DA Determines Officer’s Use Of Deadly Force In SLC Incident Not Justified
Mar 5, 2021, 1:10 PM | Updated: 8:33 pm
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office on Friday announced an officer’s use of deadly force in a March 2020 incident was unjustified.
The incident in question happened March 21, 2020, when a driver who fled from police was shot and killed in Taylorsville.
A letter from D.A. Sim Gil to SLCPD Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera identified the officer as Unified Police officer Omar Flores. The victim was identified as Byan Ulysses Pena-Valencia.
At the time, officers had responded to reports of gunfire when they observed a vehicle they described as “suspicious.” The vehicle fled before crashing, and the driver – Pena-Valencia – fled on foot.
Officers Flores and Shane Scrivner pursued him through the back yards of a nearby neighborhood. At one point, Pena-Valencia reportedly reached into the pocket of his hoodie, and Flores told him to show his hands or he’d use deadly force. Pena-Valencia then withdrew his hand and threw an object over the fence.
Pena-Valencia allegedly did not follow Flores’ commands to show his hands and get on the ground.
“The officers said that the man suddenly diverted his attention from Officer Flores to Officer Scrivner,” according to the D.A.’s statement. “Officer Flores said he ‘immediately felt an overwhelming fear for my partner’s life and my own.'”
Flores repeated the command for Pena-Valencia to show his hands.
“Officer Flores said the man ‘did not comply and quickly moved both of his hands down towards the left side of his waste,'” according to the D.A. “Officer Flores said he ‘thought or believed (Pena-Valencia) was reaching for a firearm and (Officer Flores) would be shot.'”
“I feared for the lives and safety of the public and neighbors in the area,” Flores is reported as saying. “I fired my firearm multiple times and watched the suspect fall to the ground.”
Medical personnel responded, but Pena-Valencia died at the scene. It was determined he did not have a gun.
“In this case, although Officer Flores testified about his observations, inferences, beliefs and conclusions that caused him to decide to use deadly force, he nevertheless was factually, objectively wrong about the necessity for him to use deadly force,” the D.A.’s statement reads. “Mr. Valencia did not and could not have threatened Officer Flores or Officer Scrivner with death or serious bodily injury because Mr. Valencia did not have the means to do so. Mr. Vaencia did not have a gun and could not have shot either officer.”
Although the incident was deemed not justified, Flores will not face charges due to the lack of body camera footage.
“After determining the facts do not support the affirmative legal defense of justification, we reviewed the evidence and considered whether Officer Flores should be charged criminally for his use of deadly force,” according to the D.A. “We determined we lacked proof of the required criminal intent to support a criminal charge. We also determined we lacked sufficient quantity and quality of evidence to support each element of a criminal charge.”