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DA Sim Gill rules Cottonwood Heights police officer was justified in September shooting, wounding of teen

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Wednesday determined that a Cottonwood Heights police officer was justified in shooting and wounding a teenage boy in September.

The shooting was ruled justified because the officer, Sgt. Chris McHugh, believed the teenager had a gun, according to a report released Wednesday by the district attorney’s office.

In the report, McHugh stated that the teenager pulled something from his backpack and had a box of ammunition. He then saw the the 17-year-old reach into his pants just before the Sept. 3 shooting occurred, according to the report.

Body camera footage released by the Cottonwood Heights police in September shows events from McHugh’s perspective. The DA’s report refers to the teen as A.J., because he is a minor.

Events began at about 2:45 a.m., when McHugh spotted a blue Mustang convertible driving erratically on Fort Union Boulvard near 1300 East, according to the report.

A car chase ensued, where speeds on northbound Interstate 15 topped 100 mph at about 3:10 a.m., according to the footage.

The chase ended when the Mustang crashed into, and launched over, a cement freeway barricade at 1300 South in Salt Lake City.

McHugh reports in the video that two teenagers — A.J. and a female passenger — have exited the vehicle and run beneath the I-15 overpass.

McHugh followed in his squad car and reportedly saw A.J reach into his backpack. McHugh said he saw A.J. take something out before dropping the backpack, scattering a box of bullets, Gill said Wednesday.

The officer then saw A.J. put his hands down his pants, and thought the teenager might have a gun, according to his testimony in the DA’s report.

McHugh exited his squad car with his gun drawn and pointed it at the teenager, shouting, “Drop the gun,” and “Get on the ground.”

McHugh didn‘t think a Taser would be effective, since A.J. was wearing a “heavy leather coat,” the report says.

The video shows teenager stop, put his hands in the air and sit on the ground. He complies with the officer’s shouts to roll over on his stomach.

The officer holsters his gun.

But, “the second my holster snaps,” McHugh reported, the teen rolled to his side, put his hand in his pants and started to pull his hand out. McHugh thought A.J. was drawing a gun from his waistband, according to the report.

The officer fired one shot. The bullet entered A.J.’s hip, and exited his chest.

“Just put me in cuffs, please,” the teenager is heard saying on the officer’s body camera footage. Other police officers arrive, and McHugh cuffs the teenager.

After he was handcuffed, the boy claimed he had only been reaching for a phone in his pocket.

The teen also tells officers tending to his wounds that he doesn’t have a gun, and says he “was just trying to call [his] parents.”

(Courtesy Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office) District Attorney Sim Gill ruled that a Cottonwood Heights police officer was justified in shooting a teenager after a high-speed chase because the officer believed the teen had a gun. A .22 caliber revolver was later recovered from the teenager's underwear.

But after the teen was taken to a hospital, medical staff found a loaded .22-caliber revolver in the teenager’s underwear. Video shows officers pull a knife from the teen’s pocket.

According to the testimony of the female who was in the Mustang with A.J., the two teenagers were heading to a 7-Eleven when McHugh flipped on his overhead lights to pull them over.

A.J., who didn’t have a valid driver’s license, had borrowed the uninsured Mustang from his sister, according to the report.

The female passenger told police that A.J. had been “acting weird” before the chase, and had been “talking on his cellphone about spice,“ according to the report.

Charges have been filed against the teenager in juvenile court, but Gill declined to give details about those charges.

McHugh was placed on administrative leave for 21 days after the shooting.

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