Task force completes investigation into fatal officer-involved shooting

ST. GEORGE — After a multi-week investigation by the Iron County Critical Incident Task Force, the Iron County Attorney’s Office has come to a conclusion in regard to November’s fatal officer-involved shooting.

The location of an officer-involved shooting at a residence in Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 11, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

In a Nov. 27 letter to Cedar City Police Chief Darin M. Adams, Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson relayed the findings of the Critical Incident Task Force – a team comprised of representatives from several law enforcement agencies within the county other than the Cedar City Police Department. Dotson wrote that Cedar City Police Officer Zachary Banz, the officer who fired the shots in the Nov. 11 incident, “was legally justified,” in using deadly force against 56-year-old James Aubrey Sr.

Dotson went on to say in the statement that the county attorney’s office “will not institute a criminal prosecution against him.”  

The investigation stems from an incident on Nov. 11 in which officers responded to a residence on 820 South and Sunset Boulevard. A woman had called the Cedar City Emergency Dispatch Center to report that her husband was making threats toward her and her son, as well as toward law enforcement. During the confrontation, Aubrey was shot and killed.

The task force found that the initial contact with Aubrey’s family during the incident took place about a block from the residence, where an officer spoke to Aubrey’s wife and son who said they were “afraid the suspect was going to kill them,” and had also made threats to kill law enforcement officers. 

Banz, an eight-year veteran of the Cedar City Police Department, was one of the officers to respond to the scene. He was already familiar with the address and the suspect because of an encounter that took place the prior week in which Aubrey allegedly made threats to kill individuals in California, according to the investigative summary. who has been on administrative leave since the incident took place,

During the Nov. 11 incident, Banz entered the residence to collect some of Aubrey’s wife’s belongings and went downstairs to the basement apartment. The officers knocked on the door and announced their presence, calling out for Aubrey to come to the door.

A family member soon came down the stairs to open the door for the officers who continued ordering the suspect to come to the door, at which point Aubrey yelled “No,” the report states. 

The location of an officer-involved shooting at a residence in Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 11, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Due to the nature of the call, Banz entered the residence with his firearm “at the low-ready position,” according to the report, while his sergeant entered with his taser in hand.

Aubrey appeared from around a corner pointing a 32 caliber semi-automatic handgun directly at the officers, holding his finger on the trigger as he moved toward them. Banz fired three shots, he told task force investigators, all of which struck the suspect as he fell to the floor. Despite performing lifesaving efforts immediately following the shooting, Aubrey was pronounced dead at the scene.

During the interview, Banz also told investigators that he “believed the suspect was going to shoot him and that he feared for his life, as well as the lives of the other officers,” according to the report.

Banz has been on administrative leave since the incident took place.

Under Utah law, Dotson wrote, a peace officer is justified in using deadly force if “the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.” 

Further, in determining the use of deadly force, the trier of fact considers a number of factors, including the nature and the immediacy of the danger. It also considers the probability that the suspect’s use of force “would result in death or serious bodily injury,” taking into account the suspect’s “prior violent acts or propensities or patterns of abuse or violence.”

Investigators found that the probably factor was supported by the fact that Banz went into the situation knowing that the suspect had made prior threats to kill both his family and law enforcement officers, and had responded to the same address only one week prior when the suspect made threats to kill other individuals. 

Investigators then concluded that the officer “encountered grave and immediate danger” when Aubrey moved toward them with his finger on the trigger of a loaded handgun pointing directly at them, and that the officer’s belief that “firing at the suspect was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or to another” was justified.  

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