OGDEN — Attorneys for Ogden police have denied a civil lawsuit’s allegations that four officers used excessive force in the 2019 fatal shooting of a man armed with a knife.
Body camera video showed Jovany Mercado, 26, steadily walked toward officers with an open, 6-inch pocketknife at his side.
Police shouted at him to drop the knife. As he reached the end of his parents’ driveway, officers opened fire, discharging a total of 20 shots, killing him.
Attorneys for Mercado’s parents, Juan and Rosa Mercado, sued in U.S. District Court on July 23 this year, alleging unconstitutional use of deadly force.
On Sept. 1, Heather White, representing Ogden City and the officers, filed an answer to the suit, urging Judge Robert Shelby to dismiss the case.
“When the man reached the sidewalk and did not stop or drop his knife, the officers shot him,” White wrote. “Defendants acted in good faith, without malice, and their acts were justified and reasonable under the circumstances.”
She said claims for damages are barred by the Utah Governmental Immunity Act and that the city’s policies and practices concerning use of deadly force are constitutionally sufficient.
The city also challenged the suit’s contention that the four officers were “yelling over one another,” making their demands overlapping and confusing.
“Their commands were not conflicting or confusing,” White wrote. “They simply told him over and over to drop the knife.”
The Mercados’ suit asserted that officers’ demands that Mercado drop the knife was a violation of his Second Amendment rights.
They also said Mercado “obviously” was disoriented and either intoxicated or suffering from a mental illness, and that officers should have used nonlethal means.
“They all could have easily retreated and avoided using deadly force,” the Mercados’ suit said.
According to court documents, an autopsy by the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office showed Mercado was under the influence of marijuana, amphetamine and methamphetamine.
Mercado’s death has prompted a series of public protests by civil rights activists in the Ogden area.
Demonstrators have criticized police propensity to employ deadly force and have joined national protests against law enforcement’s treatment of minority suspects.
The Mercados’ suit asks that the federal court order Ogden police to carry nonlethal weapons while on patrol; prioritize use of nonlethal means such as Tasers, pepper spray and bean-bag projectiles; and provide annual training on how to deal with mentally ill people.
Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt has defended the department’s use of deadly force versus nonlethal means and said his officers receive four times the amount of annual training than what is required to maintain their certification.
“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 in a September 2019 appearance before the City Council, according to previous Standard-Examiner coverage.
The Weber County Attorney’s Office cleared the four officers of any criminal wrongdoing in Mercado’s shooting.
Shelby set a May 11, 2021, deadline for attorneys in the Mercado case to file further pretrial pleadings.