Salt Lake City officer deemed justified in shooting a suspected car thief who tried to run him over

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill ruled that the Jan. 8, 2020 shooting of Tyler Webster by two Salt Lake City police officers is justified during a press conference at the DA's office, Friday, August 21, 2020. According to Gill, the encounter between police and Webster began over a stolen vehicle. Webster was accused of trying to flee from officers in a stolen vehicle by driving in reverse. Gill said Webster refused to leave the vehicle, even after one of the officers used a Taser to try to subdue him. Webster began revving the engine as evidence he intended to harm the officers.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has ruled that an officer was justified when he shot and injured a 20-year-old man suspected of stealing a car.

Prosecutors won’t file criminal charges against Salt Lake City Officer Jordan Winegar, Gill added, saying the officer reasonably believed he needed to use deadly force to prevent himself from being seriously injured or killed.

It’s the second time Gill has cleared Winegar in a police shooting. The officer also shot and injured a Somali teen in 2016 who was assaulting a man outside a downtown homeless shelter.

In the more recent shooting, Winegar shot five times at Tyler Webster on Jan. 8. Two of the bullets struck Webster. He survived.

Winegar and another officer, Steven Hunter, began pursuing Webster after hearing a dispatcher broadcast a report of a car theft nearby.

Charging records allege that Webster had responded to a car sale ad on Facebook, and stole the Ford Mustang when he drove away after he and the seller were looking under the hood at the engine.

The two officers spotted the stolen car neat 1500 West and North Temple, according to the district attorney’s office, and Winegar turned on his emergency lights to signal for Webster to stop.

Instead of stopping, Webster allegedly put the car in reverse and tried to back away from the police car. As he backed up, the car went over a curb and stopped on some grass. Winegar then put his vehicle “nose to nose” with the stolen car, and the officers exited the car and began yelling for Webster to stop.

Prosecutors say the man did not stop, but responded by revving the engine.

Winegar then opened the passenger door, according to the district attorney’s office, and tried to fire a taser towards Webster, but it had no effect.

Body camera footage played during a Friday news conference shows Webster put the car in reverse, and started backing up. The open door hit Winegar, knocking the taser out of his hand, and pushing him into a nearby guardrail.

The officer later told investigators that he was “stuck on the door — I remember getting hit by the door and I couldn’t come off of that door.”

“I’m pinned, basically between the door, the guardrail and his car,” Winegar recalled. “There was no place for me to even go.”

Winegar pulled out his gun and fired toward Webster, striking him twice in the wrist and leg.

Gill noted Friday that though he’s found previous officers unjustified for shooting at a moving vehicle, this scenario was different because the open door had struck Winegar.

“Generally, I have taken a fairly dim view of shooting at moving vehicles,” he said. “What is unique about this, is that in this scenario the open door and the hit that it takes on officer Winegar and the pinch-point that he’s in ... So he absolutely can articulate a risk to himself and a safety concern to himself under our state statute for the use of deadly force in that scenario.”

Webster is now facing charges of assaulting a police officer, theft and failure to respond to police. His criminal case is still pending.

This is the second time Winegar has shot and injured someone, and was found justified in using deadly force.

Winegar and another officer, Kory Checketts, shot then-17-year-old Abdi Mohamed near a downtown homeless shelter in February 2016. Court records say Mohamed was assaulting another man over a drug dispute when the two officers came upon the fight.

Gill ruled that the two officers who shot Mohamed were justified because the teen was about to inflict injury on another person. In contrast, Salt Lake City’s Civilian Review Board found that the actions of the officers were “not within” policy.

Mohamed was paralyzed in the shooting, and eventually pleaded guilty to several third-degree felonies in juvenile court.