ELKO – Family members of a man who was shot and killed Saturday after a car pursuit on West Wendover Boulevard believe officers used excessive force, but Elko County Sheriff Jim Pitts believes the shooting will be determined justifiable.
The Elko County District Attorney’s office will decide whether any charges are filed after the investigation by detectives is complete, Pitts said.
James N. Robertson, 41, of Francis, Utah was seen driving erratically on the boulevard at about 12:45 p.m. Saturday. Officers were led on a pursuit that ended in a minor crash at the West Side Chevron, where the driver fled on foot north of the Chevron and was pursued by officers on foot.
The scene was captured on video by witness Josh Abbott, who provided the footage to KSL television in Salt Lake City.
Abbott said the truck drove up and down the street five or six times, weaving between traffic like a “barrel racer” before crashing into another vehicle in the gas station parking lot. The car nearly struck an officer prior to the chase, according to the KSL report.
The video shows Robertson holding a knife to his own throat as officers approach.
“We’ve chosen to blur this video because the man is covered in blood,” says the KSL reporter.
At one point the man backs away from the officers. The final clip shows Robertson walking toward an officer and raising his knife when he gets a short distance from him. Five shots are then heard and Robertson falls to the ground.
Abbott told KSL he wondered why police did not use a Taser or other non-lethal tactics before firing.
“There could have been some steps in between to try to neutralize the situation,” he said.
Family members told ABC 4 News that Robertson began battling mental health issues two years after losing custody of one of his children.
“James was mentally sick,” Robertson’s aunt Brenda Sorenson told ABC. “But he was doing counseling and he was taking medications.”
“It was one guy against three cops,” she said. “He had a knife and they had a gun.”
Lt. Kevin McKinney of the Elko County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation.
“It happened in such a split second that the officer that he charged who had his firearm out wouldn’t have had an opportunity to change from a firearm to a Taser,” McKinney told ABC News.
“Officers take this job to protect lives, not to take lives,” McKinney told KSL.
KUTV reported that two of the officers who chased Robertson have been with the West Wendover Police Department less than 18 months.
West Wendover Police Lt. Don Lininger told the Elko Daily Free Press that the officer who fired the shots “was a fully certified, fully trained officer.”
He said training includes information on studies that have shown an officer can be killed or injured if a subject within 21 feet begins running toward him with an edged weapon.
The so-called 21-Foot Rule was developed 35 years ago by Salt Lake City Police Department officer Dennis Tueller, who based it on the fact that it takes an officer about 1.5 seconds to draw a weapon and fire. He then determined that someone carrying a “contact weapon” could reach his target from a distance of 21 feet in that amount of time.