SALT LAKE CITY — A criminal charge was dismissed Friday against a former West Valley police officer accused of illegally firing his weapon at a man who fled from a crash.
During a brief hearing Friday, 3rd District Judge Royal Hansen dismissed the single charge of reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, filed against Jared Cardon, 40. Prosecutor Blake Nakamura said his office developed concerns about the evidence supporting the charge and felt it was their "obligation" to dismiss it.
About 20 officers wearing Fraternal Order of Police T-shirts attended the hearing to support Cardon, filling nearly every row of the courtroom.
"I feel very grateful," Cardon said after the hearing. "This has been a team effort. I stand in front of dozens and dozens of people in the law enforcement field who made this happen for me. Without them, without their support, I wouldn't be standing where I am today."
Cardon was charged after the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office determined he was not legally justified in using deadly force when he shot at an oncoming car May 24, 2011. Cardon said he fired his weapon in order to protect himself and others, but investigators determined that he was not in imminent danger and his shots could have injured others.
Cardon was writing a traffic citation near 3500 South and 5275 West that day when traffic started to back up. Another vehicle apparently came up too fast on the stopped traffic, swerved to avoid hitting other vehicles, then went into a front yard and hit a fence.
Driver Jose Contreras got out of the vehicle and was confronted by bystanders. He then got back into his car and fled, prosecutors said. Cardon heard the commotion and started walking toward the accident. Just seconds later, he saw Contreras driving toward him.
The officer held up his hand to try and get the vehicle to stop. He then drew his weapon and waved it in front of the vehicle to convince the driver to stop, investigators said.
"Cardon stated that the vehicle continued straight at him, and he concluded that the driver was determined to hit him," the district attorney's report states. "In response, Cardon fired two rounds at the vehicle in quick succession."
Cardon then fired a third shot at the tires as the car passed in an attempt to stop the vehicle.
Two witnesses said Contreras did not drive his vehicle straight at Cardon, but was instead maneuvering to get around him, according to charging documents. Contreras said the same thing.
An investigator also reported that ricochets from the bullets hitting the car could have injured bystanders or other motorists on the roadway.
"When we filed the charges, we did so after we had an expert review the case and consult with us," Nakamura said. "We relied upon that expert significantly when we filed."
He said prosecutors later felt they could "no longer have confidence" in the expert.
"Our obligation when we develop concerns about evidence is to dismiss the case and that's what we did," Nakamura said.
Because the case was dismissed without prejudice, however, prosecutors do have the option to refile. Nakamura said his office will again review that case.
Bret Rawson, general counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the decision to dismiss was a "no-brainer."
"The Fraternal Order of Police is thrilled with this outcome," he said. "It's the right outcome. Everyone who knows the facts has to scratch their heads and wonder why this was filed."
Though he resigned from the West Valley Police Department, Cardon said he hopes to return to law enforcement and believes this experience will make him a better, more prepared police officer. He said that he struggled at times, but was always buoyed up by his family and those in the law enforcement community.
"It hasn't been an easy experience," Cardon said. "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. Many days I felt I didn't have the the ability to endure, to see this through to the end. But with all the support that was behind me in those moments when I felt unable to move forward, that was really what made it possible."
Contreras later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, and attempted failure to stop or respond at the command of a police officer, a class A misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and 36 months' probation.
Cardon was previously sued in federal court by Cesar Medina, who accused him of using excessive force and violating the man's constitutionally afforded protection against unreasonable search and seizure during a July 18, 2009, traffic stop. A jury, however, determined that Cardon had not shown excessive force and awarded no damages to Medina.