OGDEN — The Weber County Attorney’s Office has ruled that the actions of four Ogden Police officers who shot and killed an Ogden man last August were justified.
In a letter dated Jan. 30, Weber County Attorney Chris Allred cleared the four officers of wrongdoing after they fired their weapons at 26-year-old Jovany Mercado, an Ogden resident who died at the scene. The letter — addressed to Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt — was obtained by the Standard-Examiner via records request.
Mercado was shot by officers after dispatchers received a call saying a man with a knife was looking into cars in the area. When officers arrived, Mercado walked toward them with a folding knife in hand.
Allred wrote that the officers shouted to Mercado to drop the knife a total of 23 times before they began firing their service weapons.
The four Ogden policemen who fired were identified as officers Brandon Sevenski, Nigil Bailey, Karson Garcia and John Poulsen, according to an investigation report from the Weber County Attorney’s Office into the shooting. The report was also obtained by the Standard-Examiner via records request.
Analysis of the scene revealed that the four officers fired 20 bullets in total, according to the report. An autopsy of Mercado revealed he was shot 16 times. Crime scene investigators found that some of the bullets damaged a car and the home behind Mercado.
Police released body camera footage of the shooting in September, which showed Mercado walking toward officers as they shouted commands before firing.
The shooting of Mercado — who was killed just outside his family’s residence — has drawn significant scrutiny from members of the public, with many calling for police reform and revisions to the department’s policy on the use of force.
The investigation report
A 77-page report, made public Wednesday, details the events leading to the shooting and the events that followed.
The report indicates that on Aug. 16, a birthday party was taking place on 32nd Street when partygoers were told that a man was “walking around near vehicles parked in the area and it appeared that the male was looking inside the vehicles.”
One witness told police he tried to speak to the man, later found to be Mercado, but the man did not respond. The witness, who did not know Mercado, described him as “being in his own world,” and giving people a “dirty look” when people tried to talk to him. Two witnesses reportedly told police that Mercado allegedly walked toward them with a knife in his hand. Mercado allegedly stopped and turned around after the two retreated into a garage.
Another witness walked to the front of the home hosting the birthday party and saw Mercado standing on a sidewalk. He reportedly asked Mercado if he was OK, to which Mercado replied, “Yeah, are you OK?” The witness reportedly tried to ask Mercado if he was lost, but he did not respond to any other questions. The witness told police he felt “uncomfortable” so he decided to call police. The witness informed police that the man was not threatening anyone but had a knife and was causing concern.
Each of the four officers recounted the events during interviews several days after the shooting. All four officers had an attorney present during their interviews.
Officer Brandon Sevenski told investigators he was assigned to take a civilian on a “ride along” that night, and he was directed to respond to any calls that “seemed interesting” for the civilian to observe. The name of the civilian was not included in the investigation report.
Sevenski was dispatched to the home after hearing there was a man looking into vehicles and was possibly in possession of a knife. When he arrived, he was joined by officers Nigel Bailey and John Poulsen. The three spoke to the witness who placed the call to dispatchers, who said the man had walked east and into a carport.
Bailey and Poulsen were together in the same car when the call came in. According to the report, Bailey was training Poulsen, who was still a probationary officer at the time. The two were on a dinner break when the call came in, and though the call was not in their designated area, “they took the call for training experience,” according to the report.
As the three approached, they saw Mercado in the carport with his back to the officers before he turned around to face the officers.
“Officer Sevenski described that the male looked agitated and took an aggressive posture with his shoulders and his fists balled up,” the report says.
The officers then asked Mercado if they cold speak to him and identified themselves as police. Though he did not see a knife at first, Sevenski described Mercado as “looking right through” the officers. Sevenski said he then heard a “distinct sound of a folding knife flick open,” according to the report. When he heard the knife, Sevenski drew his firearm.
“Officer Sevenski could now see that there was a knife with a four inch blade in the male’s left hand,” the report says. “Officer Sevenski said that he and the other officers start yelling at the suspect to drop the knife. The male started walking toward the officers at a ‘steady pace.’”
The fourth officer, Karson Garcia, pulled up in his squad car just behind the three officers. He reported to dispatch that the other three had their guns drawn when he pulled up. Garcia said in his interview that once he got out of his car, he could see the knife in Mercado’s hand.
At that time, all four were shouting commands for Mercado to drop the knife. The officers told investigators that they began to move back when Mercado started walking toward them. Sevenski said he kept backing up until he felt he couldn’t retreat anymore.
“Officer Sevenski explained because of the male’s actions, they could not let him advance anymore and get closer to them because that would have caused a crossfire situation,” the report says.
Garcia said that he didn’t think of a crossfire scenario but was “more worried about what the male was going to do.” He told investigators that Mercado was directly in front of him.
Bailey recalled retreating and thinking “he’s not stopping.” He told investigators that he remembered planting his feet and consciously stopping.
Then the shooting began, though it is not clear which officer fired first.
Sevenski said he fired his gun three times; Garcia fired his gun eight times; Bailey fired four times; and Poulsen fired five times, according to investigators.
After Mercado fell to the ground, Bailey recalled he put on gloves and placed the wounded man in handcuffs. Garcia said he noticed the knife come out of Mercado’s hand, and he kicked the knife farther away from Mercado. Another officer arrived shortly after and rendered first aid and CPR to Mercado. He later died at the scene.
In interviews, each of the officers expressed concern for their lives as well as the lives of those at the birthday party in the home behind them.
“If he had gotten to me or anybody else, he was going to hurt somebody, whether it was us or somebody else,” Garcia said.
Bailey believed that if given the chance, Mercado would have caused him and the other officers harm.
“From the moment he turned around, I saw nothing but active aggression ... there was never a moment of hesitation where he stopped or even appeared to be considering his options,” Bailey said.
Poulsen said he “absolutely” believed that someone would be injured or killed if the officers had not taken action.
Included in the report are multiple screenshots of body camera footage of the shooting, which show that Sevenski and Poulsen had their cameras activated when the shooting took place. Garcia’s body camera was activated just after the shooting. It was not immediately clear if Bailey was wearing a camera at the time of the shooting, as no screenshots assigned to him are included in the report.
Sevenski’s body camera footage was made public in September, less than a month after the fatal shooting.
Records show that Mercado’s autopsy took place on Aug. 17, the day after the shooting. A medical examiner found that Mercado had 16 different gunshot wounds to his body. A toxicology report showed that Mercado tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine.
Mentioned throughout the report is the concept of the “21-foot rule,” a law enforcement training tactic regarding knives pioneered by a Salt Lake City police officer in the 1980s. The belief is that someone with a sharp-edged weapon can quickly cover 21 feet before reaching another person armed with a gun. Investigators used a 3D imaging device to map the scene and estimate the distances at which the officers were when they fired.
In the report, investigators believe Sevenski, Garcia and Bailey were less than 21 feet away from Mercado when they fired. Their distances ranged from 14 to 18 feet away. Investigators believe that Poulsen was roughly 24 feet from Mercado when he fired his weapon.
Crime scene investigators combed the scene and found that the officers’ gunfire had damaged the home behind Mercado as well as a vehicle in the carport. They found that at least one bullet broke through a window, as the bullet was found resting on a windowsill in the home.
They documented the scene and found bullet casings scattered throughout the roadway.
According to Ogden Police Deputy Chief Eric Young, all four officers were cleared to return to duty a little over a month after the shooting. Young said that their return dates ranged between Sept. 16 and Sept. 26.
Since the shooting, family and friends of Mercado have expressed their anger and discontent with the Ogden Police Department. They have held a protest outside the department building and have pleaded to the Ogden City Council for police reform.
Mercado’s family announced their intent to pursue legal action against the police department and have claimed that officers have been parking outside of their home and “harassing” their family. As of Thursday, no legal action has been taken in connection with the shooting.
Mercado’s death marked the second of four fatal police shootings that took place in Weber and Davis counties in 2019. Three other police shootings took place in northern Utah in 2019, however those men survived their injuries.