SALT LAKE CITY – A 17-year-old boy who authorities say was wielding a metal stick was shot and critically injured by Salt Lake City officers Saturday night, touching off unrest downtown as officers donned riot gear and blocked streets and bystanders threw rocks and bottles.
The teenager shot by two Salt Lake City Police officers was in critical condition at a local hospital Sunday after being struck twice in the torso, according to Detective Ken Hansen with the Unified Police Department, which is investigating the shooting.
Salt Lake City Police declined to identify the boy Sunday afternoon because he is a minor.
In a statement, the department said two Salt Lake City officers were trying to break up a fight around 8 p.m. where the teenager and another male were hitting a third male with metal objects.
The officers ordered the males to drop the metal, “stick-like objects,” and one male complied. The teenager did not drop the stick and instead moved toward the victim in a threatening manner, Salt Lake City Police Detective Greg Wilking said.
One or both of the police officers then shot the teen.
Police said earlier Sunday that the teenager was shot when he tried to attack one of the officers. Wilking said Sunday afternoon that investigators were still trying to determine if that was the case. He said they had not yet interviewed the officers involved.
Wilking did not have details about how far away the teenager was from officers or the victim when police shot him.
He also did not have details about how long the sticks were or where the males got the metal. Police said earlier Sunday that the boy had been wielding a broomstick.
Police did not release the identities of the other two males involved or whether they were also minors. The male who was hit with the sticks did not require medical attention, Wilking said. He did not know what happened to the other male who had been wielding a stick or whether investigators spoke with him.
Neither officer involved in the shooting was injured, Wilking said. Police are not releasing the identity of the officers but said Sunday that both were placed administrative leave while the incident is investigated.
The officers were both wearing body cameras but police said Sunday they will not release the footage because of the ongoing investigation and the possibility that the teenager depicted could face charges.
Police did not have details about what prompted the fight in the street, which was near a downtown homeless shelter, shopping mall and movie theatre.
Bystander Selam Mohammad told The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News that he was friends with the teenager and said the boy was shot as he turned to face police.
“He barely even turned around, then boom, boom, boom – and he just dropped,” Mohammad told the Deseret News.
When asked about that account, Hansen said he did not have details to confirm or deny that information.
After the shooting, bystanders began yelling obscenities and throwing rocks and bottles at police, who called in about 100 officers to help.
Police, including officers wearing helmets and carrying riot shields, barricaded four surrounding city blocks. A light rail stop in the neighbourhood was closed.
Hansen said the bystanders throwing rocks and bottles were people hanging out near the shelter. He didn’t know if they were homeless, but he said they were not customers of the nearby shopping centre. Hansen said the area was relatively busy, with people visiting the shopping centre and restaurants and others hanging out near the shelter and homeless facilities.
“There were pockets of that disturbance for hours,” Hansen said Sunday.
Wilking said police asked bystanders to leave the area and put up barricades and tape to clear streets. He said bystanders were throwing objects at police for only about 10 minutes. He said police asked people to leave but did not physically move anyone, form a riot line or spray anything such as tear gas to disperse the crowd.
“It’s kind of making more of a presence with your body,” he said of the tactic used to clear the streets.
Four people were arrested for civil disorder, Salt Lake City police said.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a statement Sunday that she was saddened and that the shooting was a tragedy for everyone involved.
“The use of force by law enforcement against the public can tear at the delicate balance of trust between both sides, and must be taken extremely seriously,” she said. “These incidents create a number of unanswered questions in the short term, and justice requires we work together in good faith to find answers.”