A police officer was legally justified when he returned fire and killed a man in downtown Salt Lake City in March, the district attorney said on Tuesday.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office said Officer Moelealaolao Tafisi "reasonably believed" deadly force was necessary to defend himself because Christopher Leo Knight used deadly force against him and another officer.
The confrontation began when Tafisi stopped a Jeep with a malfunctioning left headlight about 2:15 a.m. March 28 near 300 S. West Temple. Knight, 34, of Lakeport, Calif. — who police later learned was wanted in California on suspicion of drug charges and a parole violation — was a passenger.
A letter by District Attorney Sim Gill explaining his decision says Knight twice gave a fake name to Tafisi and was evasive when questioned. Officer Dan Tueller had arrived by then as back up and Tafisi told him they had probable cause to arrest Knight.
The officers ordered Knight to get out of the vehicle but he refused and an altercation began when Tafisi tried to remove him from the Jeep, according to the letter. Once Knight was out of the vehicle, he fell to the ground and a gun fell out of his clothing.
Tafisi said he saw Knight pick up the gun, point it in Tueller’s direction and fire it several times. The officer then fired five rounds at Knight, who died at the scene. Tafisi was hit in the left arm and Tueller was hit in the thigh.
Investigators said the 9mm pistol Knight used was stolen. The driver of the Jeep, who was not injured, was interviewed and released.
"To allow Knight any more time than already elapsed to continue to use deadly force against Officers Tafisi and Tueller would have been to expose the officers to a greater threat of death or serious bodily injury than they already faced," Gill’s letter says. "Officer Tafisi needed to apprehend Knight instantly and eliminate the threat Knight presented."
Police spokeswoman Lara Jones said Tafisi and Tueller are home and "they’re healing."
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