The family of a Sandy man who was shot and killed by a Box Elder County deputy in 2012 is suing the officer and the sheriff’s office for negligence, willful misconduct and wrongful death.
A complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court alleges that Deputy Austin Bowcutt failed to follow policies that govern automobile chases and use of deadly force when he shot and killed Troy Burkinshaw, 52, after a low-speed pursuit in Box Elder County.
The family’s attorney, Jim McConkie, said Thursday that the lawsuit addressed not only Burkinshaw’s case, but the larger issue of police violence in Utah, which he said was an "increasingly common occurrence."
"The sad thing in all of this is people lose confidence in the police," McConkie said, adding that most officers still deserve the public’s trust.
Chief Deputy Kevin Potter said the sheriff’s office would not comment on the pending case. An attorney, who would be paid by the Utah Counties Indemnity Pool, had not yet been assigned to represent the office in the suit, he said.
Bowcutt pulled over Burkinshaw on the night of Oct. 26 after he allegedly saw Burkinshaw urinating on the side of State Road 13 near Corinne. Burkinshaw drove away as Bowcutt briefly walked away from the vehicle.
Bowcutt called for backup and began a pursuit as Burkinshaw drove through a residential area.
Bowcutt cut off Burkinshaw with his vehicle after Burkinshaw turned into a dead-end street, but he attempted to go around the officer’s pickup.
Bowcutt got out to confront Burkinshaw, who was slowly driving forward. The suit states that Bowcutt stepped in front of Burkinshaw’s car and pointed his gun, yelling at him to stop. As the vehicle continued to move forward, Bowcutt fired three shots through Burkinshaw’s windshield, hitting him twice in the chest.
The complaint says that Burkinshaw was not driving in an aggressive manner and that Bowcutt didn’t attempt to shoot out the tires, stop Burkinshaw’s vehicle with a PIT maneuver or de-escalate the situation before firing his weapon.
After the shooting, Bowcutt broke the driver’s side window and shouted "Stay with me" to Burkinshaw but didn’t render any first aid, the suit states. It wasn’t until backup arrived about six minutes after the shooting that Burkinshaw was pulled out and given aid, but Burkinshaw was pronounced dead soon after.
Although the Box Elder County Attorney’s Office ruled the shooting was justified, McConkie said he is confident his client, Burkinshaw’s mother, Carolyn Clark, will prevail.
"There just isn’t any justification for going from a low-speed chase to lethal force," he said.
The suit names Bowcutt, Box Elder County, the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office and Box Elder County Sheriff Lynn Yeates as defendants.
The suit asks for punitive damages and for money to cover medical expenses, personal injuries, attorney fees and pain and suffering.
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