Utah city decides to keep officer on the force, despite shooting of woman that was ruled unjustified

(Body camera footage from Enoch police) Cpl. Jeremy Dunn raises his gun before shooting a woman on June 28, 2018.

An Enoch police corporal remains employed and on leave despite prosecutors ruling that he unlawfully shot a suspect of a car break-in at a Parowan truck stop.

Cpl. Jeremy Dunn acted “within department policy” when he shot Ivonne Casimiro on June 28, a committee of Enoch officials ruled Tuesday — contrasting the Iron County attorney’s finding that the shooting was “unjustified.”

The city’s board that reviews officers’ use of force differed from prosecutor Scott Garrett in its analysis of the threat posed by Casimiro, who was arguing and had earlier swung a screwdriver at another officer who was called to investigate people accused of prowling cars at TA Travel Center.

Video from Dunn’s body camera shows Dunn point his gun at Casimiro, who, holding the screwdriver in her right hand, raises it against her left shoulder. She takes one step, turning toward Dunn, as he fires three shots at her legs, striking her twice in the right knee. Casimiro survived and faces second-degree felony charges of assaulting a police officer and receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle.

In a letter released Monday, Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett wrote that Casimiro was not fleeing, that she had not verbally threatened the officers and that she was far enough away from them and from any bystanders to “remove any imminent threat of harm.”

But Enoch’s review board — which comprises the mayor, the city manager, a city councilman, the police chief and a police officer — wrote that Casimiro’s arm was “cocked” for “an attempt to strike” Dunn, and that Dunn “observed an immediate and severe threat” to himself, the other officer, other suspects and bystanders.

The committee’s memo states that Dunn has worked for the department for seven years as a certified peace officer and “was acutely aware of the potential for injury.”

The two findings also differed in their analyses of events leading to the shooting.

“We took into [account] the officer’s perspective: What he was thinking, what he was dealing with, his understanding of the situation,” said Enoch City Manager Rob Dotson. “He made that decision, and we believe he followed our policy to do so.”

The city committee noted that Dunn was aware that Casimiro had twice swung the screwdriver at Parowan Sgt. Mike Berg before Dunn arrived, that Casimiro “exhibited erratic behaviors as she defied lawful commands of both officers” and that Dunn saw signs that Casimiro may have been intoxicated or in a “diminished mental state.” In the video, Berg can be heard telling Dunn that Casimiro and the man who was with her were “10-96” — code for people believed to have mental health problems.

But Garrett, the prosecutor, wrote that Berg had successfully de-escalated the encounter after Casimiro swiped at him with the screwdriver. Berg had backed up behind the open door of a nearby vehicle and was talking with her as he waited for backup, Garrett wrote.

“Casimiro … did not make any furtive movements with the screwdriver or come at Sergeant Berg,” Garrett wrote. “... Berg believed he was in good shape. … In fact, [Berg] stated that he went from being fully drawn with his weapon to dropping to the low-ready position, and that he felt the situation was manageable.”

Dunn, by contrast, said he had “‘mentally purchased’ the idea that he would have to shoot Casimiro when he first arrived on scene as he had been informed that she was armed and combative and had taken a swipe with a screwdriver at Sergeant Berg,” Garrett wrote.

In the video, Dunn raises his gun and tells Casimiro, “You come [at] me with that knife, I guarantee I’ll smoke you. I guarantee it,” apparently referring to the screwdriver.

Later, Dunn refers to a 2012 shooting in which Dunn wounded a knife-wielding man who was moving toward him and Berg “in a threatening manner.” Dunn had shot the man in the leg, and Garrett then ruled that deadly force was justified. In the video of Casimiro’s shooting, Dunn says to Berg: “I can take her out like last time. Do you want me to take her out like last time?”

That wasn’t necessary, Garrett wrote.

“It appears that the situation was manageable at the time Corporal Dunn arrived and it would have seemed reasonable for officers to continue de-escalation tactics until the situation could be more fully contained,” Garrett wrote. “Corporal Dunn was only on scene for three minutes before firing shots.”

The board also cleared Dunn in his tactic of firing at the woman’s legs. Firing at a person’s extremities goes against police training in which officers are instructed to aim at a person’s “center mass” to disable the subject and reduce the risk that stray bullets will strike other people or objects.

“According to Corporal Dunn, he wanted to give Casimiro one more chance at life, so he shot her in the knee to save her life,” Garrett wrote. “[Dunn] confirmed that this type of shooting is inconsistent with his training and that he would not recommend that others take this type of shot. However, he felt that he was skilled enough to make this shot, as he had done it before.”

The board found that Dunn’s “statement that he felt the need to disable her without killing her is acceptable to us,” Dotson said.

However, the board found that Dunn did violate city policy by drawing his stun gun and his gun at the same time, one in each hand. Dunn will receive training on stun gun use, “as all our officers will,” Dotson said. Enoch has four police officers, including Police Chief Jackson Ames.

“That is something we’ll address in the future,” Dotson said. “I’m going to guess other departments will do the same thing [once] they see this video.”

Dunn “is currently on administrative leave until a determination can be made in compliance with and by all relevant agencies,” according to the Enoch news release. The city has sent its findings to Utah’s police certification division at the Department of Public Safety, and it is communicating with its insurance company, Dotson said.

The case is unusual, Dotson acknowledged, in that the city and the county attorney reached different conclusions and that Dunn deviated from training norms.

“This is new to everybody,” Dotson said. “You don’t see this very often with an officer.”

The members of the committee were Dotson, Ames, Mayor Geoffrey Chestnut, City Councilman David Harris and police Officer Josh Hildebrand.

Garrett said he had not seen Enoch’s ruling, but he reiterated that in his view of the video footage, Casimiro “doesn’t ever take a step toward him or threaten him with the screwdriver” before he shoots.

In order for deadly force to be legally justified, there has to be a reason for an officer to believe it is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury, Garrett said.

“There just wasn’t,” he said.