Salt Lake County DA says officers were legally justified to shoot suspects in two separate cases

The Salt Lake County district attorney ruled Thursday that in two cases where officers shot suspects this year — one injuring a teenager near Hunter High School and the other a man acting “erratically” outside a Midvale McDonald’s — the use of deadly force was legally justified.

“These are nuanced and complicated situations,” said District Attorney Sim Gill. “In both scenarios, we gathered as much factual evidence as we could.”

In the earlier of the two cases, on March 20, Granite School District Officer Jonathan Sidhu approached a car full of teenagers parked near 4380 S. 5710 West. He was patrolling the neighborhood around the high school and smelled marijuana, according to police accounts.

When Sidhu tried talking to the teens, the driver hit the gas and the officer was thrown over the hood of the car, Gill concludes. As he rolled, Sidhu apparently raised his gun and shot the driver, identified at Jonathan Barajas-Macias.

Barajas-Macias was hit in the left side of his chest and later recovered.

Sidhu did not answer questions during the investigation. The officer had a body camera, but it was not turned on. Gill made his determination based on evidence at the scene and witness accounts — including from the teenagers also in the car during the incident.

The district attorney said it’s a relatively new challenge he’s had to deal with when officers decline to talk. But “whether officers give me that information or don’t,” Gill said, “we will apply the facts and the law.”

Sidhu was “dragged for some distance,” according to the district attorney’s report, and suffered some road burn and cuts. He told two responding officers that he was “run over” by the teenagers, though those in the cars said Sidhu jumped up on the hood himself. The injuries, Gill concluded, aligned more with the officer’s account to his colleagues. There was also evidence on the road that suggested the car accelerated before popping the curb.

“Based on the reasonable inferences we can draw at this time, it seems reasonable to believe that Officer Sidhu firing his gun at the car’s driver would prevent death or serious bodily injury,” the report reads.

In the second, more recent case, which occurred Aug. 15, Unified Police Department Sgt. Grant Richardson shot a man acting “erratically” in the parking lot of a Midvale McDonald’s.

Richardson told investigators that he was driving north on Catalpa Street toward 7200 South when he saw the man, Steve Michael Hawkins, 26, behaving like he was under the influence of drugs. The sergeant called for back-up as he got out of his truck and tried to calm Hawkins down.

Hawkins did not respond to requests to sit on the curb. He yelled at the sergeant, flipped him off and kicked rocks at his truck. He then threatened to kill Richardson.

The sergeant said in his statement that Hawkins started walking east toward a restaurant, and he worried that the man would cause harm to someone there. He tapped Hawkins on the shoulder, he said, and the man turned around and jabbed a screwdriver into his left ribcage (it did not puncture the skin, according to Gill’s report).

Hawkins punched and pushed Richardson, too, the sergeant said, and continued to point the screwdriver toward his neck. Other officers arrived on scene as Richardson yelled, “Drop the weapon!” They confirmed his account of events; none were wearing body cameras and no surveillance footage was captured by cameras on nearby buildings.

The sergeant said he feared for his life and pulled out his gun. He fired and hit Hawkins in the left abdomen.

Hawkins also recovered from the injury and has since been charged with public intoxication, resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer.

“Having been stabbed once by a man who continued to refuse to obey lawful orders and instead allegedly threatened Sgt. Richardson with the screwdriver," Gill wrote, “we conclude that it was reasonable for Sgt. Richardson to fear that his life was in danger, or that he might risk serious bodily injury."