More Conflicting Details Emerge in Utah Case of Police Drawing Gun on Child
WOODS CROSS, Utah — After witnessing a police officer point his gun at a young black boy during a search for potentially violent men last week, Jaxon Wood didn’t want to be anywhere near the scene.
Wood, 19, and his three friends were driving by the Woods Cross home when they saw a half dozen police cars flip U-turns and speed down the street.
“The black kid was there, but they all just passed him except this one cop. He hopped out of his car and pointed the gun at him. The kid froze there and dropped, then his family came out,” he said.
Wood didn’t want any part of the situation because he is black. He spent the next couple of hours at his friend’s house. He said he didn’t feel comfortable going back to the area.
“I’m not sure racism is involved, but I just wanted to play it safe,” he said.
Meantime, the city of Woods Cross has retained Heather White with the Salt Lake law firm Snow, Christensen & Martineau, who issued a two-page statement Wednesday on behalf of the police department.
According to the statement, Woods Cross Police Chief Chad Soffe has now requested that the Davis County Attorney’s Office conduct a full investigation into whether the officer committed any criminal wrongdoing, and “whether the officer inappropriately acted based on racial profiling.”
Soffe said Monday that he asked the county attorney to “review” the incident, making clear it wasn’t going to be an investigation. Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said the next day that his office doesn’t do reviews and if the matter were referred to him, his office would conduct a criminal investigation.
The city, the police chief and the officer are troubled by accusations that the officer acted inappropriately due to “racial animus,” according to the statement.
The 10-year-old boy’s mother Jerri Hrubes, the local NAACP chapter, and the group Mormon Women for Ethical Government have called for an independent investigation. Organizers for Black Lives Matter Utah called for the officer to be fired.
While Wood said he doesn’t know if racism is involved, he believes the child’s race was part of the reason why the officer confronted him.
The officer took action in a dangerous, rapidly developing situation based on the description of one of the suspects as black and that the suspect was last seen running in the immediate vicinity, the statement said. He “reasonably” concluded that he had “at least reasonable suspicion, if not sufficient probable cause,” to detain the “young man.”
“Police officers are human and sometimes they make mistakes. However, where those mistakes are reasonable, the law forgives them. Such a mistake occurred here,” according to the statement.
On Monday, Soffe said the officer followed police training and protocol and acted within department policy.
Two felt compelled to speak out
Wood and Garrett Buchanan, 19, were among four young men who came across the chaotic scene on their way to a convenience store for drinks. While at least one of them have spoken to the media about what he saw, Wood and Buchanan had not until Wednesday.
Now a week after the June incident, the two friends said they are speaking out because they want to help the boy’s family and police have all the information, or as Buchanan said “smooth out the edges,” about what happened.
“He’s just a little kid, like honestly, that’s why I kind of wanted to stand out and speak up,” Wood said.
Both Wood and Buchanan said neither Woods Cross police nor any other authority have asked them about what they saw.
“We’re the only ones who saw anything happen,” Wood said. “I feel like they should talk to us about it.”
The officer who pulled his gun on DJ Hrubes outside the boy’s house was searching for suspects in what was reported to police as a shooting in neighboring Centerville.
Jerri Hrubes said she believes the incident was racially motivated and a case of “clear prejudice” against her son. She described DJ as mentally delayed and sight-impaired.
Conflicting stories continue to emerge
Conflicting stories continue to emerge about the encounter. The officer did not activate his body camera before approaching the boy.
- Witnesses and police accounts differ about whether DJ ran and what happened before the gun was drawn.
Soffe said the boy started running across the front lawn when the officer pulled over and told him he wanted to talk to him. He said the officer drew his gun and told the boy get on the ground, “thinking that this is one of the suspects.”
Once the officer realized the boy was not the suspect, he holstered his gun as the boy’s mother, Jerri Hrubes, came out of the house, Soffe said.
On the day of the incident, Woods Cross Police Lt. Adam Osoro said DJ Hrubes ran around behind the house after he was confronted. The officer thought the boy might run or jump the fence but said he did not draw his gun until after he had followed DJ around the side of the house.
Wood and Buchanan said they did not see the boy run. They said he looked scared and in shock.
- There’s also conflicting accounts of when the officer drew his gun and whether he pointed it at the boy.
According to Wednesday’s statement from White, the boy began running toward the officer, leading the officer to draw his gun and point it in his direction in a “low-ready” position, which Soffe said is about a 45-degree angle.
Wood, however, said the officer “as soon as he jumped out of the car, like no questions asked, he pointed it at the kid.” Wood and Buchanan said the officer’s arms were raised to about chest level.
“I would say the gun was pointed at him when he was standing and on the ground,” Buchanan said.
Jerri Hrubes and DJ’s older sister Farah both said the officer pointed the gun at DJ’s head.
Isaac Parry, who was also in the car with Wood and Buchanan, said last week that the officer called out to the boy while pointing his gun at the child. DJ “immediately” put his hands in the air and went down to the ground “as if he threw himself to the ground, face down.” DJ was shaking and “appeared very, very nervous,” he said.
Wood said he’s heard “three different” versions about the incident. “I really don’t know how to put this, but we’re telling the truth,” he said.
- There are also varying reports of what the suspects looked like and what descriptions the officer who pulled his gun had received.
On the day of the incident, Osoro also said one person suspected in a shooting incident who had fled from police was Hispanic, but the race of the second suspect was unknown by officers. On Monday, Soffee said two of the people officers were searching for that day had been described as black.
Yet in Wednesday’s statement from White, it said police monitoring the pursuit were told “one of the suspects was Hispanic and the other was black.”
‘No racial profiling … at all’
Woods Cross Mayor Rick Earnshaw said based on his discussion with the police chief, the officer acted on the description of the suspects that he had and followed protocol.
“I just feel like he was just doing his duty in pursuit of an armed suspect,” he said. “There is no racial profiling in this situation at all.”
As far as the discrepancies in the description of the events, Earnshaw said, “I think everyone views the situation according to their own perspective.”
Buchanan said the incident could have a lasting effect on people in the community “as to how fast cops react to something so slim and how fast suspects react who are innocent and haven’t done anything.”
“I would hope the police department would understand how big of a problem this is across the nation and how quickly it could go wrong,” he said.
Earnshaw said the police chief “arbitrarily” mentioned the county attorney’s office at a press conference Monday as the agency that would “review” the incident. He said Soffe is new to Davis County and didn’t know the county attorney’s policy.
Earnshaw, however, said he does not feel an investigation into the officer’s actions is necessary.
“We don’t believe that there’s a need for any criminal investigation, and I understand where Troy (Rawlings) is coming from, because nothing criminally was done,” he said.
The mayor said the city retained the law firm because of the threat of a lawsuit.
Karra Porter, an attorney for the family, said the Hrubes family would consider suing if there isn’t an investigation and if there aren’t other options to get the facts.