Should witnesses get involved in altercations or call the police?

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Have witnesses to altercations gone too far? It’s a question some are asking after two men lost their lives after run-ins with bystanders. 

On May 2, Salt Lake City police responded to a report of a “man down” following a confrontation outside an Ace Hardware Store.

Police suspected Mischa Cox, 30, of shoplifting. They said after leaving the store, Cox was tackled to the ground by witnesses. 

Cox suffered injuries that caused him to stop breathing and he died a few days later.

On June 3, police responded to a man and woman physically fighting in Provo.

The man later identified as Jeremy Sorensen, 26, was gunned down by another man who was passing by and witnessed the altercation.

ABC4 News went to Kent Morgan, a current criminal defense attorney, and former prosecutor, for insight.

“There is no law that says you cannot assist someone else who is suffering physical harm or even immediate harm,” explained Morgan.

But Morgan says the use of force has to be reasonable. 

“The force has to be related to the kind of crime that is being committed,” he said. “Somebody who is engaged in theft, confronting that person with physical force seems appropriate. However, killing them? no. That’s too much force.”

“Have bystanders gone too far?” asked Brittany Johnson.

“We need to have a society that doesn’t engage in private law enforcement actions,” Morgan answered. “911 doesn’t take a lot of time and 911 is designed to get a policeman there as quickly as possible. Whether it took too long for the policeman to get there, that’s something we can look at after the fact, and we can re-arrange our law enforcement procedures and policies. Once somebody is killed, you can’t change that.”

The former prosecutor says people responsible for deaths, like those mentioned above, could face charges. 

“If I were looking at these cases, the person who used a gun against someone who is not armed at all, I think I would be likely to prosecute. Then you have to look at if you do prosecute, what’s the appropriate charge? And then you have to look at–what would a jury do when they look at this person?”

“Defending others that need a defense or do not have defense, I think I would be lenient towards that person. But for people who use guns under those circumstances against unarmed individuals, I would be more likely to prosecute,” Morgan added. 

Charges have not been filed at this time against anyone involved in the cases mentioned in this story.

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