The family of a 26-year-old man who was shot and killed by Ogden police in 2019 are suing the city and police department, alleging officers illegally shot the man, who wasn’t threatening anyone, on his own property.
Jovany Mercado was killed Aug. 26, 2019, after officers were called to 32nd Street and Gramercy Avenue on a report of a man with a knife who had threatened people at a party.
The city of Ogden and its police department rejected the lawsuit’s interpretation of Mercado that night. Attorney Heather White said officers perceived Mercado as threatening, and that they wouldn’t have killed him if he had listened to their commands.
“All he had to do is drop the knife,” White said at a news conference Thursday, “which the officers ordered him many times to do.”
Officers found Mercado that night behind a carport at his home. Police told him to drop the knife he was holding. He didn’t, and moved the knife from one hand to the other, as he walked slowly through the structure, heading toward a gap in a chainlink fence, which led to where officers were standing on the sidewalk and road.
All four officers — Brandon Sevenski, Nigil Bailey, Karson Garcia and John Poulsen — fired at him as he reached that gap. He died from his injuries. Weber County Attorney Chris Allred said the shooting was justified.
An attorney for Mercado’s family, Robert Sykes, argues in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Utah’s U.S. District Court that he had a right to carry a knife that night.
“He was always peaceful and non-threatening,” the lawsuit states. And because of that, it argues, when officers told him to drop the knife, they were violating Mercado’s Second Amendment rights.
The lawsuit also alleges unconstitutional use of deadly force and failure to train, among other claims.
Sykes said Thursday at his own news conference that in addition to Mercado having a legal right to carry a knife on his own property, that officers had ample opportunity to deescalate the situation or use less-than-lethal force before shooting Mercado.
He added that Mercado, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was obviously disoriented that night, either from mental illness or intoxication, and police should have been sensitive of that.
“I know a knife can be a deadly weapon, certainly can be. But they had plenty of time to tell him to stop or I’ll shoot. They had lots of options,” Sykes said. “They didn’t have to kill this young man. It was improper to use deadly force here. It was illegal. It was unconstitutional.”
White, speaking for Ogden, said that officers had no choice but to fatally shoot Mercado because police are trained to shoot someone with a knife if they get within 21 feet of officers. If someone gets closer than that, White said, police may not be able to respond in time if that person tries to stab them.
She said that police had backed up as far as they could go — video shows they reached the median of a two-lane road, while Mercado is on the sidewalk — before shooting.
That and other factors, regardless of Mercado’s mental state that night, gave officers reason to be scared, White said. To make that case, she showed reporters an annotated video of the shooting that night from several different angles, including from the Mercado family’s surveillance system.
“And the reason (officers felt scared) is his arms were puffed out,” White said. “The look on his face, that you can’t capture on video, was the 1,000-yard state that you’ll hear people talk about, that someone, they’ve made up their mind about what they’re going to do, and it’s a dangerous situation to be in.”
At a Sept. 10, 2019, City Council meeting, Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt also said the officers felt their lives and the lives of others were in danger when they shot Mercado. He accused critics, without identifying those critics, of supporting an “extreme counter-policing” agenda.
Mercado’s sister, Ruby, described her brother as a talented artist and music lover. She said, growing up, the two were “glued at the hip.” She said her brother had bad days, but who doesn’t. That bad day, however, ended with the loss of his life.
After questions about how she’d characterized her brother, his condition that night, and whether or not he was violent, Ruby Mercado told reporters, “I do want to clarify that Jovany is not the one on trial.”
Ogden city and police are the ones being scrutinized, she said.
The family had previously asked Ogden for a settlement in Mercado’s death. Sykes said Thursday that the lawsuit comes after those attempts were unsuccessful.
Jovany Mercado’s father, Juan, told reporters that his family hopes the lawsuit leads to police reform. He said they also want justice for Mercado — and aim to get it.
“I don’t know if you heard about this, but when people have faith they can move mountains,” Juan Mercado said. “Well, I have all the faith in the world.”
In addition to monetary damages, the Mercado family is asking for a judge to implement new policies for Ogden police, including that every officer have a body camera — and it be used — when on patrol, that less-than-lethal force be prioritized over lethal force and that the department institute annual trainings for officers on how to work with mentally ill or emotionally disturbed people.