Prosecutor say Unified officer is justified in shooting Riverton man who held mother at knifepoint

Prosecutors have decided that a Unified police officer was legally justified to shoot and kill a mentally ill and apparently intoxicated Riverton man who was threatening to harm his mother. Though the officer involved declined to participate in the investigation.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill released his decision in a written statement Friday. He wrote that even without Officer Darrell Broadhead’s statement, other evidence investigators collected indicated that Broadhead shot Jason Robert Whittle because the officer believed he needed to shoot him to prevent the death or serious injury of Whittle’s mother, meaning it’s justified under Utah law.

The shooting occurred Oct. 22, 2018, when Whittle’s mother, Anne Esposito called police to report her mentally ill son was at her home, high on meth and “out of control.”

The dispatcher sent police to her home, near 11780 S. Stone Ridge Ct., and asked her to go outside. Whittle, 26, followed her outside, and when he saw police, he grabbed her and held a butter knife to her throat, according to Gill’s letter.

Officers told Whittle to drop the knife several times, but he didn’t listen. Instead, yelling, “I can hurt her!” and “I’m going to kill her!”

Then, Broadhead shot Whittle in the head from about 15 feet away, killing him instantly.

Gill said that while Broadhead didn’t give a statement, another officer at the scene, identified only as Officer Yates, did speak to them. He described the scene and said he heard Whittle say, “I’m going to f------ kill her!” That officer also said he believed Broadhead had no choice but to use deadly force.

Gill said prosecutors assumed it’s reasonable to believe Broadhead heard and saw the same things as his colleague and would have drawn a similar conclusion before shooting, which he could successfully argue in court if charged.

In the letter, Gill noted that even though Whittle’s mother told a 911 dispatcher that her son was only holding a butter knife, that she didn’t believe he would hurt her and that she didn’t want officer to shoot, those facts didn’t affect prosecutors’ analysis or conclusions.

“Given the totality of circumstances presented to the officers (about which Officer Yates testified) we cannot impose a duty on Officer Broadhead to follow Ms. Esposito’s requests not to shoot or consider her statements about a knife given the specific details of this event," Gill wrote.

It has become increasingly common for police officers involved in shootings to decline to testify in reviews conducted by the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office.

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