Salt Lake City officers were justified in fatal August shooting, prosecutor says

(Photo courtesy Salt Lake Police) In this screen grab from police body camera video, Riche Antonio Santiago can be seen pointing a gun in the direction of police officers from the back seat of a car.

Two Salt Lake City police officers were justified under Utah law when they fatally shot a 29-year-old man in August, according to prosecutors.

While Riche Santiago died at the scene Aug. 5 at Park Place Apartments, it is “incredible that nobody else got hurt,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said at a news conference Friday. A young child was sitting next to Santiago in a car at the time of the shooting, and Gill credited the quick thinking by police for why no one else was injured.

“These officers did an incredible job under some really trying situations,” he said.

Gill announced Friday that officers Wilson Silva and Lucas Johnson would not be charged in connection with the shooting. Silva and Johnson “reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent the death or serious bodily injury of many other people at the scene,” according to a letter detailing the investigation.

Silva and Johnson responded to the apartment complex, located at 731 S. 300 East, Aug. 5 after receiving an accidental 911 call made by a child, the letter states. As they were leaving, Johnson noticed a “suspicious vehicle.” A person was standing next to a white Nissan and officers said it “looked like it could be a drug transaction.” Johnson ran the license plate and learned the Nissan “was a suspected vehicle in an earlier shooting” at the apartment complex, and later learned that Santiago was also “alleged to have been involved in the shooting.”

Johnson approached the Nissan, which had five people inside, including a young child. Santiago was sitting in the backseat on the driver’s side. When Santiago tried to get out of the car to smoke a cigarette, Johnson told him to stay seated. Santiago “was very nervous and would not make eye contact.”

The officers learned Santiago had an outstanding warrant and told him he was under arrest. Police said after the shooting that Santiago — who had previously been convicted of felony fleeing — was wanted on warrants for misdemeanor fleeing, felony fleeing and felony domestic violence assault.

Silva grabbed Santiago’s left arm and saw Santiago reach with his right arm for a backpack near Santiago’s feet. Johnson then pointed his gun at Santiago’s back and said, “Don’t, don’t!”

Santiago pulled a handgun from the backpack and Johnson and Silva “immediately backed up" to the rear end of the car.

Silva and a witness in the car’s backseat said they heard a gunshot, and Johnson and Silva fired multiple times at Santiago “through the rear window, aiming downward to avoid the other occupants.” Santiago got out of the car and fired toward the officers as he was moving away, hitting a rear quarter panel. He “collapsed to the ground several feet from the car” and a gun slid out of his hand.

Johnson then instructed the other people to get out of the car. One passenger had “a slight scrape on his ear,” but no one else was injured. Officers’ body camera footage shows the child and other people in the car screaming and crying during the shooting.

Johnson and Silva provided statements to investigators. “The testimony of each officer, outlining what he knew and observed at the time, is corroborated by the testimony of other witnesses, as well as the body-worn camera recordings made by each officer,” according to the letter.