Officers justified in shooting of Pioneer Park stabbing suspect, prosecutors say

Prosecutors said Rezek Yaqub Yahya stabbed a woman after she asked him for a lighter and charged at officers with the knife.

(Salt Lake City Police Department via YouTube) This screenshot shows police shooting at a man armed with a knife in Pioneer Park, Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Prosecutors determined two Salt Lake City officers were legally justified in fatally shooting a man who ran at them with a knife three months ago in Pioneer Park.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Friday that prosecutors came to that decision after reviewing video of the June 10 confrontation with 39-year-old Rezek Yaqub Yahya. They also spoke with witnesses and the two officers who opened fire.

“Our conclusion was that it was not unreasonable for the officers in this situation to use deadly force,” Gill said, “[and] that it was reasonable for them to be in fear for their life and the safety of others as well.”

Utah law says an officer can use deadly force when he or she “reasonably believes” it is “necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury.”

Officers Nathan Harward and Darren Austill were called to the park around 8:45 a.m. June 10 to investigate a report that a woman had been stabbed.

The woman, whose name was not released, survived the stabbing and told investigators that Yahya attacked her after she asked him for a cigarette lighter. He pulled a knife and said, “This ain’t f------ 7-Eleven,” then stabbed her in the arm, she said.

As the woman backed away, she said Yahya followed and stabbed her in the stomach. He stabbed her multiple times, she told investigators.

As the two responding officers arrived, body camera footage shows men helping the wounded woman. The men pointed out Yahya to police as the woman’s attacker. He was sitting about 100 yards away from them, beneath a tree in the park.

Video shows that Yahya stood up when he noticed the officers. Harward saw a knife in Yahya’s hand.

“Yo, put the knife down,” Harward said. Yahya didn’t respond and began walking toward the officers.

Harward told Yahya to drop the knife twice over the next 10 seconds. Then, video shows, Harward told Austill to get out his Taser. Almost simultaneously, Yahya ran toward Austill.

Gill said Yahya ran more than 108 feet in six seconds. Austill fired three times, and Harward fired once. Yahya was hit twice and died. Neither officer unholstered their Tasers.

Austill told investigators that he thought Yahya was trying to kill him.

“He was coming after me. He was locked on me the whole time,” Austill said. “He had the knife in his right hand, he wouldn’t comply with orders to get down or drop the knife, and ... for sure he was coming after me to do harm, just like he’d done to the lady previously.”

Gill said Friday that he didn’t know Yahya’s state of mind that day. Investigators haven’t received his toxicology results and haven’t found family members or friends familiar with his medical history.

Police found Yahya’s wallet and a cellphone in his pocket as well as a folding pocketknife with 4-inch blade near his body. They also found a black suitcase with clothes, other documents, a large knife, a small hatchet and a plane ticket in Yahya’s name to travel to Chad, Africa, inside. He would have arrived two days before the shooting.

The police shooting marked the 14th this year, according to a database maintained by the Salt Lake Tribune. Since Yahya was shot, Utah police have shot at an additional seven people.

This time last year, there had been 22 police shootings. Utah police had shot at 30 people by the end of last year, tying a record-high.