Salt Lake City police shooting of man who set yard on fire was justified, D.A. rules

After the shooting, authorities found over 100 rounds of ammunition littered across the floor of the man’s home.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speaks during a news conference on Friday, March 10, 2023. Gill ruled on May 12 that two officers were justified when they shot a man who had pointed a shotgun at them in July 2022.

Salt Lake City officers were justified when they shot a man who set fire to his front yard in July 2022 and threatened to shoot first responders, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Friday.

Before the police shooting, emergency dispatchers received a 911 call at about 8:03 p.m. on July 9, 2022, when a neighbor reported that Peter Michael Larsen, 44 at the time, was burning his fence down, according to call audio released in August.

Firefighters had responded to the residence earlier that day to put out a separate grass fire, and Larsen had told a fire official at the time that he “did not want to talk to the police and that they could go f--- themselves,” according to a letter Gill released Friday outlining his findings.

While crews were cleaning up from that first fire, Larsen had watched them from his porch while playing with a large Bowie knife, the findings letter states.

When firefighters responded to the second fire that evening, they requested assistance from Salt Lake City police just a few minutes after they arrived due to an “aggressive male” who “threatened to shoot” them, the findings letter states.

Officer Taylor Adair arrived at the home at about 8:19 p.m., where an emergency responder told Adair that Larsen had threatened to shoot anyone who stepped onto his property, body camera footage shows. Larsen claimed he had a shotgun, the responder said, though it wasn’t yet clear if Larsen actually did.

Adair then grabbed a rifle from his patrol car and tried to communicate with Larsen over a loudspeaker while another officer who saw Larsen on the south side of the home began yelling commands. The officer noted Larsen was “flipping him off,” the findings letter states.

The shooting

(Salt Lake City Police Department) Body camera footage shows an officer point a firearm at the residence of Peter Larsen, who police said threatened to shoot first responders, on July 9, 2022.

Officers continued to monitor Larsen’s movements as they issued commands for about 30 minutes, the findings letter states.

At about 8:52 p.m., Adair, armed with the rifle, and officer Carson Jones, armed with a handgun, were both in a neighbor’s backyard when Larsen emerged from his backdoor with a shotgun, police said.

The officers yelled at Larsen to drop his weapon and show his hands; Larsen did not listen but went back inside, Adair said in a statement to the district attorney’s office.

But when Larsen came back out, he “raised and leveled the shotgun” at them, Jones said in his statement to prosecutors. Jones then fired two shots from his handgun, and Adair fired 12 shots from his rifle.

Larsen was shot in both hands and retreated back into his home.

“The first time he came out with a shotgun... it wasn’t an immediate danger,” Jones said in his statement. “Once it became an immediate danger [when the shotgun was pointed at them], that’s when we took lethal action.”

After the shooting, authorities were able to enter the house and take Larsen into custody, the findings letter states.

The evidence

Prosecutors determined that Larsen likely did not shoot any rounds, but one spent cartridge casing was found alongside where Larsen had dropped his shotgun on his back porch.

Inside the home, authorities found an overturned bucket of ammunition in the front entryway, with over 100 unspent rounds littered across the floor.

“What was really alarming to me when I saw this as we went through, was that it could have gotten really out of control very quickly,” Gill said Friday. “Because the amount of ammunition that he had there — within reach ... right inside of the door.”

Larsen pleaded guilty to one felony count of assault on a police officer and one felony count of arson in November 2022. He was sentenced to an indeterminate term of 1-15 years in prison.

Gill’s office will not file charges against the officers.

“I think this was a lawful use of lethal force under our statutory framework,” Gill said Friday. “I just want to commend and point out that the statements that were provided by [officers] helps us fill that crucial gap that otherwise is missing. ... It really flushes it out for us, for the community of citizens that are rightfully curious about what happened.”