‘My son’s dead because of a trigger-happy cop’: Father of Utah man shot by federal agents says the death was a case of mistaken identity

(Paighten Harkins | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sandy Police officers confer near the scene of an officer-involved shooting Tuesday, March 10, near the Historic Sandy TRAX station. Federal agents shot a 30-year-old man wanted on outstanding federal warrants. He later died.

The father of a man who was shot and killed by federal agents in Sandy on Tuesday says when agents gunned his son down, they were actually looking for another man.

Bryan Keith Liles, 31, was killed by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents across the street from the Historic Sandy station, 9000 S. 165 East.

Following the 5 p.m. shooting, police said ATF agents had a warrant for Liles and traced him to the TRAX station. Police have not given other details, other than to say agents shot Liles “during their contact” with him.

But Cecil “Jocko” McCants, Liles’ father, said a detective with the Unified Police Department told him the agents were searching for a different “Bryan” and encountered Liles based on bad information from a criminal informant. Further, McCants says he was told his son was unarmed when he was shot.

“The confidential informant gave them the wrong number, and they were pinging the wrong phone,” McCants said. “And now my son’s dead over it.”

After the shooting, Liles was taken to a hospital, where he died. Unified police is conducting an investigation as part of a valleywide protocol that requires uninvolved agencies to handle police shootings. The investigation is being overseen by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

(Courtesy Salt Lake County jail) Bryan Keith Liles

McCants said he was called at 11 p.m. Tuesday by Unified Detective Jared Stillion, who told him video shows Liles waving a gun, which prompted an agent to shoot five times.

McCants said he talked to Stillion three days later and was told a different story.

McCants said Stillion told him agents were searching for a different man named Bryan and that a criminal informant had given the ATF a number that ended up belonging to Liles. They used that to track him to the Sandy station.

Based on a photo they had of the suspect, agents realized Liles wasn’t their guy, McCants said. But they decided to approach him anyway.

Liles — who had warrants out for his arrest for probation violations — ran toward his car, McCants said. An agent shot Liles in the car.

McCants said he was told his son was unarmed but that the agents thought his movements in the car could have been interpreted as searching for a gun.

“And I said you’re telling me that the same officer who told me on Tuesday that you seen my son with a gun, you didn’t see nothing on a video? You didn’t see nothing,” McCants said. “It was a lie. You lied to me.”

“So my son’s dead because of a trigger-happy cop,” McCants said.

McCants, days later, remains livid. In addition to lying about the video, he said police lied to the public when saying Liles had a federal warrant out for his arrest.

McCants, who lives in Seattle, is planning to travel to Utah next week to hire an attorney. He has been in discussion with Bob Sykes, who regularly takes on cases involving police use of force.

“I haven’t signed a contract, but I am interested,” Sykes told The Tribune on Saturday. “And if it checks out, I will take the case. It was an unnecessary death, is what it appears.”

UPD spokesman Lt. Brian Lorhke said since the investigation is being overseen by Gill, he isn’t authorized to comment. But he confirmed that Stillion is a detective in the violent crimes unit and one of the officers investigating the shooting.

When reached Saturday, Gill said he is “peripherally” aware of the investigation but has not been fully briefed on it. He said his office has an investigator who is working with UPD.

“I have not yet been presented with the totality of the facts that you are talking about,” Gill said. “I don’t know what the factual basis of the issues are, but I am aware there are two Bryans.”

Gill said he heard Liles had warrants but did not know whether ATF had a federal warrant out for him. A call to ATF’s Utah field office was not returned Saturday.

“Whatever the facts are, whatever the truth is, we will get to the bottom of it in this investigation,” Gill said.

McCants said after giving the second version of events, Stillion brought up Liles’ criminal history.

Liles, who moved from Washington two years ago, pleaded guilty in January 2017 in Salt Lake City to charges of possessing a dangerous weapon, drug possession and theft by receiving stolen property.

In June 2017, Liles pleaded guilty in Provo after leading police on a chase along Interstate 15 in Utah County. In that incident, officers responded to a call of a suspicious vehicle in the area when Liles fled.

But McCants said when he asked Stillion if the agents tracking his son knew any of that before Liles was shot and killed, Stillion replied that they did not.

“I’m not saying my kid was perfect, you know? But he wasn’t a killer,” McCants said. “And he didn’t deserve to die with no gun in his hand.”