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Settlement talks underway in South Ogden fatal police shooting lawsuit

By Mark Shenefelt - | Aug 12, 2022

BEN DORGER, Standard-Examiner file photo

The South Ogden Police Department is seen on Thursday, June 11, 2020.

SOUTH OGDEN — Attorneys have entered mediation talks to potentially reach an out-of-court settlement in a civil suit against South Ogden City over the fatal police shooting of a driver at the end of a low-speed chase.

Family members of Fredrick Jeremy Atkin sued the city, South Ogden Police Officer Christopher Freestone and other defendants, alleging Freestone used unconstitutionally excessive force in the Dec. 27, 2019, incident.

The family’s attorney and lawyers representing the city on Thursday notified U.S. District Judge David Barlow in Salt Lake City that they have agreed to participate in a mediation while their opposing motions for summary judgment are being weighed by the court.

Attorney Heather White, who represents South Ogden, Ogden City, Riverdale City and Freestone, said Friday, “We decided we would try to see if there is an easier way to resolve the case” before the judge rules or before it goes to trial.

“We are always assessing the costs going forward, the risks, the attorneys’ fees, all those things going into it,” White said. “We are always looking at the case from an insurance standpoint — will it cost more to go to trial than it is to settle it?”

Efforts to reach Blake Atkin, the family’s attorney, were not immediately successful.

Ogden and Riverdale are named as defendants because their officers participated in the chase as Jeremy Atkin, 42, drove haphazardly through the communities after an Ogden officer tried to pull him over for running a red light.

The Weber County Attorney’s Office investigated the shooting and concluded that Freestone acted reasonably and therefore would not be held criminally liable. Freestone, upon the advice of a Utah Fraternal Order of Police attorney, declined to speak to county investigators. But in a court deposition as part of the civil suit, he later testified that he acted to stop Atkin because another South Ogden officer was putting down tire-popping spike strips in front of Atkin’s car and he feared he would be run over.

Police dash cam video showed Freestone got out of his cruiser and ran up to the open front passenger window of Atkin’s Mustang. The officer’s upper body went inside the window and a shot was fired and the car engine roared, in quick succession.

In arguing over the defendants’ request that the civil suit be dismissed, the two sides dispute whether the engine roared before or after Atkin was shot. The family’s attorney asserted that the bullet hitting Atkin caused involuntary movement and he pressed the gas pedal. The city contended that the engine was revving and Freestone fired.

The officer testified that he reached with one hand to put the Mustang’s transmission in park. He said he fired with the gun held in his other hand when he saw Atkin reaching toward the console or into his pocket. During the chase, Ogden officers reported that they thought Atkin may have been armed. No gun was found.

The chase concluded at the intersection of Wall Avenue and Riverdale Road, the Mustang rolling slowly as Freestone ran up.

“South Ogden believes Officer Freestone acted appropriately under the circumstances,” White said Friday. “In the settlement negotiations, we will try to eliminate the costs and the risks going forward.”

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