September 16, 2014 / 5:25 AM / in 5 years

Fatal police shooting in Utah fuels racial controversy

(Reuters) - A private autopsy has found a 22-year-old black man shot dead by police in Utah was fired at from behind six times, said a lawyer for the man’s family. Authorities say the man was shot dead when he lunged at officers with a sword.

The fatal shooting of Darrien Hunt in Saratoga Springs last Wednesday has raised tensions in the mostly white, fast-growing community 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Last month police shot dead unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, leading to a wave of violent protests in the community.

Hunt was shot after two police officers were called to respond to a report of a man walking around with a samurai-style sword. His mother, Susan, has told local newspaper the Deseret News she believed police killed her son because he was black.

As in Brown’s case, a private autopsy has been conducted on Hunt. The results showed he was shot six times, with no bullets entering the front of his body, said Randall Edwards, an attorney for Hunt’s family who arranged for the autopsy.

Hunt was struck in the back and side of a leg, his hand, an elbow, his shoulder and the middle of his back, Edwards said.

The family of Hunt, whose father is black and whose mother is white, feels betrayed by the way authorities have handled the case, Edwards said.

The family says the sword, which Hunt took from the home where he lived with his mother, had a dull, rounded blade and was a showpiece instead of a weapon, he said.

“They feel that there is an effort on the part of the government to, I don’t know if I would say whitewash, but certainly to be less than forthcoming about what happened,” Edwards said.

More than 100 people attended a vigil in honor of Hunt in Saratoga Springs on Sunday.

Over the weekend, the city’s Police Department on its Facebook page expressed frustration at the media over its reporting on the shooting, saying news outlets were seeking ratings. The city’s police chief on Monday apologized for the post.

Local authorities have not released the results of their autopsy.

The Utah County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the findings of a county investigation into Hunt’s death. Its chief deputy, Tim Taylor, on Saturday said in a statement that officers approached Hunt because they had received a report of a man with a “samurai-type” sword.

“When the officers made contact with Mr. Hunt, preliminary evidence suggests that Mr. Hunt brandished the sword and lunged toward the officers with the sword, at which time Mr. Hunt was shot,” Taylor said.

“There is currently no indication that race played any role in the confrontation between Mr. Hunt and the police officers.”

Saratoga Springs, a community of 22,000 residents, is over 90 percent white but gained national attention when then Mayor Mia Love in 2012 sought to become the first African-American woman Republican elected to Congress. She lost, but is running again this year.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Michael Perry

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