OGDEN — Ogden’s police chief went to the City Council on Tuesday and said that his department’s internal review of a recent police shooting was complete.
Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt said Tuesday that the four Ogden officers were acting “within law and policy” when they fired their weapons at 26-year-old Ogden man Jovany Mercado, according to the findings from the OPD’s internal affairs investigation.
Watt also rebuffed criticism by citizen groups, and Mercado’s family members, that his officers acted improperly or without discretion prior to the shooting.
“It is unfortunate that the family’s emotions have been harnessed by a few with a preexisting political agenda,” Watt said.
Watt spoke in front of the Ogden City Council during a meeting Tuesday to speak about the fatal Aug. 16 shooting and address “a great deal of rhetoric and hyperbole” surrounding the police shooting.
The police chief also addressed criticism directed toward the department, with many calling for additional deescalation training for officers and the expanded use of less-than-fatal munitions like Tasers or bean bag rounds.
Watt said that between the beginning of 2018 and Aug. 1, 2019, Ogden officers responded to over 165,000 calls, and 24,856 of those calls that were deemed “high-risk” calls — nearly 15%. In those situations, less than lethal force was used 128 times, or roughly a half of a percent of the overall high-risk calls. Officers used their guns six times in that period of time, Watt said.
The police chief also touted how in that same time frame, Ogden officers have, on average, 194 hours of training per officer. He said that training time included the use of Tasers, learning about the policy of using force, and crisis intervention training, among other topics.
The state only requires 40 hours of training per year, Watt said.
He rejected the criticism of Ogden police officers for their actions that led to Mercado’s death on Aug. 16.
“In these rapidly-evolving, stress-filled events, there is no time for planning or coordination, and any suggestion of such by Monday-morning quarterbacks is based on ignorance or political agenda,” he said.
Watt said that the department has deliberately not been involved with the discussion surrounding the shooting, other than to release body camera footage of the shooting once the county attorney’s office cleared the department to do so.
Though the OPD’s investigation is done, Watt said that the Weber County Attorney’s Office has yet to finish their investigation, as investigators have not yet received a toxicology report from the state crime lab. However, Watt said that Weber County Attorney Christopher Allred has “verbally cleared” the officers of any wrongdoing.
Watt said the four officers are in the process of returning to duty, but did not say exactly when they will be back on the job.
A week after Mercado’s death, dozens gathered in front of the Ogden Police Department to voice their anger and frustration with the officers’ actions.
“We lost a family member because the police choose to fire their weapons as a first course of action when there are so many nonlethal ways to apprehend someone,” said Juan Mercado, Jovany’s father, after the protest.
Throughout the Tuesday meeting, members of law enforcement also spoke in support on behalf of other officers and Watt, with some saying that the implementation of a citizen review board would allow for people to over-analyze for days a situation that lasted a few seconds. On the other hand, numerous citizens called for police reform.
Citizens called for expanded transparency and the demilitarization of local police, arguing that police should aim to be seen as members of the community instead of a lethal force that occupies the city.
Watt said that the fatal police shooting situation was a tragedy, and the hearts of those in the Police Department go out to the Mercado family.
“No one should have to go through this,” Watt said. “Not the suspect’s family, nor the officers involved and their families.”
Though Watt took an explanatory approach throughout most of his presentation, he ended the speech on a determined note. Citing specific details of prior police shootings, Watt said that if the situation
arises and no other actions can be taken, he expects his officers
to follow their training and use force.
“No officer of mine need wait to be bashed with a rock, cut or stabbed with a knife, shot at or shot, in order to determine whether they should take action,” Watt said. “And I will support them to my grave.”