A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: UPDATED - Utah man with laser pointer taped to fake gun is shot by police

A 32-year-old Utah man who brandished a homemade fake gun with a fake laser pointer “sight”, was shot July 10 2014 by a police officer. The man, Timothy James Peterson, survived and was charged with second-degree felony assault against a police officer, and misdemeanor counts of unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon and failure to stop at the command of law enforcement.

On July 7, Peterson made a Facebook post where he threatened to kill police, and referenced being shot by police. Three days later, West Jordan police officer Ian Adams was patrolling a shopping center and saw Peterson, who ran. During the chase, Peterson turned and drew an object that looked like a handgun. Adams shot Peterson twice, once in the legs and once in the buttocks.

The object was found to be a piece of bent metal with a taped-on laser pointer.
Police department investigators studied Adams’ body camera, which shakily captured images of the chase and shooting. They said Peterson was holding something which “flashed silver, red then silver and red again.”

In September 2014, the shooting was ruled justified by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. At a press conference October 3 2014, police released the video and additional photos related to the case. Police also said Adams resumed active duty on July 28.

Police noted that the video was only taken from one viewpoint (Adams’) and said other evidence led them to clear Adams. One of these that Peterson made several statements that he was going to do a “suicide by cop.”

Adams shooting Peterson laser pointer 01
View from the officer’s body camera; his hand and gun are at lower left. Peterson is circled with the long oval. Red blurs are in the circle. These may be the red flashes reported by the police internal affairs investigation.

Adams shooting Peterson laser pointer 02
Peterson (long oval) apparently turns. The red blurs in the circle are reflections in a puddle from the tall sign in the background.

Adams shooting Peterson laser pointer 03
Adams fires at Peterson, who is turned sideways.

Timothy James Peterson fake gun laser pointer
The fake gun, as displayed at a police department press conference on October 3 2014. From other photos (not shown here), it appears the taped-on black object is a holder for the laser pointer, rather than the pointer itself.

Timothy James Peterson laser pointer
Timothy James Peterson. At the time of the shooting, he had previously been arrested nine times, he had current warrants out for his arrest, and he was a suspect in another case.

From the Salt Lake Tribune and KSL.com

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: From a laser pointer perspective, it appears either that 1) there was no laser pointer used during the actual incident -- it was only recovered later, or 2) if the laser was used, it had no bearing on the shooting -- the officer would have shot Peterson anyway, based on other justifications such as the subject’s prior statements and his body movements during the chase.

The body camera video footage is available on YouTube. It is very shaky, since Officer Adams was running during the confrontation and shooting. We studied the video closely but were unable to see the red flashes referenced by the police investigators.

There are red flashes to the right of Peterson, but these appear (to us) to be reflections in a puddle, of red signs in the background. There is nothing in the video we saw which looks like a laser being used.

This is not to say that the police are wrong -- they have the original and hopefully higher resolution footage.

But it does indicate that this case was not about an officer shooting at a suspected laser-wielding person. The use of a laser was peripheral to the fact that an officer was confronting a person who said he wanted to kill police and who may have pointing an object at him that looked like a gun.

Update, July 15 2016: Peterson filed suit on July 11, due to being shot 10 times and due to mistreatment in jail. The suit claims that, among other things, Peterson’s bandages bled through and were not changed for 10 hours despite his requests. He was also put in a second floor cell even though he had been shot in the lower body and could only crawl to meals and recreation.

Prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor counts of unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon and failure to stop at the command of law enforcement. In February 2016, a jury acquitted Peterson of the other charge against him, a felony count of assault against a police officer.

Peterson spent 19 months in jail, until his February acquittal.

From the Salt Lake Tribune