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Prosecutors say fatal shooting of Kearns man who fired at SWAT team was justified

Dennis Denham’s wife called police after he grabbed a gun and threatened to kill her 15-year-old grandson.

Prosecutors on Friday announced that three police officers were justified in fatally shooting a man in February who opened fired at them in Kearns.

The three officers who opened fire — West Valley City police officers Michael Fugate and Brady Sargent and Unified police’s Bryson Huntington — declined to speak with investigators. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill determined that the shooting was legally justified after reviewing interviews with witnesses and other officers, as well as limited video footage.

Police went to Dennis Denham’s home on Feb. 6 after his wife called police to report that he had a gun and was threatening to kill her 15-year-old grandchild. Denham had been drinking and was upset with the teen for using a laptop.

Gill wrote in a letter about his decision that Denham raised the gun at the teen, who forced it out of his hands. The grandmother then took the gun, but Denham went to a gun safe and retrieved a revolver.

She told dispatchers, “He’s got another one. Hurry.”

Then the woman, the 15-year-old and three younger children all left the house and waited with a neighbor for police. While the woman was on the phone with a dispatcher outside the neighbor’s home, Denham went outside and fired a shot in the air and once at her.

Police officers from Unified responded to the the house and called for backup from West Valley City and West Jordan. UPD officers later called for a SWAT team.

Officers told Denham over a loudspeaker to come outside with his hands up and empty. He came outside a few times with a gun but went back inside each time.

“If you comply, we can guarantee your safety,” an officer said. “If you do not comply, police tactics will be used against you.”

About 45 minutes after police arrived, Denham walked out and fired two shots, at least one of them aimed at police. Fugate, Sargent and Huntington all fired back, hitting Denham three times.

A West Jordan officer, only identified by his last name Fairbanks, told investigators Denham fired quickly after opening the door.

“He’s at the door, he opens it and there’s shots coming,” Fairbanks said.

Denham fell in the doorway and died. Officers fired at last a dozen rounds, hitting Denham three times. An autopsy indicated Denham’s blood alcohol content was 0.215.

This marked the second police shooting in Utah this year, according to a Salt Lake Tribune database. Since then, police here have fired at 19 others.


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