TAYLORSVILLE, Utah (ABC4) – No criminal charges will be filed against the Unified Police officer accused of shooting and killing a Kearns man in March 2020 despite investigators determining the use of deadly force was not justified.
On March 21, 2020, police were called to a report of shots fired in the area of 6250 South 3200 West during the early morning hours. A short time after the call came in, officers say they spotted a suspect vehicle driving suspiciously.
When police attempted to conduct a traffic stop, the vehicle sped away. The suspect drove the vehicle onto a median before running from the scene.
Police pursued the man and eventually shot and killed the man, later identified as 28-year-old Bryan Pena-Valencia. His family spoke with ABC4 in April, saying he had graduated from a drug program the day before the shooting and was highly motivated to succeed for his son and his future.
After conducting an Officer Involved Critical Incident review, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office determined Officer Omar Flores’ use of deadly force was not justified, but no charges will be filed against him.
They explain why in a Friday release:
“After determining the facts do not support the affirmative legal defense of justification, we reviewed the evidence and considered whether Officer Flores should be charged criminally for his use of deadly force. We determined we lacked proof of the required criminal intent to support a criminal charge. We also determined we lacked sufficient quantity and quality of evidence to support each element of a criminal charge. Therefore, consistent with the legal and ethical obligations to satisfy our burden of proof (which legal and ethical obligation govern our ability to file a criminal case) we declined to file charges against the officer…”
The District Attorney’s Office says that no body-worn cameras recorded the incident.
Instead, the District Attorney’s Office has released a letter that describes the events that transpired, according to police reports.
According to that letter, Officer Flores chased Pena-Valencia through a nearby neighborhood until they both came to a stop where two fences met. Officer Flores reportedly fired his Taser twice at Pena-Valencia, “but it appeared to have no effect.”
Pena-Valencia is then said to have reached into the pocket of his hoodie, which sparked Officer Flores to tell him to show his hands or he would shoot him. The letter says Pena-Valencia withdrew his hand and threw an object over the fence.
Investigators say a second officer arrived on the scene and both ordered Pena-Valencia to show his hands and get on the ground, but officers say Pena-Valencia did not follow orders. Officer Flores tells investigators that Pena-Valencia moved both of his hands toward his waist.
“Officer Flores said he “thought or believed [the man] was reaching for a firearm and [Officer Flores] would be shot,” the letter says. Officer Flores said he feared the second officer would be shot and feared for the lives of others in the area, so he fired his firearm multiple times.
While medical personnel arrived to treat Pena-Valencia, authorities say he died from his gunshot wounds.
The District Attorney’s Office says “the facts of this case do not support a justified use of deadly force,” adding that “this is a challenging case.”
In the letter, the District Attorney’s Office says that while Officer Flores’ use of deadly force was not justified because there no threat of deadly force against him, they do not “believe a jury would convict Officer Flores of murder or another criminal charge” because he describes “his thought process and decisions reflect his honest beliefs.”
“Although we don’t conclude that Officer Flores’ use of deadly force satisfies the elements of a justified use of deadly force, we nevertheless decline to file a criminal charge against him in this case,” the letter, signed by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, concludes.
Sheriff Rosie Rivera says that, in accordance with Unified Police Department policy, Officer Flores has been placed on paid administrative leave and an internal investigation has been initiated.
Internal Affairs will review his use of deadly force “to determine if any internal policies were violated.”
“Every loss of life, no matter the circumstances, is tragic,” Sheriff Rivera says. “Over the last 11 months I have been in regular contact with [Pena-Valencia’s] family as they have grieved this loss. UPD has worked over the last year to address the public trust that was impacted. I am committed to this community, transparency, and public safety.”