Prosecutor rules UPD officer ‘justified’ in shooting and killing man who came at police with a knife

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office will not file charges against a Unified Police detective who shot and killed a 61-year-old man who ran toward him with a knife.

Prosecutors ruled the Oct. 17 shooting “justified" after reviewing witness and police statements, in addition to body camera and other video footage, District Attorney Sim Gill wrote in a letter about the shooting.

UPD Detective Geoff Clark shot James Lyle Kuehn during a confrontation after Kuehn was accused of robbing a Fiesta Olé in Kearns, near 4100 West and 5400 South.

Kuehn allegedly threatened a restaurant employee with a knife that looked like a “prison shank," according to court documents, and demanded money. Kuehn left, and police found him outside a nearby home.

Clark arrived at the home and saw another officer, who had his gun drawn. Clark wrote in a statement to prosecutors that Kuehn yelled, "Shoot me, you’re not taking me down for this!'

The other officer used a stun gun on Kuehn, who was holding a knife and had taken “an offensive stance with his hands clenched," but the stun gun didn’t work. The officer then fell.

Clark wrote that he thought Kuehn was going to kill the other officer, so he readied his gun and decided to fire if Kuehn moved closer to the other officer.

“All of a sudden, the suspect turned toward me,” Clark wrote. “Our eyes met and he began to run directly at me.”

Clark said he tried to back away, but Kuehn was moving too quickly. He said he “feared the suspect was going to hurt or kill me," and he shot Kuehn.

Some witnesses — including someone at the home where Kuehn was shot — said they didn’t see anything in Kuehn’s hands when he was shot, according to the letter.

However, Gill wrote, prosecutors never received an “objective and non-testimonial evidence” that refutes the officers’ stories, and that many of the witnesses saw the shooting from farther away.

Prosecutors interviewed or received statements from seven officers, including Clark. Gill said their stories were consistent and aligned with the available video footage.

Gill said prosecutors determined Clark reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to him himself or another person, meaning it was justified according to Utah law.

Kuehn was one of 19 people killed in Utah by police in 2018. It is the most people killed by police in Utah in recent history, according to a Salt Lake Tribune database spanning more than a decade.