Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Friday that three police officers were legally justified in shooting and killing a 22-year-old man who had pointed a gun at officers as he was running away.
Matthew C. Knowlden was killed during the Sept. 18, 2020, encounter in Midvale.
According to Gill’s office, officers from a multiagency investigation located a “wanted male fugitive” that day who was a suspect in a drive-by shooting, a robbery involving a handgun and had fled from police the previous day.
Knowlden wasn’t whom they were seeking. But he was in a stolen car with the suspect, who was driving, and two other women who were also passengers.
Police tried to stop the car with spike strips as the suspect, a 24-year-old man, drove it out of a Motel 6 parking lot. The car crashed soon after, near 7200 S. Bingham Junction Blvd. The driver, two female passengers and Knowlden all got out of the crashed car.
Unified Police Officer Jeffery Nelson began chasing Knowlden as he started to run from the car, according to the district attorney’s office. Gill said Nelson saw a gun in Knowlden’s hand, and yelled for him to drop it. But Knowlden instead raised it and pointed it towards another officer.
Nelson then began firing.
At the same time, Unified Detective Chelsea Winslow was also running towards Knowlden from a different direction with a taser in hand. She also saw Knowlden raise a gun and point at her, so she dropped the taser and started firing her gun. A third officer, West Valley City Detective Alan Belcher, also fired his gun when he saw Knowlden point a weapon at Winslow.
Knowlden was struck by five bullets and died from his injuries.
In total, the three officers fired at him 31 times, according to the district attorney’s office. Winslow and Belcher both fired their weapons seven times, while Nelson fired 17 bullets.
Police initially reported that Knowlden had fired his gun at officers, but Gill said there was no evidence to show that his gun was ever discharged. Winslow had said she thought Knowlden had fired towards her, but investigators determined she likely mistook another officer’s gunfire nearby as Knowlden firing at her.
“This was her perception,” Gill said Friday. “Although we later learned the gun recovered at the scene had its safety on and wasn’t ever fired at her.”
Knowlden wasn’t the man police were looking for, and Gill said he couldn’t speculate as to why he ran from them.
The three officers did not agree to an interview with investigators, but provided written statements. In those statements, Nelson and Belcher each said they fired their guns because they feared for their lives and those around them. Winslow said she kept shooting at Knowlden until she saw the gun leave his hands and he was “no longer a threat to me, other officers, or civilians.”
Gill said in his findings that it was reasonable for each officer to believe that using deadly force was necessary.
Correction: April 9, 2021, 2:15 p.m.: A previous version of this story listed the incorrect date. Matthew Knowlden was shot and killed on Sept. 18, 2020.