Off-duty police shooting could affect all officers statewide

Local News

TOOELE, Utah (News4Utah) – The case of a dispute between an off-duty police officer and a group of hunters is now headed to the Utah Supreme Court.

In the fall of 2015, former detective Lance Bess, was duck hunting in Bear River Bird Refuge.

According to Bess, that’s when shots were fired toward him.

Bess unholstered his police service weapon and held it by his knee.

Although no one was injured, Bess still lost his job.

“The decision in this case will really set some boundaries for how they respond when they’re off-duty and they see a violent crime unfolding, and I think we want them to respond aggressively, for the safety of all of us,” said Paul Cassell, a former federal judge and University of Utah Law Professor.

Cassell says the case could define how off-duty officers can respond when they believe a crime is being committed.

“At the end of the day, this is about public safety,” said Cassell. “And let’s remember, our safety comes not only from on-duty police officers, but also off-duty police officers. Both of those forms of safety need to be fully protected.”

Because several law enforcement groups filed a joint amicus motion arguing that Bess should get a new trial, he did.

“During the first trial, instructions were given erroneously in our view, and that essentially forced Detective Bess to prove that he was acting legitimately,” said Cassell. “We think the burden should be on the prosecution to prove that a crime was committed.”

The brief states officers are required to act as officers when off-duty, even if they are outside their jurisdiction.

Some say Bess may not have been justified, citing the context.

“Use your judgment,” said Salt Lake City resident, Jeong Kim. “You came there to shoot and to hunt ducks. You can’t be the only one there doing that. How could you do that?”

Others say it’s best to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I think they should continue to do what they’re trained to do and what’s right for other people,” said Tooele resident, Lauren Sutherland. “If there’s consequences in the end and they did the right thing, that’s what really matters.”

The Utah Supreme Court is scheduled to review the case this fall.

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