Salt Lake County prosecutors on Friday determined a Unified police officer was justified in fatally shooting a man who pulled a gun on the officer after an August traffic stop.
Investigators believe that Officer Leopoldo Lopez shot Andrew Shane Gwynn because the officer feared for his own life, one of the legal justifications in Utah for police using lethal force.
“Mr. Gwynn unlawfully presented an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury by pointing his gun at Officer Lopez’s head and squeezing the handle in an apparent effort to fire the weapon,” District Attorney Sim Gill wrote in a letter explaining his office’s decision.
Gill added that if Gwynn’s gun didn’t have the safety engaged, he likely would have shot Lopez.
The department didn’t issue Lopez a body camera, so no video of the shooting exists. Prosecutors made the decision it was justified based off of interviews with Lopez and other officers and witnesses and analyzing crime scene evidence.
The shooting happened early on Aug. 4, after Lopez saw a car driving erratically and tried to pull it over. The driver fled. Lopez then looked up the car’s registration and went to the listed owner’s address near 5400 West and 5400 South in Kearns to look for the driver.
Lopez told investigators, according to the letter, that when he arrived about 5 a.m., he spotted Gwynn and drove over to him. He decided to talk to Gwynn after noting Gwynn was sweating excessively, had wide eyes and appeared to be wearing black gloves.
When Gwynn tried to talk to Lopez, Lopez said he told him, “I haven’t done anything wrong. You don’t have any reason to stop me.”
Lopez said he did have a reason to stop the man and tried to search him for weapons. Gwynn told Lopez no and also declined to sit down when asked, the letter says.
When Lopez went to his car to tell dispatchers what he was doing, Gwynn ran.
Lopez chased after Gwynn and caught up with him as he pulled a gun. The officer told investigators he pulled his own gun as he saw Gwynn point his weapon at him and squeeze the trigger. Lopez said he remembered thinking, “He’s going to shoot me. Oh my god, he’s going to fire.”
Lopez then fired at Gwynn three times, killing him. Other officers arrived shortly after.
Investigators also spoke with two people who lived in the area. They heard the shooting, but didn’t look out the window to see it, the letter notes.
Gwynn’s shooting was the 14th in Utah in 2020. As of Dec. 18, police in the state have shot at 30 people, tying 2018 for the most police shootings in Utah in recent memory.
Gill’s office ruled another of the police shootings from this year justified Friday.
In that Aug. 2 case, West Jordan Officer Gage Hoogveldt killed 17-year-old Cyrus Carpenter during a shootout that stemmed from a stolen vehicle investigation.