Family Asks 10th Circuit to Revive Suit Over Salt Lake City Police Killing

A screenshot of the moment before a Salt Lake City police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Dillon Taylor, who was unarmed. (Salt Lake City Tribune via YouTube)

DENVER (CN) — The family of a 20-year-old Salt Lake City, Utah, man killed by police while on a 7-Eleven run appealed a federal judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit during a teleconference with a 10th Circuit panel Wednesday.

On Aug. 11, 2014, Officer Bron Cruz responded to a 911 call about two suspicious Hispanic men with a gun walking down the street. When Cruz arrived, Dillon Taylor walked away from police while Taylor’s cousin and brother held their hands up. In less than a minute, Cruz left his car, ran after Taylor and shot him twice.

Cruz said he thought Taylor was reaching for a gun, but the 20-year-old was unarmed and wearing earbuds.

Taylor’s surviving family sued the city and Cruz in 2015, claiming a violation of Taylor’s Fourth Amendment rights.

In 2019, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer, appointed by Barack Obama, granted qualified immunity to Cruz — a question Taylor’s family argue should be answered by a jury.

On behalf of the Estate of Dillon Taylor, Los Angeles-based attorney Mark Geragos listed disputes of material fact between officers’ account of the incident and his clients’ claims.

Calling in from Utah, Obama-appointed U.S. Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh asked whether the encounter was voluntary.

“The body cam tells it all,” Geragos replied. Since the Salt Lake City Tribute posted bodycam footage to YouTube, he said, “People would be astonished that we’re talking about it so clinically when close to everyone who saw it views it as an execution.”

Calling in from Colorado, U.S. Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero — a Bill Clinton appointee — pressed Geragos on the color of Taylor’s clothes and whether they matched the description given to 911 dispatchers. Geragos said that also remains a matter of dispute.

Lucero then pressed Salt Lake City attorney Catherine Brabson.

“You have three youth who are guilty of no crime, when they are approached by the police, it’s a voluntary appearance because the gentlemen haven’t committed a crime, two of them stop, one of them keeps walking. He has earbuds in his ears. In the light most favorable to him at the time that this gentleman is walking down the street, he is killed in cold blood,” Lucero said.

He added: “If you look at the facts in the light most favorable to the appellant, I cannot help but find a material dispute in the evidence that warrants a decision by a jury over summary judgment. I don’t see it, now you dispute otherwise.”

In response, Brabson recalled similarities between the young men and the 911 report. Whether there was reasonable suspicion was neither briefed nor ruled on in the trial court, Brabson said.

“I don’t think whether or not we had the right to detain these individuals should be included with whether or not there was a reasonable use of deadly force, I think those are two separate issues,” Brabson said.

Calling in from Oklahoma, George W. Bush-appointed U.S. Circuit Judge Jerome Holmes disagreed.

“If in fact these are three young men walking around in Salt Lake City, USA, not doing anything wrong, and there isn’t reasonable suspicion to detain them, why doesn’t that make a difference? That means the decedent had every right to turn around from the officer and walk away, doesn’t it?” Holmes asked. “If he had a right to turn around and walk away and he did exercise that right, then help me to understand where the officer then had the right to shoot him.”

Without wavering, Brabson returned to the facts of the case as presented by the police department and Salt Lake City.

“He could have done what his companions did, could have stopped and raised his hands,” Brabson said.

The panel did not indicate how or when it will rule.

“The loss of life is tragic and we try to do everything we can to try to minimize those instances,” Det. Michael Ruff with the Salt Lake City Police Department said. “We don’t like to see anyone lose their lives and obviously all of us feel the lower courts have already affirmed that our officer acted properly.”

Days before the shooting, Taylor said on Facebook that his life had “hit rock bottom.”

“Was told a wise guy never lives to be an adult,” Taylor posted. “I said I rather die young then be an adult,” he wrote. “It’s about my time soon.”

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