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DA: Officer not justified in shooting at hit-and-run suspect

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC 4 NEWS) - Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has determined that a West Valley City police officer was not justified in shooting at a hit-and-run suspect.
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC 4 NEWS) - Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has determined that a West Valley City police officer was not justified in shooting at a hit-and-run suspect.

On Tuesday May 24, police say West Valley City Police Officer Jared Cardon was conducting a traffic stop in the area of 5300 West and 3500 South, when a vehicle not too far away swerved off the road and struck a fence and a woman riding her bicycle.

The woman on the bicycle only sustained minor injuries, according to police, who added that when witnesses came to help the victim, the driver, Jose Contreras, began to flee and almost hit one of them.

Police say Cardon, who was conducting the traffic stop, noticed what was happening and quickly reacted to the situation. At the time, Cardon claimed that the vehicle was driving towards him as the driver accelerated.

According to West Valley City Police, Cardon claimed to have been fearful for his life, which led him to fire rounds from his gun at the vehicle Contreras was driving. Contreras did not hit the officer as he fled, nor did any of the shots fired by Cardon hit Contreras.

Police say Contreras continued to flee, and abandoned the vehicle in a nearby neighborhood and fled on foot.

Police say other officers chased Contreras and caught him.

The West Valley City Police Department Investigations Section and investigators from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office both investigated the incident, and determined that Cardon was not justified in using deadly force by firing rounds into the vehicle driven by Contreras.

Cardon was placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

Contreras has been booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on charges of aggravated assault, hit and run, felony fleeing, various traffic violations and warrants.

According to the DA's report, Cardon claimed that Contreras aimed the vehicle at him as he fled the scene, but investigators, relying in evidence gathered from the scene and the vehicle, along with witness testimony, determined that Contreras swerved around Cardon.

The DA's conclusion states:

Cardon used deadly force against Contreras when he discharged his firearm at the vehicle driven by Contreras because it presented a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to Contreras. Under the circumstances of this case, Cardon would be justified in using that deadly force against Contreras only if Cardon reasonably believed that it was necessary to prevent Contreras from causing his death or serious bodily injury.

While Cardon states that Contreras posed such a threat because he drove his vehicle directly at him, the testimony of all the witnesses to the incident consistently described that Contreras was driving around Cardon and not directly at him. While the distance between the vehicle and Cardon was not great, it was sufficient to not cause a reasonable office to perceive any threat. Indeed, that seems to have been appreciated by Cardon since he appeared to advance toward the vehicle as it was passing him.

Furthermore, the physical evidence does not support Cardon’s contention that Contreras drove directly at or swerved at him. The position of the parked vehicles and the angle at which Contreras would have had to take relative to the parked vehicle and the location of Cardon make that contention unreasonable.

Accordingly, for all the foregoing reasons, the District Attorney’s Office concludes that Officer Cardon’s use of deadly force against Jose Contreras was not justified.

Latino Community Leader Tony Yapias welcomes this conclusion from the District Attorney's office.  He says, "The fact that the District Attorney's office now is viewing these shootings more in-depth perhaps, or more scrutiny going on I think that's good for the public."  He adds, "The fact that the District Attorney's office has deemed two shootings in less than a month or so proves to me that there's a lot of things going on with law enforcement that they need to review their policies in terms of when they have to use deadly force."

Gill's office said that charges against Cardon may be considered.

The findings in the Cardon-Contreras incident as unjustified use of deadly force by an officer is the second  such result from Gill's office in the past two weeks.

On July 7, Gill's office also determined that a Salt Lake City officer was not justified in shooting a teen car theft suspect back on May 8.


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