SARATOGA SPRINGS — A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether the mother of a man fatally shot by police while holding a samurai sword should have to accept a $900,000 settlement from the city that employs the officers.
Lawyers for Susan Hunt say she refused the deal because it barred her from speaking publicly about her son, Darrien Hunt. They say her previous attorney wrongly authorized the settlement without getting her approval on that point.
"Susan will not be muted," said her lawyer, Michael Wright. "She will not let any monetary amount dictate to her ability to talk about what happened to her son."
Hunt's previous attorney, Robert Sykes, denies doing anything without her permission. The city contends that the settlement became final before Hunt publicly rejected the deal.
"She agreed to those terms and simply had second thoughts after the settlement was reached," said Heather White, who represents the city of Saratoga Springs. The nondisparagement clause was a standard agreement that would have allowed Hunt to talk about her son as long as she didn't attack the city, she said.
Saratoga Springs is asking U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell to enforce the settlement. Campbell said she plans to rule in the coming weeks.
White pointed to recorded phone conversations between Hunt and her former lawyer. The records unsealed by the judge indicate that Hunt reluctantly agreed to a $900,000 settlement and a nondisparagement clause.
But that was before she knew the unusual and extreme terms of the nondisparagement clause, her lawyers said. It was added to the deal after the city saw Hunt posting critical things about Saratoga Springs and the police on social media, said attorney Sam Starks.
"This settlement came off the rails," he said. He argued that Hunt never gave Sykes blanket permission to enter into a settlement. The judge asked Starks several questions about how the city should have known that Sykes wasn't authorized to agree to changes on her behalf.
Court records indicate that Hunt orally agreed to the settlement amount and the nondisparagement clause in August, but after the two sides began negotiating the language of a news release, she stopped communicating with Sykes and eventually fired him. City officials said they didn't know the status of the case until Hunt told reporters she was refusing a settlement offer at an event recognizing the anniversary of her son's death in September.
Darrien Hunt, 22, died in 2014 after he was stopped by police while he was walking around a busy shopping area with a metal costume samurai sword in Saratoga Springs.
The Utah County Attorney's Office found the shooting was legally justified because he swung the sword at the officers and they feared he could hurt people with it. The family denies he swung the sword and said Darrien Hunt was treated differently because he was black. The officers are white. The NAACP has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate how the city handled the case.