Originally published on January 5, 2015, at NationofChange.org
The family of a young man carrying a souvenir sword has filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging police officers used excessive force when gunning down their son. Contrary to initial reports, 22-year-old Darrien Hunt had been running away from the officers when they shot him to death. Although the officers were equipped with a body-cam, a lapel microphone, and a dash-cam, none of the devices recorded the incident.
Around 9:45am on September 10, 2014, Darrien Hunt was walking in front of a Top Stop gas station when two Saratoga Springs police officers approached him. Responding to a 911 call about a suspicious person carrying a samurai-type sword, Cpl. Matthew Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson confronted Hunt who had been cosplaying as the character Mugen from the anime series “Samurai Champloo.”
Included in Hunt’s autopsy report is a narrative of the shooting based on information gathered from Utah County attorney’s office investigators Gregg Knapp and Mark Dell’Ergo. According to the narrative, the first officer exited his vehicle and Hunt charged at him swinging the replica sword. But an eyewitness named Jocelyn Hansen took a photo of Hunt speaking calmly with the officers before hearing gunshots.
“When I first saw [police] interviewing the young man, I felt like they were very professional. They were keeping their distance, their voices were not raised…” recalled Hansen. “I looked up. There were shots, and there was a chase.”
According to an unsealed Utah County attorney’s affidavit, Cpl. Schauerhamer asked Hunt to place the sheathed sword on his patrol car, but Hunt refused. After explaining that he was looking for a ride to Orem, Hunt rejected an offer to ride in their patrol car. According to the documents, Hunt suddenly unsheathed the sword and charged at Schauerhamer.
Schauerhamer drew his .40-caliber handgun and began firing at Hunt as Judson backed away from him. After firing three shots at Hunt, the officers chased him across a parking lot before firing four more shots at him. Of the seven shots fired, six came from Schauerhamer’s gun. Judson only fired once.
According to Utah medical examiner Pamela Ulmer and an independent autopsy report, police officers shot Hunt six times. The bullets struck Hunt in the right upper arm, right forearm, left upper arm, left elbow, left hip, and back. At least four of the shots hit Hunt as he was fleeing, and at least two of the bullets hit him in a downward trajectory.
Although surveillance footage from the Top Stop gas station, Wal-Mart, and Panda Express did not capture the initial confrontation, the videos recorded Hunt running from the officers after being shot at least twice. Blurred video footage makes it difficult to determine whether Hunt was carrying the sword as he fled, but Hansen believed she saw him holding two weapons.
“They looked about the length of a 2 x 4.” Hansen recalled. “He had them both out, and he turned and was running away from the police officers.”
The sword belonged to Hunt’s brother, Kerahn Jedidiah “KJ” Hunt. According to family members, the toy sword had a rounded metal blade and had been purchased in a gift shop. Hunt had taken it from KJ’s room and walked toward Top Stop gas station dressed in cosplay. A toxicology report from the State Medical Examiner determined Hunt did not have any drugs in his system at the time of his death.
According to the Utah County attorney’s affidavit, Hunt had recently been fired from his job and his mother had threatened to kick him out of the house by the end of the week unless he found a new job. The document also reported that Hunt posted a Facebook comment on the morning of his death saying, “I have a sword and I’m going to get shot.”
The post is no longer on Hunt’s Facebook page.
Although Judson wore a body-cam, Schauerhamer had a lapel microphone, and there had been a dash-cam in their patrol car, none of their devices recorded the incident. Saratoga Springs Police Chief Andrew Burton admitted many officers did not use the recording devices because insufficient memory space and short battery lives made them unreliable.
“How do you account for the fact the dash-cam in Schauerhamer’s car didn’t work, his lapel mic didn’t work or wasn’t turned on, and Judson’s body-cam wasn’t turned on? Schauerhamer gets a call about this kid walking with a sword and he doesn’t turn on his mic or his dash-cam? It’s just hard to believe. It’s hard to believe, No. 1, that someone could be so incompetent. A darker explanation…is there might have been evidence on there at some point. We’re going to find out,” asserted Robert Sykes, attorney for Hunt’s mother and aunt.
Hunt’s family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Saratoga Springs and the two officers who shot him to death. The law firm representing the City of Saratoga Springs, Cpl. Schauerhamer, and Officer Judson immediately issued a press release stating, “In truth, had Hunt dropped the sword before fleeing, the officers would have continued chasing him on foot.”
But according to department regulations, law enforcement officials only draw their guns to kill.