SPECIAL REPORT: Left in the Dark

Local News

***WARNING: This report contains graphic content. Watch at your own discretion***

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – For the first time in nearly six months, the family of a Summit County man is finally getting some answers, after he was shot and killed by West Wendover Police in December.

Back on December 8th, West Wendover Police officers said they saw James Robertson driving “erratically” and proceeded to chase him along Wendover Boulevard. They said he got out of his truck after crashing into another car at a Chevron Gas Station. Investigators said they are unsure what the Francis resident was doing in Wendover.

“Mr. Robertson disobeyed the flashing lights and sirens and led Officer Escareno on a chase up and down Wendover Boulevard. Mr. Robertson’s driving nearly resulted in collisions with other innocent drivers. Mr. Robertson, according to Officer Escareno, even attempted to ram his vehicle into Officer Escareno’s vehicle,” according to investigative documents.

***WARNING: Body camera footage video contains graphic content***

In body camera footage obtained by ABC4 News, Robertson could be seen bleeding profusely from his neck and arms with a knife in his hand. Investigators said they believed he was suffering from mental illness and was trying to end his own life.

When officers confronted him, Robertson began backing up into a nearby parking lot as Officer Matthew Ulm tried to talk him into putting the knife down.

“You don’t want to do this, okay?” said Officer Ulm in the body camera footage.

But then, Robertson raised his knife and started walking towards police.

“Don’t come towards me! Don’t come towards me!” Officer Ulm yelled at Robertson.

Two seconds after, Officer Ulm shot Robertson five times. Robertson died at the scene.

Back in December when Robertson’s family spoke exclusively to ABC4 News, they said they believed West Wendover Police used excessive force. At the time, all they had was witness cell phone video to provide some answers to the shooting.

“They should’ve wrestled him down, shot him in the leg, tasered him, anything,” said Robertson’s aunt, Brenda Sorenson emotionally to ABC4 News in December.

ABC4 News submitted a records request to the Elko County District Attorney’s office in January. But it wasn’t until four months after the investigation was complete that the body camera footage and declination of prosecution letter were received.

“The last six months have been rough. We’ve been trying to get ahold of everybody. We’ve been trying to get everything figured out, just looking for answers,” said Robertson’s son, Tyler.

According to the declination of prosecution letter, Elko County District Attorney Tyler Ingram wrote:

“Mr. Robertson maneuvered the knife in his hand which appears to be in an effort to position the knife in a manner to attack the officers.”

He went on to write, “Officer Ulm and Officer Chapman both unequivocally expressed their concern that Mr. Robertson was going to harm or kill an officer, which is clearly corroborated by the videos.”

Furthermore, he said, “There is nothing in Nevada Revised Statute 200.140 that requires an officer to use less-than-lethal force (i.e. a taser or other non-lethal weapons) in the situation that Officer Ulm was faced with.

Robertson’s family said they’ve tried for months to get answers from investigators, with no success.

“We’ve been put out in the cold. We are not getting no answers about anything,” said Sorenson.

For the first time, Robertson’s family were able to view police body camera footage and learn that the shooting was ruled justified through the materials received by ABC4 News. They said they still believed Officer Ulm used excessive force.

Ingram stated, “There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Robertson could have easily covered the very short distance between him and Officer Ulm well before he could have holstered his firearm, retrieved a taser, and then deployed a taser. It is clear from the videos that Mr. Robertson, despite his condition before being shot (i.e. the cuts) was still able to run.”

Sorenson disagreed, emphasizing the two other officers who were there.

“You can’t tell me if that cop put his gun down and James went after him…that the other two cops aren’t going to do anything,” said Sorenson.

Robertson’s son, Tyler said there were discrepancies in Ingram’s letter.

“Even the report, I saw they contradicted themselves in every other line. They say he’s wobbling, he can hardly walk, but then in the next sentence, they say they’re scared he’s going to run after one of the guys and they can’t deploy a taser,” he said.

ABC4 News tried taking the Robertson family’s questions and concerns to the Elko County District Attorney’s Office. Ingram initially agreed to an on-camera interview, but then canceled two days later. When asked why his office never notified the Robertson family upon completion of their investigation, Ingram did not respond after his office manager forwarded our message.

The Robertson family said they’re frustrated investigators left them in the dark for so long.

“If it wasn’t for Rosie with Channel 4, that’s probably where we’d still be because we couldn’t get anywhere,” said Sorenson.

She said their family is now considering legal action if it means the only way they can get closure for their family.

“We want the truth and we don’t want none of this contradicting ourselves. We want it straight up. We want exactly what happened. We want answers,” said James Robertson’s son, Tyler.

“James wasn’t a bad person. I don’t think he deserved what he got,” said Sorenson. “I feel like our family needs to fight for what’s right.”

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