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District Attorney Rules Holladay Police Shooting Legally Justified

SALT LAKE CITY – While releasing the findings of an investigation into a police shooting that happened in Holladay last fall, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill took time to praise the actions of the first officer on the scene.

“This officer was doing everything right,” Gill said about Unified Police Officer Jason Hudgens.

Gill announced that the Officer Involved Critical Incident investigation found that the second officer to arrive, John Saulnier, was legally justified in shooting and injuring Eric Wyatt Pectol.

On the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2020, Hudgens was at a gas station, about to fill up his police SUV, when he witnessed a crash in the intersection of 4500 South and 2300 East.

In Gill’s 27-page report, investigators wrote that Pectol initially stopped at the red light, but then ran the light. A pickup truck then hit the back of Pectol’s motorcycle, knocking him to the ground.

“Officer Hudgens immediately ran over to see if there were any injuries,” the report said. “Mr. Pectol jumped up and began running, and Officer Hudgens yelled, ‘Hey, where you going?’”

Pectol ran a short distance away where Hudgens confronted him again and told him to stop, according to the report.

“An encounter ensued and Mr. Pectol reached down his pants and told Officer Hudgens that he had a gun,” the report said. “Officer Hudgens pointed his handgun at Mr. Pectol and gave him commands.”

Hudgens told investigators he didn’t see a gun on Pectol and decided to switch to a taser during the pursuit.

“At that moment, he valued that person – the suspect’s life – and he put his life in danger,” Gill said.

Gill said Hudgens showed “incredible insightfulness” in making the analysis during a highly dynamic situation

“Here’s a situation when an officer does exactly what they’re trained to do and does it with a kind of professionalism and discipline,” Gill went on to say. “I think that needs to be commended and acknowledged.”

In a field on the northeast corner of the intersection, the report stated that Pectol turned and ran toward Hudgens.

“Officer Hudgens deployed his taser, but the taser had no effect and Mr. Pectol closed the distance,” investigators wrote in the report. “Officer Hudgens continued to move backwards and began transitioning back to his handgun.”

During the struggle, Hudgens fell to the ground and his gun left his hand and landed on the ground, the report said. Pectol immediately ran over and picked up the gun.

Officer Saulnier had arrived at the scene and was watching the fight and told investigators he saw Pectol point the gun at Hudgens and yelled at him to drop the gun. Saulnier said Pectol then turned and pointed the gun at him.

“Officer Saulnier said he saw the muzzle flash and heard the snap of a bullet coming by,” the report said. “Officer Saulnier returned fire, injuring Mr. Pectol.”

Pectol survived and later told investigators he never wanted to hurt police, but wanted police to kill him. He also denied shooting the gun. However, investigators report finding a bullet in a nearby apartment that matches the direction of where Saulnier said Pectol fired the gun.

Gill said his office declined to file criminal charges against Saulnier

“We find Officer Saulnier’s use of deadly force to be justified, and he is entitled to the affirmative legal defense of justification under Utah State law,” Gill’s report said.

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