Officer fired, hitting passenger as driver gunned truck, police say

OREM -- After pulling in front of Samantha Bencomo's pickup truck and activating his emergency lights, an Orem police officer stepped out of his patrol car to confront Bencomo and her passenger.

In dashcam video released Wednesday by Orem police, the officer is seen pulling his gun out of his holster as he comes into view of the camera. He starts to put the weapon back in his holster as the truck backs up.

But Bencomo then makes a gesture with her hand, as if waving the officer to come forward before she suddenly speeds forward.

"The driver accelerated and made what appears to be a deliberate attempt to turn sharply into the officer in an attempt to hit the officer," said Orem Police Chief Gary Giles as he narrated the video for the media.

In a just a matter of seconds, the officer pulled his gun out again and fired at least two rounds as he is being hit by the fleeing pickup.

"One of those shots apparently did hit a passenger in the chin and face area," the chief said.

Wednesday's news conference was the first time Orem police confirmed that an officer had shot someone, the first time Orem police reported there had been a passenger in the truck, the first time police confirmed someone had been injured and the first time they have publicly discussed the shooting since it occurred five days earlier on May 8.

Orem police had even said Friday that no one had been hospitalized, yet the passenger was taken to a hospital that night and remained hospitalized Wednesday in the intensive care unit.

Bencomo, 27, of Nephi, and Julia Jones, 24, of Orem, were in a pickup truck together on Friday. The string of events began when the truck being driven by Bencomo backed into a vehicle at a car dealership at 1153 N.

State, then left the scene, according to police.

The car owner followed the truck to a gas station at 1091 N. State in Orem. It was there where an officer first confronted Bencomo.

But Bencomo swore several times at the officer and sped away, according to charging documents.

At the intersection of 800 North and 800 West, as the truck was about to make a left turn, a second Orem officer positioned his vehicle in front of the pickup so Bencomo could not go forward. It was video from that confrontation that was shown Wednesday.

At that point, the two women were wanted for leaving the scene of an accident and failing to stop at the command of police. But Giles said there was something about the way Bencomo was acting that made the officer -- whose name has not yet been released but who has several years of experience -- instinctively draw his gun.

"The vehicle is already backing away from him.

As a police officer having worked many, many years on the street, this is a very dynamic situation. You already have somebody who is running from a police officer and now has his emergency lights activated. You now have somebody who is backing away from the officer, motioning to him (to come forward).

If it were me, I'd be a little concerned for my safety at that point," the chief said.

In charging documents, prosecutors describe Bencomo as "taunting" the officer with her hand gestures.

The officer quickly reholsters his gun and takes what Giles described as a "football stance" with his legs apart as if bracing for something to happen. Just as he does so, Bencomo is seen speeding forward in the truck toward the officer, giving him little room to get out of the way. In the video, the officer appears to move out of the way of truck, while pulling and firing his weapon at the same time.

"There's not a whole lot of thought process that goes into that.

That is a reaction of trying to save your life," said Giles who added that he "gasped" the first time he saw the video.

The officer was not knocked over despite being hit, and was able to get back into his patrol car and attempt to chase after the pickup truck, which he lost sight of, the chief said.

On Wednesday, Bencomo was charged in 4th District Court with attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; assault on a police officer, a second-degree felony; two counts of failing to stop at an officer's command, a third-degree felony; and three counts of leaving the scene of an accident, a class B misdemeanor.

After fleeing the from the officer, the truck later hit a cinder block wall, and drove off again before it was involved in a crash with a Ram truck, according to charging documents. At that point, Bencomo was arrested and Jones -- who according to a report from Adult Probation and Parole was "covered in blood" -- was taken to the hospital.

The police affidavit that was filed when Bencomo was booked into the Utah County Jail did not mention any shooting or a passenger. Giles said Wednesday that was because Bencomo's arrest and the officer-involved shooting are two separate investigations.

"The reason there was not mention of that in the probable cause statement of Samantha Bencomo was that it really wasn't a critical part of the charges," he said. "Those actions are independent of the shooting. (They) do not relate as to why the driver was arrested and booked into jail for those crimes."

Giles said a probable cause affidavit is different than a police report, which gives a full narrative of events.

But Jones' family has expressed frustration with police for not acknowledging that their daughter was hospitalized in the intensive care unit and is likely to remain hospitalized for a long time because of her injury.

On Friday, when asked if anyone had been shot, Orem Police Lt.

Nick Thomas said, "We're not releasing that." But when asked, "Nobody's at the hospital?" Thomas replied, "No," and also said, "I'm glad the officer's OK. I'm glad everybody's OK."

Wednesday, Giles contended that Thomas believed he had been asked whether any officers had been hospitalized.

"The question had been asked whether the officers were all OK. And I believe the statement was, 'Yes, they are OK.

Everybody is OK.' And that statement was in regard to all of our police officers," he said.

As for why it was not originally reported to the public that Jones had been shot by the officer, Giles said he didn't know. Because of the series of chaotic events, which included at least five crime scenes ending with a "major crash," officers weren't initially sure, he said.

"We didn't know initially whether that injury was from the crash or was from a gunshot wound. So initially we were trying to figure this out," Giles said. "As far as, 'Was the Orem Police Department trying to downplay this?' Absolutely not.

We followed every bit of the protocol. Because again, we were just trying to figure out what happened."

The chief also stated Wednesday, "The city police department definitely expresses our sympathies to passenger and to her family and we wish and hope for a speedy recovery."

As to whether Jones could potentially be charged with any crimes, Giles said he did not know. Jones' family has stated they have been told by nurses that once she is transferred out of the ICU, she will be placed "in custody."

Giles said what caused the final crash is also still under investigation.

Julia Jones and Bencomo are married, according to Jones' family, but Jones had recently moved back home and was in the process of filing for divorce.

The two were recently convicted together on drug-related charges.

According to court documents, as part of the conditions of their probation, they were not allowed to be with each other until they had successfully completed drug treatment.

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