KSL INVESTIGATES

Man who fired ‘warning’ shots headed to trial, despite claim of self-defense

Apr 6, 2022, 11:27 AM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 10:00 pm

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah – Black and white video captured by a home security camera shows two vehicles accelerating toward the exit of a Taylorsville townhouse complex as eight gunshots ring out in quick succession.

The video of the July 2020 shooting is a critical piece of evidence in the case that is now expected to advance to trial after a judge’s ruling Wednesday against dismissing the charges based on a claim of self-defense.

Faalae So’o, 39, is accused of firing several shots at the fleeing vehicles, wounding two then 18-year-old women inside an SUV and leaving one of them permanently paralyzed.

Case Background

According to court documents, So’o told police after the two vehicles arrived at the complex, he witnessed a few people in the group vandalizing a neighbor’s car, he thought at least one person might have been armed, and he heard a noise he thought might have been a gunshot.

During a preliminary hearing in May 2021, Detective Zach Bench with the Unified Police Department recalled So’o telling him that So’o began to draw his firearm when a member of the group ran toward him, but then the individual retreated, and the group got back into the vehicles to drive away. According to a transcript of the court hearing, So’o told police someone in the group told him, “We’ll be back.”

The vehicles started to drive away, but then So’o reported seeing brake lights illuminate twice, Bench said. So’o told investigators he was aiming at the tires at the rear of one of the vehicles.

“He called it a warning shot because he wasn’t sure they were going to, you know, come back at that moment, or a later time,” Bench said, according to the transcript.

So’o faces eight felony firearm-related charges, the most serious count being first-degree felony discharge of a firearm with serious bodily injury.

‘I can’t feel my legs’

During the same May hearing, Jatavia Smith testified that she was riding in the back seat of one of the vehicles and thought she and her friends were headed to a party, according to the transcript. She said she had no prior knowledge of plans to make a detour and so she stayed in the SUV while others started to vandalize the car.

“After they broke the windows, I was like, ‘OK. Guys, let’s just go.’ You know. And then we got in the car, and then as we were coming out, we heard a loud bang. And then that’s when started like — really, like, rushing to get out of there,” Smith testified, according to the transcript. “And then that’s when somebody, somewhere started shooting at us.”

According to the transcript, Smith said the final bullet ripped through the car and traveled straight through her T-12 vertebrae, severing her spinal cord and leaving her permanently paralyzed from the belly button down.

“When I first got shot, it felt like someone had slapped me in my back, and then everything went quiet. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t see anything,” she testified. “But then I felt my back wet. And I was like, there’s no way I just sweat this much. So I touch my back, and I look at my hand, and there’s blood all over my hand. And then the first thing I said was, ‘I can’t feel my legs.’”

She said another 18-year-old woman in the car then held up her arm revealing a bullet hole through her elbow.

Utah’s new self-defense law

So’o sought to have the case dismissed under Utah’s new self-defense law that went into effect in May 2021, nearly a year after the shooting. The law triggers a new pre-trial process for cases in which the accused claims self-defense.

Under HB227, prosecutors must now prove by clear and convincing evidence in a pre-trial hearing that the defendant did not act in self-defense or in the defense of others. If prosecutors cannot prove that an individual’s use of force was not justified during the justification hearing, the case is dismissed before it ever goes to a jury.

In November, the KSL Investigators first reported on unintended consequences of the controversial new law, a near copy-paste of a Florida statute.

‘It’s not working’: KSL Investigates unintended consequences of new Utah self-defense law

So’o filed a motion for a justification hearing in July 2021. The hearing was held in December and continued with arguments from attorneys during another hearing on Wednesday.

‘Warning shots are not justified’

During Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutor Melanie Serassio reminded the judge about Smith’s prior testimony.

“It was the last shot that she heard when she then felt herself getting shot,” said Serassio. “So, if even conceivably one shot was justified – which the state argues it was not – eight shots were not justified.”

She argued So’o was angry at the vandals, rather than scared for his safety or the safety of others.

“She’s paralyzed for life based on the defendant’s decision that he was angry at the situation, and that he was going to take this into his own hands and show these people not to come back and not to do anything like this in his, in that complex,” said Serassio.

So’o’s defense attorney, Christine Seaman, noted witness testimony that corroborated So’o’s account of hearing a loud noise that could have been a gunshot, as well as the possibility that one of the individuals had a weapon. She said his actions were reasonable, under the circumstances.

“He didn’t put himself in this situation,” said Seaman. “He didn’t do anything to create this threat, to create the terror that was going on. He was simply trying to get rid of the threat and to deal with it the best that he could.”

Third District Court Judge William Kendall denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the case, saying that evidence presented by prosecutors showed So’o and his family were not in imminent danger when he opened fire.

“Warning shots are not justified under Utah law,” Kendall said.

The ruling represents a win for prosecutors, but under the new law, they are prohibited from relying on the outcome of the justification hearing during a jury trial. So’o will be able to once again claim self-defense.

The decision comes a month after a different judge ruled in favor of a man who also fired shots at a vehicle and claimed self-defense. In that case, a stray bullet narrowly missed a child in a nearby, uninvolved vehicle. The judge said he felt a jury should decide whether the man acted in self-defense, but the new law ‘tied’ his hands.


Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

KSL 5 TV Live

KSL Investigates

Leah Moses...

Annie Knox

Utah lawmakers pass ‘Om’s Law,’ focused on child safety in custody decisions

Utah lawmakers gave final passage to bill requiring judges to consider evidence of domestic violence raised in child custody cases.

2 days ago

Matt Gephardt being shown the double payments that Terry Hutchings has been getting....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Get Gephardt helps homeowner being charged two bills for one security system

Billing for a previous home initially stopped when she sold it, but when she got a new security system from the same provider for her new place a year later it started billing for both.

3 days ago

fences and buildings with an inmate walking on a snowy sidewalk...

Daniella Rivera

New Prison, New Problems: Inside the effort to staff Utah’s new $1 billion prison facility

Utah's new prison cost taxpayers more than a $ 1 billion, yet a scathing audit shows the new facility has been unsafe and still isn't being used as intended. After being granted unprecedented access, the KSL Investigators go inside the new prison for a look at what's being done to fix its new problems.

4 days ago

Neilson-Berg explaining the hassles and trouble she has been going through to get into contact with...

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt helps Google Fiber customer get her internet fixed after customer service calls go nowhere

When a Salt Lake City woman's internet connection went down, and she couldn't get a straight answer as to when it would be back up, she decided to Get Gephardt.

4 days ago

dome and side of the Utah Capitol...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox, KSL TV

Truth Test: Fact-checking claims from lawmakers who voted to make their calendars secret

The KSL Investigators put lawmakers’ statements about a measure that would conceal their calendars through the KSL Truth Test.

4 days ago

Sean Reyes...

Keira Fairmont

Fight for Transparency: KSL’s 15-month long battle to get Sean Reyes’ calendar

Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes still refuses to release his professional calendar despite State Records Committee and Judge’s orders. Now Utah Lawmakers have passed a bill to seal all public officials’ calendars.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Man who fired ‘warning’ shots headed to trial, despite claim of self-defense