Utah officers’ actions in 2 police shootings were legally justified, report says

Dec 9, 2022, 3:44 PM
The Salt Lake County district attorney concluded Friday that the actions of officers involved in tw...
The Salt Lake County district attorney concluded Friday that the actions of officers involved in two separate 2021 police shootings in South Jordan and Salt Lake City were legally justified. (Steve Griffin/Deseret News)
(Steve Griffin/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Police officers involved in two separate shootings in 2021 were legally justified in using deadly force, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office announced Friday.

One of those shootings nearly resulted in the death of an officer.

On May 20, 2021, members of the U.S. Marshals Service’s Violent Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team were attempting to take wanted fugitives Valerie Humphrey and Epifanio Anthony Welch into custody. Strike team members surrounded a residence at 1602 W. Wright Circle and learned the two wanted people were armed, according to the district attorney’s report.

“VFAST was briefed on information that Ms. Humphrey had made suicide-by-cop statements, Mr. Welch had white supremist ties, and they were both possibly armed and had threatened to ‘shoot it out’ with police,” the report states.

When the couple refused commands to come out of the house, nonlethal pepper balls — similar to pepper spray — were shot into the home, the report states.

“Almost immediately, shots were fired toward the officers from inside the window. Two strike team team members — agent Nathan Young and detective Marcus Beckstead — returned fire. Ms. Humphrey and Mr. Welch eventually surrendered without further incident. No injuries were sustained,” according to the report.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says the officers took cover behind a police truck as they were being shot at, “and the truck was struck by bullets. …Protocol investigators later located 13 impact marks to the exterior front passenger side hood,” with some of those marks possibly caused by shots from police, the report states.

The two officers fired a total of 24 rounds, with one firing 18 shots, the report says. In the house, investigators recovered four loaded handguns from the suspects.

“Mr. Welch later pleaded guilty to criminal offenses in relation to this matter and admitted that he ‘fired multiple shots from a firearm at officers, attempting to harm them as well as to impede them from arresting my companion and I,'” according to the report.

The second police shooting that Gill determined to be legally justified happened on Nov. 26, 2021. Both the suspect and a South Jordan police officer were injured.

South Jordan police went to 10424 S. Tarali Court (1875 West) in an attempt to locate Malui Salesi Vehikite, 29, of South Jordan, who was wanted on several outstanding felony warrants. The officers were allowed inside the house by a family member to look for Vehikite.

Body camera video recorded by the officer who was shot shows that while he was looking in the basement, the officer pushed a door to a bathroom open and then heard someone from behind the door say, “Back up.” As the officer backed up into an adjacent bedroom, Vehikite exited the bathroom, pointed his gun at a police sergeant and then shot a second officer, according to charging documents.

South Jordan police officer Caleb Wilson was one of the two men who confronted Vehikite.

“At about the same time that Mr. Vehikite fired, officer Wilson also fired his handgun and then fell to the ground, having been shot in the upper leg by Mr. Vehikite,” the district attorney’s report states.

South Jordan police said the shot to Wilson’s leg severed his femoral artery and nearly killed him.

The injured officer “suffered a single gunshot wound to his leg that shattered his femur and severed his femoral artery. His injury was found to be potentially fatal had he not received proper and exigent medical treatment,” charging documents state.

As Vehikite tried to escape by running out of the room and to the stairs, he was met by officer Garrett Williams.

“Mr. Vehikite put both hands on his gun and raised it at officer Williams, who immediately fired at him. Mr. Vehikite fell to the ground,” the report states.

Vehikite was then taken into custody and was charged with attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; two counts of assault on a police officer, a second-degree felony; and possession of a firearm by a restricted person, a third-degree felony. The case is still pending in 3rd District Court.

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Utah officers’ actions in 2 police shootings were legally justified, report says