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Deadly force deemed as justified in officer-involved shooting at Pioneer Park

(Screen grab of the body cam footage released by Salt Lake City Police. Prosecutors say it shows Rezek Yahya racing toward Officer Darren Austill with a knife in his hand.)

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor says Salt Lake City police were justified in using deadly force in an officer-involved shooting in Pioneer Park. 

However, newly released evidence shows the suspect wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the park that day. 

Body camera footage

During a press conference Friday, Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill walked reporters through the body camera footage of the officer-involved shooting from June 2021, plus, he gave more details about the stabbing that led police arriving.  He says the suspect, Rezek Yahya, became enraged at a woman after she asked for a lighter.  Yahya reportedly swore at the woman and said, “this is not a 7-11.”

Gill said, “At that point, she says he got up, pulled out a knife and stabbed her in the arm.”

(A picture of the knife Yahya reportedly used to attack a woman in Pioneer Park, which police say he still had in his hand when he charged an officer. Courtesy Salt Lake County DA’s Office.)

Uncooperative toward police

He says the woman was stabbed multiple times but was able to run to nearby constructions workers who saved her life.  When police arrived, the workers helped them find Yahya who was sitting in a tree.  Gill says police told Yahya to drop his weapon, but he refused.  After that, Yahya reportedly “locked on” to one of the officers and went straight for him. 

“[Yahya] began to run directly at him, holding the knife in his hand as he ran,” Gill said.

Gill says Yahya was able to move more than 100 feet toward the officer in roughly six seconds, never letting go of the weapon.

“As Mr. Yahya neared Officer [Darren] Austill, still sprinting with the knife in his hand, both officers fired their weapons,” Gill said.

Forensics evidence shows Yahya was hit twice by gunfire. And either bullet could have been lethal.  Gill says one bullet severed his spine while the other went into his lungs.  Given that it appeared Yahya intended to attack Officer Austill, Gill says deadly force was reasonable and a jury would likely find the officers not guilty.

Getting out of the country

However, there are still many questions about why Yahya was even at the park that day.  Gill says investigators found an airline ticket to Chad that departed two days prior to the shooting.  They believe Yahya was supposed to be on that flight, but he missed it.

He said, “He had a ticket to fly out of the country, so we are still in the process of trying to locate some familial contact and working back, but we have not been able to locate any family members.”

Gill says they’re working with refugee communities and their advocates to see if they can learn more about Yahya’s family.