Sheriff responds to Riverton family fatal officer-involved shooting lawsuit

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RIVERTON, Utah (ABC4 News) – The Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office has responded to the lawsuit filed by the parents of Jason Whittle, a 26-year-old Riverton man shot and killed by a Unified Police officer in October 2018 while suffering a mental health episode.

Wednesday, Whittle’s parents, Annie Esposito and Rob Whittle along with their attorney, held a news conference at a Riverton park to announce their lawsuit and to address questions from the gathered media.

During the briefing, a distraught and emotional Annie Esposito relived the moments that would end her son’s life and change her life forever.

“As we came out, I stood out first, and this light blinded me, and I had to lift up my hands and that’s how I stood. And they just pulled their guns out, straight at me. Straight at my son, Jason,” Ms. Esposito recalled.

In September 2019, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting and the use of deadly force justified.

Salt Lake County District Attorney letter ruling the fatal shooting of Rob Whittle Justified

In the summary of facts and findings, the DA’s office describes in great detail the tragic events that lead to  Jason Whittle’s fatal encounter with UPD officer Darrell Broadhead.

At 5 a.m. on October 22nd, Jason arrived at his mother’s home acting erratically. “Ms. Esposito told Mr. Whittle that he needed to check himself into rehab and that he should eat something, which Mr. Whittle agreed to,” the report indicates.

The report later describes the moment Whittle “slipped the butter knife up his sleeve” and asked his mother “to call the police.” During the call for help, Ms. Esposito told dispatchers that her son was, “mentally ill, high on methamphetamine and of control”.

Audio recordings released by the Sheriff’s office Friday illustrate the tense and emotional situation and how quickly it spiraled out of control.

Neighbor Call
Mom 911 Call

During the emergency call, Jason Whittle can be heard screaming and talking unintelligibly. At one point during the call, Mr. Whittle jumps on the phone and yells to the dispatcher that, “I will kill them with knives if they come through the backdoor”.

The responding police would not breach the home’s backdoor. Instead, that pre-dawn morning they requested mother and son to come outside.

Once outside and confronted by police, Whittle would take hold of his mother, hold the butter knife to his mother’s throat and threaten her life.

According to the DA’s report,  Jason Whittle failed to comply with officer commands to “put the knife down” and Officer Broadhead fired a single and fatal round.

In Sheriff  Rosie Rivera’s two-page response released Friday, the department apologized for the fatal outcome and stood by the split-second decision made by Officer Broadhead on that fateful night.

“Officers seek peaceful resolutions when they respond to a call; if an individual’s action threatens death or  serious bodily injury officers will act according to their training. The 911 call, findings of the independent investigation, and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office ruling the shooting justified support the actions taken by Officer Darrel Broadhead on the night of October 22, 2018. I stand by these conclusions and Officer Broadhead.”

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