Utah man yelled ‘shoot me’ at Salt Lake City police before they killed him, body camera video shows

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Capt. Lance VanDongen, left, releases Salt Lake City police body camera video of an April 18, 2018 episode where officers shot and killed 32-year-old Delorean Pikyavit, after officers were called to a home near 1100 East and Princeton Avenue on a report of a domestic violence episode.

Before Salt Lake City police shot and killed 32-year-old Delorean Pikyavit two weeks ago, the man stood on the porch of his girlfriend’s home, a knife in one hand and a half-pair of scissors in the other, yelling, “Shoot me!”

For more than an hour, a police negotiator had tried to coax Pikyavit out of his girlfriend’s house. But less than two minutes after Pikyavit came outside, he stepped off the porch and bullets interrupted the negotiator’s attempts to calm him.

Salt Lake City police released the body camera footage of the fatal April 18 shooting at a news conference Wednesday morning.

Police were originally called to the home in Sugar House, near 1100 East and Princeton Avenue, by Pikyavit’s girlfriend.

In a call to dispatchers at 12:15 p.m., the girlfriend is heard sobbing, telling a dispatcher that she’d told Pikyavit to leave, and that he’d said he would, but then she’d heard glass breaking downstairs.

The girlfriend tells dispatchers that she asked Pikyavit, “What is wrong with you?” and he responded by asking, “Do you want to see somebody die?” She kicked Pikyavit, she says in the recording, and he responded by punching her multiple times.

He held the scissor to his neck, she says, and at that point, she went to her neighbor’s house and called police.

When police arrived, police said, the girlfriend was at a neighbor’s home and Pikyavit was standing on the sidewalk.

When officers tried to speak with him, Pikyavit went back inside his girlfriend’s home alone.

The girlfriend had “visible signs of assault,” Salt Lake City police Capt. Lance VanDongen told reporters at Wednesday’s news conference.

Police learned that Pikyavit was a Utah State Prison parolee who had walked away from a halfway house in Salt Lake City in March; a warrant for his arrest had been issued. Also in March, court documents show, Pikyavit chose to give custody of his two young children to a couple with whom he was close.

(Photo courtesy of Julia Peterson) In a recent photo, Delorean Pikyavit holds one of his children during a visit. Pikyavit was shot and killed by Salt Lake City police Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

Police negotiators began speaking with Pikyavit, who at one point made a statement about “going out with a bang,” VanDongen said.

An hour after police arrived, officers smelled natural gas, and Pikyavit reportedly alluded to igniting a lighter. SWAT officers shut off the house’s gas, VanDongen said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Law enforcement at the scene after an incident where a man barricaded himself in a house on Princeton Avenue near 1100 East in Salt Lake City, Wednesday April 18, 2018.

An hour and 15 minutes into the standoff, Pikyavit came out of the house, holding a knife in one hand and the scissor in the other.

He repeatedly told officers to shoot him. Body camera footage from a SWAT officer shows Pikyavit pound his chest and raise and lower his arms while officers shout to drop the weapons and sit down on the porch.

Video shows Pikyavit stepping side to side on the porch stoop as the police negotiator repeatedly shouts: “We can end this peacefully. Come on, man, put the knife down.”

Eventually, he drops one weapon but keeps the other.

Twice in the video, another officer shouts, “Stop right there!” Another officer repeatedly tells the other to let the negotiator talk.

A tense 90 seconds after Pikyavit exited the home, he stepped off the porch and two officers shot him almost simultaneously — one with a rifle and one with a “less lethal weapon” that fires a “spongy” bullet — according to police.

Footage from a second police body camera shows members of the SWAT team approach Pikyavit right after the shots are fired. Medical personnel “immediately” rendered aid, VanDongen said, but Pikyavit would die at a hospital.

“Domestic violence can’t be tolerated,” Utah Against Police Brutality organizer Dave Newlin wrote in a statement, “but police bullets aren’t the solution.”

According to Lex Scott of the Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter, Salt Lake City police should have made more efforts toward de-escalation, and they should have used nonlethal force.

“This looks like suicide by cop,” Scott said of Pikyavit. “... But he wasn’t a danger to these police officers.”

An investigation by West Valley City police is ongoing, police said, but the release of the footage was mandated by an executive order signed in October by Mayor Jackie Biskupski. The order says Salt Lake City will release police body camera footage 10 business days after an officer uses force that injures or kills someone. The move had the support of the Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

A Wednesday night Facebook post from Biskupski said what is shown on the footage “is difficult to process and disheartening, because a life was lost.” Biskupski urged people to wait for the full disclosure of facts at the conclusion of the investigation before passing judgment on those involved in the “tragic” shooting.

During a regular community activist group meeting with Salt Lake City police Wednesday night, Assistant Chief Tim Doubt said this was the quickest instance of the department releasing such footage. Doubt said that was the result of the group relentlessly asking for more transparency, and he thanked it for its effort.

He declined to answer the group’s questions about the shooting, though, and he said the footage is available for anyone to watch.

Scott, who was at the meeting, questioned why SWAT remained at the scene once it was established that Pikyavit was in a mental health crisis. She said negotiation should have been emphasized more.

She also said that because one officer used a ”less lethal weapon” and another fired a lethal one, the officers weren’t on the same page.

However, she said she was reluctant to be too critical because she saw Salt Lake City police use more restraint and take more time to de-escalate the situation than in other altercations, such as the Aug. 13, 2017, shooting of Patrick Harmon.

It’s tragic, Scott said, that someone died unnecessarily. Had police resolved the situation without a fatality, it would show success for the methods Black Lives Matter advocates.

Protocol requires that a separate agency investigate Salt Lake City police shootings. A civilian review board is also investigating the shooting.

“While it’s good that the civilian review board is investigating this shooting,” Newlin wrote, its “... recommendations are regularly ignored.”

Pikyavit — who was paroled from prison in October — absconded from a Salt Lake City halfway house on March 29, said Greg Johnson, spokesman for the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

Pikyavit had been serving up to 15 years for a 2011 DUI conviction, a 2012 DUI conviction and 2014 convictions on third-degree-felony counts of possession of a controlled substance and reckless endangerment of a child, and on misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

In the 2014 case, Pikyavit, a former Washington County resident, admitted to having methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana at an Ivins home where children — “his small infant child” and three others under the age of 16 — had access to the drugs, according to court documents.

Court documents dated March 14 award guardianship of Pikyavit’s two children — a daughter and a son — to Julia Peterson and her husband, who have known Pikyavit for 15 years.

“You couldn’t meet a nicer guy when he was sober,” Peterson said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune the day after Pikyavit was killed. “His kids were his life, but sadly his demons got the better of him.”

Pikyavit, often called “Dee” by those close to him, was a member of the Paiute Tribe and since age 3 was raised by his grandparents on the Kanosh Indian Reservation in Millard County, according to his aunt Ann Pikyavit.

He lived with Peterson and her husband, Carl, for a year after high school, Peterson said, and affectionately called them “Moms” and “Pops.” Later in life, during visits to the couple, he helped their grandchildren with their homework, she said, and while he was in prison, he drew cards for her and her husband.

“He was an amazing kid,” Peterson said, “and we were very close to him.”

Peterson watched Pikyavit struggle with an addiction to alcohol for years, she said, and she believes it played a part in the “tragic events” that led to his death.

Salt Lake City police on Wednesday declined to release information about Pikyavit’s autopsy or toxicology results.

While serving a recent prison sentence, Pikyavit had graduated from the HOPE substance abuse program, Peterson said. She attended the graduation ceremony and remembers that he was “determined at that point that he could fight his addiction.”

But after his graduation, he was sent to serve the remainder of his time — close to a year, according to Peterson — in county jails around the state. The jails where he was housed, including Daggett County, had few to no classes to teach him the life skills needed to adjust back into society.

The Department of Corrections confirmed that Pikyavit was housed in Daggett County from June 2016 until February 2017, when the state removed 80 prison inmates from the facility, due to abuse and misconduct by deputies at the jail. He was also housed in Weber County from April 2017 to October.

Peterson said she called the prison to ask that Pikyavit be transferred back to Gunnison, where “the classes were really helping him,” but she was told those beds were needed for other inmates enrolled in the substance abuse treatment program.

“It’s hard to leave society for three years and then go back to society and be able to adjust without preparation and classes, and he was getting that in Gunnison,” Peterson said.

“If I could change one thing, it would be that he could have stayed in the actual prison system longer, instead of going to county jails, so he could continue those classes.”

When he was released on parole, the odds felt stacked against him, Peterson said, but he got a job, went to rehab and was trying to turn his life around.

“Ultimately,” Peterson said, “it’s all about his choices, but I do believe the prison system failed him.”

Before his death, Peterson said she and her husband took custody of the children as a “temporary” thing, “while their parents got their lives together.” Now, she said, “it’s a permanent thing.”

She said Wednesday she didn’t know what to think about the body camera footage.

“My whole life, I’ve always backed the police,” she said. “I’d feel a whole lot better if I knew their actions were justified. Of course, hindsight is always 20-20.”

Pikyavit is one of four people fatally shot by police in Salt Lake County this year.

Police in Salt Lake County have shot or have shot at people seven times in the first four months of 2018, compared with six instances in the same period last year, Gill said recently. Four of this year’s shootings were fatal.

Family members took the news of Pikyavit’s death “really hard,” his aunt wrote in a message to a Tribune reporter last week. They held a traditional burial ceremony for him, which included all-night singing, starting at sundown April 21, and a burial at sunrise April 22.

Because Pikyavit is gone, Ann Pikyavit said, he will miss important family events, like a sister’s graduation that he promised to attend.

She she hadn’t been able to watch the police body cam video yet, she said Wednesday, but she said last week that she did not believe the shooting was justified.

The last time Peterson spoke to the man she considered one of her sons, she said, was the day before he was killed.

While in the halfway house, Peterson said, he would call her three times a day — during his lunch break, or sometimes at 5 a.m. — “to say, ’Hey, Mom, what are you doing?’ ”

“I’d want to say, ‘Sleeping,’ ” she said. “Now, I’d do anything for one of those calls.”

— Reporter Christopher Smart contributed to this story.