The shooting of a man who was setting fire to a yard in Salt Lake City was justified, prosecutors say

After the shooting, authorities found over 100 rounds of ammunition scattered on the floor of the man’s home.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speaks during a news conference Friday, March 10, 2023. Gill ruled on May 12 that two officers were justified in shooting dead a man, who pointed a shotgun at him in July 2022.

Salt Lake City officials were justified when they shot and killed a man who was setting his front yard on fire in July 2022 and threatened to shoot first responders, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Friday.

Before the police shooting, emergency services leaders received a 911 call around 8:03 p.m. on July 9, 2022, when a neighbor reported that Peter Michael Larsen, then 44, was burning down his fence, according to a call recording released in August.

Firefighters had arrived at the home earlier in the day to put out a separate grass fire and Larsen had told a fire officer at the time that he “didn’t want to talk to the police and that they could kill themselves”. This emerges from a letter that Gill published on Friday, in which he set out his findings.

While firefighters were busy cleaning up after the first fire, Larsen watched them from his porch while he played with a large bowie knife, the report said.

When firefighters responded to the second blaze that night, they called Salt Lake City Police Department for help just minutes after arriving because an “aggressive man” “threatened to shoot them,” the finding letter said.

Officer Taylor Adair arrived at the home around 8:19 p.m., where an emergency responder told Adair that Larsen had threatened to shoot anyone who entered his property, body camera footage showed. Larsen claimed he had a shotgun, the officer in charge said, although it’s not yet clear if Larsen actually has a shotgun.

Adair then grabbed a rifle from his squad car and attempted to communicate with Larsen over a loudspeaker while another officer, seeing Larsen on the south side of the house, began barking orders. The officer found that Larsen “tricked” him, the letter said.

the shoot

(Salt Lake City Police Department) Body camera footage shows an officer pointing a firearm at the home of Peter Larsen, who police say threatened to shoot first responders, on July 9, 2022.

Officers continued to monitor Larsen’s movements for about 30 minutes while issuing orders, the finding letter said.

At approximately 8:52 p.m. Adair, armed with the rifle, and officer Carson Jones, armed with a pistol, were both in a neighbor’s backyard when Larsen emerged from his back door with a shotgun, police said.

The officers shouted at Larsen to drop his gun and show his hands; Larsen did not listen but went back inside, Adair said in a statement to prosecutors.

But when Larsen came back, “he picked up the shotgun and aimed it” at them, Jones said in his statement to prosecutors. Jones then fired two shots with his pistol and Adair fired twelve shots with his rifle.

Larsen was shot in both hands and retreated to his home.

“When he first came out with a shotgun … there was no immediate danger,” Jones said in his statement. “Once it became an imminent danger [when the shotgun was pointed at them]so we took deadly measures.”

After the shooting, the authorities were able to enter the house and take Larsen into custody, according to the report.

The proof

Prosecutors concluded that Larsen probably did not fire any shots, but an empty cartridge case was found next to where Larsen dropped his shotgun on his back porch.

Inside the home, officers found an overturned bucket of ammunition in the front entrance, with over 100 unissued cartridges strewn about.

“What really worried me when I saw that is that it could have gotten out of control very quickly,” Gill said Friday. “Because the amount of ammo he had there – within reach… just inside the door.”

Larsen pleaded guilty to a felony charge of assault against a police officer and a felony charge of arson in November 2022. He was sentenced to an indefinite term of imprisonment from 1 to 15 years.

Gil’s office will not file charges against the officers.

“I think under our legal framework this was a lawful use of deadly force,” Gill said Friday. “I just want to commend and point out that the statements made by [officers] helps us to close the crucial gap that is otherwise missing. … It really drives us, the community of citizens, who are rightfully curious about what happened.”

Justin Scaccy

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