Salt Lake County prosecutors ruled Friday that an officer was legally justified in shooting a man who fired a gun at him and attacked his partner.
The shooting occurred Sept. 17, 2020, after Eric Pectol ran a red light on his motorcycle and a truck hit him.
Unified Police Department Officer Jason Hudgens saw the crash at 4500 South and 2300 East while getting gas at a Shell convenience store and ran over to investigate. The situation devolved into a fight when Pectol said he had a gun and went from the street into a nearby empty, grassy lot, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill wrote in his finding letter.
The confrontation ended seconds after Pectol got ahold of Hudgens’ gun and fired it at Officer Charles Saulnier, Hudgens’ partner. Saulnier returned fire, hitting Pectol four times. He survived.
A police shooting in Utah is legally justified when an officer shoots at someone because the officer is afraid that person will hurt or kill someone else. That’s what Gill said happened here.
“Mr. Pectol unlawfully presented an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury when he disarmed Officer Hudgens and picked up his firearm, when he pointed Officers Hudgens’ firearm at Officers Hudgens, and,” Gill wrote, “when he pointed and shot the firearm at Officer Saulnier.”
Pectol crashed around 3 p.m. while Hudgens was about to get gas. Hudgens told investigators he wasn’t sure who was at fault and ran over to see what happened.
As he got closer, Hudgens saw Pectol running toward a school bus that was stopped at the intersection. Hudgens confronted Pectol at the back of the bus, telling him to stop. That’s when he said Pectol reached toward his shorts and said he had a gun. So, Hudgens pulled his own. Pectol ran and Hudgens began to suspect the man didn’t have a gun.
“Officer Hudgens said because he didn’t see a gun and didn’t want to assume the man had one, as the man had taken off running, and as he didn’t want to make the conscious decision to shoot him in the back with out all the facts, he decided to go ‘less lethal,’” Gill wrote, meaning Hudgens holstered his gun and pulled out his Taser.
Pectol then charged Hudgens, who fired his Taser. It didn’t stop Pectol. Hudgens was pulling out his gun again, but he fell and lost it. Pectol, who apparently lied about having a gun, picked up Hudgens’ firearm.
Saulnier, who came across the crash moments after Hudgens did, described the fight to investigators as the most aggressive he’d seen his partner get into, “like swinging, trying to block the hits, everything,” Gill wrote.
Saulnier said he saw Pectol point the gun at Hudgens and he shouted for Pectol to drop the gun. Pectol then turned to Saulnier and fired.
“I saw it like I was looking down the barrel of the gun,” Saulnier said. “I saw it like it was a perfect circle, reddish, orange-ish. Saw the black hole. I heard a snap... like a bullet was coming by me.”
Pectol told police he didn’t fire the gun, but Gill said evidence shows Pectol fired. The bullet that missed Saulnier traveled to a third floor apartment east of the intersection, shattering a sliding glass door, the letter said.
Saulnier fired back seven times, hitting Pectol four times. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is still investigating Pectol’s actions, Gill said.
Body camera footage of the shooting doesn’t exist because Saulnier had trouble activating his camera in time, but prosecutors were able to see some of the confrontation because of footage taken by witnesses and business security cameras.
Pectol later told investigators he was suicidal. He was on parole and a warrant had been issued in relation to an investigation into a car wreck he was in six days earlier, which put his girlfriend, the passenger in the car, in a coma and left her paralyzed.
“I never wanted to hurt him,” Pectol said about the officer. “I wanted him to kill me.”
He told family members before he left home that day on the motorcycle that he was going to kill himself, the letter stated.
At a news conference Friday announcing the ruling, Gill commended Hudgens for his restraint in not shooting Pectol as he ran away and understanding that Pectol was likely lying about having a gun.
“At that point the officer exercised an incredible level of discretion, an incredible astuteness in reading the facts that were unfolding before him,” Gill said.
Gill went on to say that Hudgens “didn’t react to the fear, but rather kept his rational faculties to continue to assess the situation and reach a conclusion, both with the desire to protect a person who was suicidal, who was bluffing his way, but he was not going to fire his weapon until he confirmed that threat and verified it.”
The fact that Pectol eventually took the officer’s gun and fired it at his partner, Gill said, doesn’t change that Hudgens made the right decision.
“I think he made the right calls. I think he did the right thing,” Gill said. “At that moment, he valued that suspect’s life, and he put his life in danger on the threshold of a fatal situation in order to serve his community.”
Pectol is back in custody at the Utah State Prison.
Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the UNI CrisisLine at 801-587-3000.