8 officers cleared in fatal shooting of Utah prison staffer who killed police K-9

Officers from multiple agencies opened fire on 25-year-old Zachary Alvarenga after pursuing him throughout the day.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill during an August news conference in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake County prosecutors will not charge the eight officers who fatally shot a 25-year-old corrections employee last year, Gill announced Friday, Sept. 22, 2023.

Salt Lake County prosecutors will not charge the eight Utah officers who fatally shot a 25-year-old corrections employee last year after he shot and killed a K-9 police dog and appeared to take aim at officers following an hourslong police pursuit.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his determination, announced Friday, comes after prosecutors reviewed hours of body camera and helicopter footage of the police pursuit and shooting. As part of the investigation, prosecutors also spoke with multiple witnesses, as well as officers who responded that day but did not open fire.

The eight shooting officers — West Jordan officer Taylor Longmore, Sgt. Tyler Webster and detectives Bo Reier and Aaron Curtis; Unified police detectives Cody Pender and Jerry Valdez; and South Jordan officers Wayne Henderson and Jennifer Rosse — all declined to speak with investigators or give a statement, Gill said.

Officers first opened fire on 25-year-old Zachary Alvarenga at about 7 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2022, in a parking lot near 11450 South and Redwood Road in South Jordan. Authorities had been pursuing Alvarenga on and off since 11:30 a.m. that day, when they received a call that he had threatened a woman with a gun.

Police have previously identified the woman as a co-worker. According to a letter Gill wrote explaining prosecutors’ findings, Alvarenga showed up at the woman’s apartment after she told him she didn’t want to “pursue a friendship.” He then confronted her in the complex’s parking lot and flashed a gun at her as she tried to drive away.

The woman called 911, and police soon located Alvarenga’s vehicle and tried to stop it, but he drove off and police stopped the pursuit. The woman’s husband then called police a few hours later, after the couple returned home and again saw Alvarenga in their parking lot. The husband told officers Alvarenga pointed a gun at him.

Police again tried to stop Alvarenga, but he didn’t pull over. Officers then called in a Department of Public Safety helicopter to help surveil Alvarenga as he drove for another two hours, traveling as far south as Springville before returning north to refuel at a South Jordan Costco.

(Paighten Harkins|The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill watches footage during a Sept. 22, 2023, news conference showing the police shooting of Zachary Alvarenga.

As Alvarenga drove, officers gathered more information about him, including that he had been employed as a corrections officer at the Utah state prison since September 2021 and had served in the Utah National Guard.

Officers feared Alvarenga may have a ballistic vest because of his job, Gill wrote in his findings letter.

Police also learned that officers had responded about a week earlier to a report that Alvarenga was suicidal, and investigators later discovered that Alvarenga purchased the gun he would soon use to shoot the police K-9 around that time, the letter states.

When Alvarenga left Costco, officers deployed a tire-deflation device, which Alvarenga ran over before continuing on the last leg of the pursuit. It ended when his tires blew out near 11450 South and Redwood Road. Alvarenga then got out of the car and ran. Officers, including K-9 Maya, followed close behind.

Body camera footage, played at a news conference Friday, shows an officer commanding Maya to “hit that guy.”

As she bites him, Alvarenga fires a shot, fatally striking her in the back. Three pursuing officers — Longmore, Henderson and Rosse — then opened fire, and Alvarenga fell facedown on the ground. Gill wrote they likely fired up to 20 shots.

Other officers soon arrived, and minutes passed as they yelled commands for Alvarenga to show his hands, tactically positioning themselves with shields, rifles and handguns behind nearby police vehicles.

Alvarenga eventually began to reach for his gun with his right hand, although he seemed to struggle, moving lethargically, footage filmed from the helicopter showed. About six minutes after he’d fallen down, Alvarenga propped himself up on his elbow and forearm, moving his head and right hand toward officers.

That’s when five more officers — Webster, Reier, Curtis, Pender and Valdez — all opened fire. Gill wrote they likely fired more than 30 rounds.

“He’s clearly been hit, but he has movement,” Gill said, presenting the footage at the Friday news conference, “and he uses his energy to pull his gun out.”

Alvarenga died at the scene. Evidence indicates that he fired his gun once, when he fatally shot K-9 Maya.