SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The family of the 19-year-old who was killed from injuries sustained in an officer-involved shooting last year with Cottonwood Heights Police filed a civil rights complaint Thursday.
On the morning of May 29, 2018, investigators said Zane James was fleeing from police on a motorbike in Cottonwood Heights after robbing two stores with an ‘airsoft’ or toy gun loaded with BBs.
Complaint documents state Cottonwood Heights Officer Casey Davies pulled up as Zane was fleeing, opened his car door, and shot Zane in the back as he fled, seriously injuring him.
Davies fired four shots, two of which struck Zane.
“Understand this is a crowded neighborhood. This is not on a remote football field somewhere. These are homes all around. So somewhere out in this neighborhood in Cottonwood Heights, there are two bullets lodged somewhere because Davies missed,” said Robert Sykes, the James family attorney.
“At the time of the shooting by Defendant Casey Davies, he was running away and was non-threatening (it later said he had no weapon in his hand). One bullet apparently severed Zane’s spinal cord at C-6. This injury led to his death three days later. The shooting violated Zane’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, 14 of the Utah Constitution,” according to the complaint.
According to the civil rights complaint, James was an accomplished high-level competitive hockey player and academic. After relocating his senior year in high school to play Junior League hockey in the northwest, he sustained two serious concussions which resulted in the end of his hockey career.
Documents stated he became severely and clinically depressed and eventually addicted to opiates as he coped with the long-term physical and emotional symptoms of his concussions, but was actively seeking treatment at the time of the shooting.
“This caused him to experience fear and terror in the last three days of his young life,” it stated.
The complaint said Officer Davies was not dispatched to the scene but joined the pursuit after overhearing the general dispatch. He was not wearing his body camera at the time of the shooting.
“What happened to James was an egregious violation of his constitutional right to be free…free from an unreasonable arrest, from the use of excessive force, and effecting an arrest,” said Sykes.
In legal documents, Zane was said to decline any life-saving methods to be used to preserve his life after realizing that if he lived from his injuries, he would be paralyzed for life form the neck down. He died on May 31st, two days after the shooting.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill had previously stated Officer Davies refused to make a statement to investigators about his decision to shoot Zane, although constitutional under the 5th amendment, made the investigation more difficult. The shooting was eventually ruled justified.
“In the years, decades handling these kinds of cases, I have never had a case where an officer has declined to give a statement,” said Sykes. “Even though he has a constitutional right to do that, it doesn’t make it right.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Aaron and Tiffany James said there were filing a civil rights complaint, hoping to prompt policy change, better training procedures, and transparency within the Cottonwood Heights Police Department.
“Officer Davies served a death sentences to Zane wild west style in our neighborhood. That’s why we’re both sitting here today,” said Aaron James.
“The fact of the matter is we trust our law enforcement to do what’s right – to follow training, to follow procedures and protocols,” said Tiffany James. “On CHPD’s website, they talked about how Officer Davies is a trainer for all these practices (lethal, non-lethal, SWAT), but we’re not seeing any of that training.”
Furthermore, Zane’s parents said Davies’ decision to invoke his 5th amendment right and decline to give a statement left them without closure and a way to heal.
During his time as a former prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, Kent Morgan said it was rare to see a police officer decline to give his full and complete report of the incident.
“The invocation of the 5th amendment would suggest to me as it suggests to the public that there is something going on here that suggests misconduct by that policeman,” said Morgan. “If you do have something that could potentially place you at risk of not only losing your employment, but possible conviction and imprisonment, then as an attorney, I would tell them to invoke their 5th amendment right, regardless how the public feels about that.”
With a deadly year for officer-involved shootings in 2018, Morgan said the refusal of officer testimony only further strains the relationship between the public and law enforcement.
“I do think the public expects agents of the government to one, operate legitimately and lawfully,” he said. “Two, when there are difficulties, to present an honest answer as to why things happened that way.”
Sykes said he and his clients are hoping for the civil rights complaint will eventually lead to Davies’ testimony in court.
“If it goes to trial, I’m going to call him as a witness and if he wants to take the 5th amendment in front of the jury, let him. But I think the people have a right to hear his side of the story on what happened,” said Sykes.
Cottonwood Heights Police Department declined to comment on the civil rights complaint, citing that they had not received the complaint yet and that they do not comment on on-going legal matters.