UTA officer who shot man near Salt Lake City TRAX station was justified, D.A. rules

Mark Lovato, 59, was shot “multiple” times, police said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill during a news conference on March 10, 2023. Gill announced on Friday, March 31, 2023, that a Utah Transit Authority officer was justified when he fired his weapon at a man in September near a TRAX station.

A Utah Transit Authority police officer was justified when he shot a man “multiple” times in September near a Central Ninth neighborhood TRAX station, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Friday.

The man shot, later identified as 59-year-old Mark Leonard Lovato, was suspected of threatening another person with a knife. He died months later at a long-term health care facility in Midvale, according to a letter Gill wrote detailing prosecutors’ findings.

As of Friday, it remains unclear whether the police shooting contributed to Lovato’s eventual death.

The Sept. 1 confrontation began when two UTA officers witnessed an altercation between Lovato and another person near the 200 West and 900 South TRAX station, Gill’s letter states.

When the officers approached the two men, Lovato walked around a corner. The other person told the officers that Lovato had been chasing him with a knife, the letter states.

The two officers then followed Lovato around the corner and ordered him to stop and talk with them. Lovato did not stop and continued around the corner of a building, according to the letter.

When the officers followed Lovato around the second corner, Lovato began swinging a box cutter-style knife at them and was “walking in circles” while saying “nonsensical things” like “f---ing kill me,” the letter states. The officers then drew their weapons and repeatedly ordered Lovato to drop the knife, but Lovato did not comply.

At one point, Lovato began walking toward them and paused, so one of the officers went for his Taser instead, but Lovato then charged at the officers with the blade.

The officers attempted to backpedal, but Lovato “quickly closed the distance” between them, the letter states. That’s when UTA officer Preston Fenwick, who still had his weapon drawn, fired at least four rounds at Lovato, according to evidence at the scene.

The multiple gunshots Lovato suffered were described as “non-fatal” in Gill’s finding letter. He was treated at a hospital, but died months later on Jan. 19 at the Midvale health care facility, where he was found unconscious, the letter states. A doctor at the facility said he knew Lovato had “many health problems,” the letter notes.

As of Friday, findings from the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner regarding Lovato’s death were still pending.

“We accept that, had Mr. Lovato died at the scene, we very likely would have reached the same conclusion about the legality of the use of deadly force,” Gill wrote in his letter. “And, if the medical examiner determines the [police shooting] contributed to Mr. Lovato’s eventual death and categorizes his death as a homicide, such a conclusion would not alter our findings.”

Before he died, Lovato told investigators in a Sept. 21 interview that the UTA officers were harassing him. He said he was shot at for “no reason” when he went to throw some garbage away, but alleged there were four total officers involved in the shooting.

He was charged in November with two felony counts of assault on a police officer with a dangerous weapon, one count of aggravated assault, and one count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person.