UTA officer found ‘justified’ in shooting knife-wielding man who later died

Mar 31, 2023, 1:16 PM | Updated: May 21, 2023, 4:24 pm

(Andrew Adams/KSL TV)...

(Andrew Adams/KSL TV)

(Andrew Adams/KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah Transit Authority police officer who shot a man holding a box cutter in downtown Salt Lake City in September was legally justified in using deadly force, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office announced Friday.

Mark Leonard Lovato, 59, died months later in January. As of Friday, it was still unclear whether he died as a result of being shot. But District Attorney Sim Gill said regardless, it would not have changed his decision about the police shooting.

On Sept. 1, Lovato was involved in a fight with another man near 200 West and 900 South. UTA police officers Preston Fenwick and Ryan Morrill saw the confrontation and went to investigate.

As the officers approached, Lovato walked away. The other man told police that Lovato “had been chasing him with a knife,” according to Gill’s final report. The officers then went after Lovato to question him, but he ignored their commands to stop walking and went around the corner of a building.

When the officers caught up with him, they found Lovato was “swinging and waving a knife around in his right hand, walking in circles, yelling at them and being very aggressive,” according to the report. He was “saying nonsensical things as well (such) as ‘… kill me’ and being very aggressive.” The knife resembled an “industrial-style box cutter.”

Both officers immediately drew their guns. Morrill then decided to switch to his Taser. But in the time he was holstering his gun and preparing to grab his Taser, Lovato “started charging at them. Officer Morrill said that they began backpedaling. Officer Morrill said that the man was swinging the knife around as he came at them,” according to the report.

One witness told police that despite the two officers ordering Lovato at least six or seven times to put the knife down, he “came toward the officer really quickly,” the report says.

On Friday during a press conference to announce his findings, Gill showed surveillance video recorded from a nearby business that showed how quickly Lovato came around a corner and confronted the officers while moving briskly toward them.

Morrill estimated that Lovato was about 4 yards to 5 yards away when Fenwick fired four times, the report states. He later told investigators that he “was pretty certain he was coming at us to cut us with the knife,” the report states.

“(There was) only one logical explanation for him to do that, and to be swinging that as he approached us, and that was to slash us,” Morrill said. “I think his intention was to stab us or slice us.”

In November, Lovato was charged in 3rd District Court in connection with the incident. He was charged with two counts of assault on an officer, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon by a restricted person and failing to stop at the command of police.

On Jan. 19, police were called to a long-term care facility in Midvale where Lovato was found unconscious and he later died. Police were told that Lovato “had many health problems,” the report states. A final report from the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office on the cause of Lovato’s death — including whether the shooting contributed — was pending as of Friday.

“However, our opinions and conclusions about the use of deadly force likely won’t change with the medical examiner’s eventual findings,” Gill said. “We very likely would have reached the same conclusion about the legality of the use of deadly force.”

Based on the totality of the circumstances, Gill said Fenwick was justified in shooting Lovato.

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UTA officer found ‘justified’ in shooting knife-wielding man who later died