By BRADY McCOMBS
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) —Friends and family are set to gather at a funeral Thursday to remember a young black man who was fatally shot by Utah police in an incident that has triggered questions about the role his race played in the events.
Darrien Hunt, 22, was killed on Sept. 10 in a strip mall in Saratoga Springs, an upscale city south of Salt Lake City.
Hunt’s mother came out days later and said she believes her son was shot because he was black. A family attorney said an independent autopsy showed Hunt was shot six times in the back, casting doubt on the police version of events.
Authorities, however, say race played no role in the shooting. Officers were reacting to Hunt lunging at them with a sword that had a 2.5-foot steel blade, not a toy sword as the family has suggested, Utah County Chief Deputy Attorney Tim Taylor said.
Police say the shooting happened after they were called to investigate a suspicious man walking near businesses while carrying a samurai-type sword.
That image doesn’t match the one Hunt’s family presents of their oldest son.
In his obituary, the family says Hunt graduated from high school in Heymarket, Virginia, in 2010 and was considering joining the Marine Corps.
“Darrien had such a forgiving and kind heart and lived his life with a strong desire to just show love and compassion,” the obituary reads. “He always wished there was a way to impact a positive change.”
Online court records show Hunt had a couple of previous encounters with Saratoga Springs police.
In January, Hunt was charged in a domestic violence dispute that Edwards said involved one of his siblings. Most of the charges were dismissed when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, taking a plea in abeyance that allowed him to pay a fine and not have the conviction on his record, online court records show.
In 2012, he pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana and was ordered to pay a fine and put on probation for one year.
Randall Edwards, an attorney for Hunt’s family, said this week that neither he nor the Hunt family want to exacerbate racial tensions but said it is a natural question to ask if race was a factor considering the facts of the shooting. He said Hunt died from a bullet that hit him square in the back, suggesting he was fleeing.
Saratoga Springs is a city of 23,000 people that counts 93 percent of its population as being white and only less than 1 percent being black, U.S. Census figures show. Hunt had a white mother and black father.