Body camera video documents less-lethal shotgun resolving tense situation

Jun 20, 2018, 9:54 PM | Updated: 10:42 pm

NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah – A tense situation with a man, who appeared to be armed with a gun, was resolved when an officer from a neighboring police department opened fire with a “less-lethal” shotgun.

On May 24, North Salt Lake officers responded near 50 West and 100 South on a report that a man with a gun had been threatening and detaining a woman and her 5-year-old son inside their home.

Body camera video obtained by KSL showed officers arriving to find 22-year-old Devion Cunningham in the parking lot with what appeared to be a black handgun in his right hand.

“Help us out here!” one officer could be heard yelling in the recording. “Hey, you’ve got a family that wants to have you… yeah, they want you around!”

Court documents state that Cunningham ignored officer commands to drop his gun, at which point Woods Cross police officer Sean Jones fired two less-lethal, “beanbag” rounds at Cunningham, causing him to go to the ground.

“I made the decision to deploy that because I figured everybody else had a lethal option already,” Jones said during an interview Wednesday. “I do believe if this option hadn’t been around, this man probably would have lost his life.”

Instead, the video showed a stunned but still-alive Cunningham being placed into handcuffs moments later.

Jones said he had completed training to become the department’s instructor on the less-lethal shotgun just a day prior to having to use it.

He said the department’s goal was to train and equip all of its officers with the less-lethal option in the coming months.

North Salt Lake Assistant Police Chief Troy Johnson said that department planned to revisit the use of less-lethal devices in the city after the successful outcome.

Cunningham was subsequently charged with first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping, along with misdemeanor charges of domestic violence in the presence of a child, reckless endangerment and interference with an arresting officer.

Charging documents stated that Cunningham admitted that he had “gotten into an argument with the victim and that he ‘did not want to be here anymore.’”

“He stated that he intended for the police to think he had a real gun so they would shoot him,” the documents read. “He said that he called the police and gave them a ‘scenario’ to cause them to believe he had a real gun.”

Jones said he was glad the less-lethal shotgun fulfilled its purpose in sparing a life, and that the department hoped the option would lead to fewer critical incidents.

“The last thing we want to do is take a life,” Jones said. “I mean, we’re prepared to, but if we have any options to avoid doing that, that’s what we’re going to do.”

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Body camera video documents less-lethal shotgun resolving tense situation