U.S. NEWS

Utah Police Chief Defends Officer Who Pointed Gun At Black 10-Year-Old

The boy's mother, however, says the white Woods Cross police officer acted with "clear prejudice."

A Utah police chief is standing by an officer who pulled a gun on a 10-year-old boy last week while searching for armed suspects in the area.

Woods Cross Police Chief Chad Soffe said during a news conference Monday that he believes the officer, who has not been publicly identified, acted in accordance with the department’s “protocol” and “training.”

DJ Hrubes, who is black, had been playing in his grandmother’s front lawn Thursday when a white police officer approached him, drew his weapon and ordered the boy to get on the ground, DJ’s mother, Jerri Hrubes, alleged at a press conference last week.

Officials said the officer had been searching the area at the time for armed suspects described as black males. Jerri, who is white, said the officer got in his car and drove away once she came outside and confronted him.

DJ is developmentally disabled and visually impaired, Jerri said, and had not been holding any objects when the officer confronted him. She claimed the incident was racially motivated and has accused the officer of acting with “clear prejudice.”

Jerri Hrubes stands next to her son DJ during a news conference Friday, June 7, 2019, in Salt Lake City. Hrubes is calling fo
Jerri Hrubes stands next to her son DJ during a news conference Friday, June 7, 2019, in Salt Lake City. Hrubes is calling for an independent investigation after she says a police officer pointed a gun at her 10-year-old son's head in what she calls a racially motivated incident.

Karra Porter, an attorney for Hrubes’ family, told HuffPost that an independent eyewitness has come forward with a statement that appears to corroborate her client’s account of what happened.

But Soffe on Monday offered a slightly different story, based solely on the officer’s statement:

Our officer saw a black male running toward the street. Our officer draws his gun and gives the commands for the young man to get on the ground, thinking that is one of the suspects we were looking for. The young man complies with the request.

Once the suspect is faced down on the ground, my officer approaches. ... As he gets closer, he realizes that this is not the suspect. He immediately holsters his weapon. At that time, this young man’s mother comes out and is yelling that this is [her] 10-year-old son.

Soffe said he would like to “sincerely apologize” to DJ and Jerri and announced the police department plans to ask the Davis County Attorney’s Office to conduct an independent “review” of the incident.

“It’s a review,” Soffe said during the press conference. “We’re not investigating the actions. We’re reviewing them to see if there are any changes that we might be able to make in our policies.”

But Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings pushed back on Soffe’s statement, noting that his office does not conduct “reviews” and that the city of Woods Cross had not yet formally submitted the case.

If the case is submitted, “we will treat it as other cases submitted to our office for a prosecutorial determination (either file criminal charges or decline as the evidence allows),” Rawlings said in an email to HuffPost on Tuesday.

“When a case is presented, we are not bound by what the requesting law enforcement agency has done (or not done),” he continued. “We will investigate as we determine necessary to make an appropriate criminal screening decision.”

Rawlings suggested the police department reach out to another entity, such as Peace Officer Standards and Training, if it is seeking a noncriminal “review” of the incident. 

Soffe did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Soffe acknowledged Monday that the officer did not activate his body camera during the incident, even though the department’s policy requires officers to turn them on when they get out of their vehicle to confront a suspect.

“In this case, it happened so quickly,” Soffe said. “I do not blame him one bit for not thinking about, ‘I gotta have my camera before I get out and, you know, confront this suspect who may have a gun.’”

The officer has not been put on administrative leave.

Porter said the police chief’s comments seem to suggest he feels it’s OK for his officers to pull a gun on any black person if a suspect is described as black.

“Suppose they had said the shooter was white,” Porter said. “Do you think they would have pulled a gun on every white person they saw?”

After the incident Thursday, Jerri Hrubes called the police department to file a complaint, according to Porter. Soon after, the officer in question showed up at Jerri’s house and apologized for pointing his gun at DJ, the lawyer said.

But several questions remain unanswered, Porter added, including why the officer drew his weapon in the first place and whether an independent investigation will actually be launched.

“The family, frankly, is really struggling with the response here,” she told HuffPost. “We’re getting this bizarre behavior by the city that’s causing the family a whole lot of upset. ... I’m starting to become suspicious.”

Porter said Jerri Hrubes doesn’t necessarily believe the officer should be fired; she simply wants a third-party agency, perhaps the Utah Attorney General’s Office, to conduct an independent investigation into the matter.

But some community members say the officer needs to go.

“The fact that this police officer still has a job, and they’ve defended his actions, sends a message that any officer can go out, aim a gun at a 10-year-old kid, and that’s OK,” Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter in Utah, told CBS News. “And that’s not OK to do.”

CONVERSATIONS