SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The family of a man shot and killed by Ogden police one month ago shared their home surveillance footage of the incident Monday afternoon and said they believe officers used excessive lethal force.
On August 16th, Ogden Police said they received a call of a man with a knife searching through cars around 9 p.m. Upon arrival, officers approached the driveway of Jovany Mercado‘s house with guns drawn.
As Mercado walked out from his driveway with a knife in hand, body camera footage showed officers ordering him multiple times to drop the knife. Mercado didn’t comply and four officers fired multiple shots, killing him on-scene.
Last Tuesday during a city council meeting, Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt said he stood by his officers’ actions. He said they would be returning to work after the Weber County Attorney verbally told him that they would be cleared in the investigation.
“The aggressive posture, the speed at which [Mercado] was covering the ground, and the inability of the officers to move further away in that very narrow time frame of roughly 8 to 10 seconds, gave them no other options,” Chief Watt told ABC4 News in an exclusive interview Friday. “[Mercado’s] actions demanded that they take immediate action to stop this violent threat to them and the other people there.”
Mercado’s family and their attorney, Robert Sykes disagreed. In a press conference Monday afternoon at Sykes’ office, they shared their home surveillance footage of the incident.
“Of course [Chief Watt] is going to say that. But the facts speak for themselves. That’s a fact. He was never expecting that we had video footage. He thought it was going to be my word against their word,” said Mercado’s father, Juan.
“I think that’s just pure unadulterated baloney. That’s just baloney,” said Sykes. “You see no lunging, running, or sudden movement towards these officers. They were a safe distance away.”
Chief Watt said no one knew what Mercado was thinking or what his intentions were, and that his officers shouldn’t have to take that chance.
“People think that police can control an individual and therefore, control an outcome of these events and we can’t. The individual involved is the one who ultimately decides how it’s going to end,” he said. “They do not have to wait to be stabbed, shot, hit with a rock in order to determine whether or not the person attacking them has that end result in mind. In this specific case, there was insufficient time to do anything other than have the officers deal with the immediate threat to their lives and the lives of the other people on scene.”
Sykes said they are waiting for the toxicology report from the medical examiner’s office, but for now, they don’t know why Mercado did not comply with police orders. But Sykes argued noncompliance does not justify lethal force from officers.
“The law is very clear. You can’t use deadly force on a non-compliant citizen. It’s in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 case, Tennesse v. Garner,” he said.
Mario Arras, the Mercado family’s other attorney said the 911 call indicated there was a disoriented man walking with a knife and officers should have taken that into consideration.
“The officers had the benefit of knowing this individual had not acted aggressively towards anyone. They had the benefit of knowing he was disoriented based on the 911 call,” said Arras. “They have the benefit of knowing that it is a knife that he’s holding. They even say it in their footage, ‘Drop the knife.’ It’s not that they said, ‘Let me see that item. What do you have there? Drop it!’ We know it’s a knife. They know it’s a knife.”
The Mercado family’s home surveillance footage shows several of his family members coming outside from the house after the shooting. His father, Juan said his wife, Rosa witnessed the whole thing.
“It’s horrible. No parent should be going through what we’re going through. It was an assassination what they did,” he said. “After the first or second shot, he dropped the knife. Why would they keep shooting? They could have easily killed someone else.”
In the past 19 months, Chief Watt said his police department handled 24,856 violent or potentially violent encounters. Out of that number, he said officers only used firearms to resolve the incident six times. They also used less-than-lethal force 128 times.
“We have successfully tasered many people. We have successfully utilized pepper spray. We have successfully utilized bean bags. We’ve successfully utilized a wide series of force options that we have here at the police department,” he said.
Sykes said he believes that race may have been a factor in the shooting.
“In my experience, so many of these shootings have occurred with people of color. It’s disturbing to me. People of color getting shot by the police. I don’t know if there was a racial motive here or not,” he said. “But I can tell you this. If that had been a white, young man. I don’t think he’d been shot. I just don’t.”
The Mercado’s family attorneys said they hope to come to a settlement outside of court with Ogden Police Department. But if that doesn’t happen, they plan on filing a civil rights wrongful death lawsuit.
“If I would have lost my son due to the fact that he got in a wreck, I would probably find peace. But the way my son was taken away from me,” said Juan Mercado as he shook his head.
“The family really wants is some kind of change in the way they handle the events like this. Better training, better supervision, better execution,” said Sykes.