Community activist Michael Clara charged with multiple felonies for shooting at car that struck him

(photo courtesy Salt Lake County Jail) Jon Michael Clara

Salt Lake County prosecutors charged activist Jon Michael Clara with seven felonies on Tuesday — one for each time authorities say he fired at a stolen vehicle that struck his car in late November and sped away.

Clara, 55, has posted on Facebook that he didn’t believe he did anything wrong in the Nov. 23 altercation, when he said he responded in self-defense by shooting at the vehicle that hit his car.

Clara’s attorney, Clayton Simms, said Tuesday that his client’s position hasn’t changed.

“It’s a very clear case of self-defense,” Simms said. “Mr. Clara shot in self-defense, [and] at the end of the day, we expect a not-guilty verdict at trial.”

Charging documents say Clara told police he was driving north near 900 W. 100 South when a blue truck with a snow plow hit his SUV three times, spinning it, before continuing north. Clara shot at the truck several times as it fled down the road, eventually turning east onto a side street before the train tracks.

Police later found the truck crashed into a chain link fence at 820 W. 200 South. They have not found the driver, Salt Lake City police Detective Michael Ruff said.

Clara told police he got out of his SUV and fired at the truck because he thought it was going to turn around and come back at him. He noted he was “aiming at the pavement toward the back of the truck to keep it away.”

One of those bullets struck an uninvolved vehicle stopped just north of the collision, careening through its back window and exiting through the windshield. A man, his wife and their 12-year-old daughter were in the car, and the bullet caused several pieces of glass to end up in the girl’s hair, according to charging documents.

Another witness told police that he was “worried” about Clara’s shooting “due to all the traffic stopped in that area.”

On Facebook, Clara said, “My message is I believe the police were wrong to arrest me.” He added that he was compliant during the arrest because, “I was going to act to protect my life and that of my friend [after being struck by the truck], only to turn around and put my life and that of the police in jeopardy and hour later because of an arrest.”

Salt Lake County prosecutor Jeff Hall said that his office didn’t consider Clara’s social media posts when deciding whether to file charges. Instead, he said, they looked at the facts of the case, which gave them reason to believe Clara had done something illegal.

“[Clara’s defense is] a discussion that we’ll have to have in court down the road,” Hall said, noting he had not seen anything “formal” from Clara.

Clara is facing seven third-degree felony counts of discharge of a firearm, and, if convicted, could spent up to 30 years in prison.

He previously served on the Salt Lake City Board of Education, representing the city’s west side, and became one of its most vocal and divisive members. Clara also worked as a transit planner for Utah Transit Authority for almost two decades.

Clara currently is a community organizer with Crossroads Urban Center, a nonprofit that works with low-income Utahns.