba.

mrogers@sltrib.com