Salt Lake County district attorney finds police officers justified to use deadly force in two 2018 shootings, one where a man was killed

(Photo courtesy Salt Lake County Jail) Abe Martinez, 44, was killed by police after he killed his grandmother and wounded his step-grandfather.

Police officers who shot suspects during two SWAT team standoffs last year will not face criminal charges, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Thursday.

Gill sent notice Monday to Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, West Valley City Police Chief Colleen Jacobs and South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth that two officers — Officer Alan Jewett of the Unified police and Detective Tyler Cluff of the South Salt Lake police — had justification to use deadly force in the shooting of Abe Chris Martinez on June 17, 2018.

Martinez died from his wounds in the shooting, which ended a SWAT standoff that began after Martinez had entered his grandparents’ South Salt Lake home. Martinez killed his grandmother, Rose, and had seriously injured his stepgrandfather by the time the SWAT team arrived. Jewett fired two rounds from his handgun, and Cluff apparently fired three rounds from his rifle. Martinez died at the scene.

Martinez’ death happened two days after he walked away from a halfway house, where he had been living since being released from federal prison just more than three weeks earlier. He had been in federal prison for 13 years for drug trafficking.

Both Jewett and Cluff declined to talk to prosecutors, “as is their constitutional right,” Gill said. Prosecutors declined to file charges after other evidence indicated they could argue at trial that they acted within the law because their use of deadly force was necessary to prevent the death or serious injury of themselves or others.

Gill sent another notice Monday to Rivera and Jacobs, saying that Officer Andrew Swanger of West Valley City police was justified to use deadly force against Ricardo Lopez on July 15, 2018.

(Photo courtesy West Valley City Police) Ricardo Lopez was shot by a West Valley City police officer on July 15, 2018. It was the second time in 2-1/2 years he had been shot by police.

In that case, a West Valley City police officer tried to pull Lopez over as he was driving. Lopez instead drove to a home and ran inside. Lopez told police he would kill them if they tried to come inside to get him and would stab officers in the face. Lopez also apparently threw a drinking glass and a toaster at officers.

Eventually, Lopez ran at the officers; one detective said he saw a knife in Lopez’s hand. Swanger fired at Lopez, shooting him in the chest. Police said they took a knife from Lopez’s hand after he was shot.

According to a report on FOX 13 at the time, Lopez was hospitalized and, once recovered, sent to jail.

It was the second time in 2 1/2 years that Lopez had been shot by police. The first shooting happened on March 1, 2016, when police were called because Lopez was allegedly firing a gun in the street. Lopez pointed his gun at officers, and they shot him. He was sentenced in 2016 to 2 1/2 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a charge of illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Swanger also did not testify in Gill’s investigation. Prosecutors declined to file charges against him for the same reason as the officers involved in Martinez’s death.

Officers declining to be interviewed during shooting investigations is a relatively new trend; last fall, in similar cases, the attorney for the Utah Fraternal Order of Police said he now advises officers in Salt Lake County to remain silent because he and others in law enforcement distrust Gill to be “capable of rendering judgment over these officers in an unbiased fashion.”

Gill denies his decisions have been politically motivated. He has said he is an independent elected official who decides cases based on facts and the law.

Thirty people were shot by police in Utah in 2018. Of those, 19 died, marking the highest number of people shot and killed by police in the state in recent memory.

Tribune reporter Paighten Harkins contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.