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Avenues Man Wielding Snow Shovel Shot, Killed By Police

Whittney Evans
James Barker's girlfriend Heidi Keilbaugh sits next to Barker's guitar on her front porch, where she and Barker lived together for four years.

An Avenues man is dead and a Salt Lake City Police Officer is on paid administrative leave with injuries after an altercation Thursday. Police say 42-year-old James Barker attacked the police officer with a snow shovel and was then shot and killed by officer.

The last time James Barker’s girlfriend Heidi Keilbaugh spoke with him, she’d suggested he shovel the ice that had formed on their front walk.  Keilbaugh says Barker happily obliged. And after he finished the job, she says he walk south on I street with his snow-shovel in tow. Keilbaugh says Barker had a surfing accident in Panama that left him with a serious infection that affected his auditory memory. She says he was taking the antipsychotic drug Abilify. But she believes Barker was in a clear state of mind when he left the house Thursday afternoon.

“This man, if you got to meet him today, was someone who was gentle in spirit, friendly, not a bad bone in his body,” Keilbaugh says.” And the mere fact that he got shot, this is proof right here that it can happen to anyone.’

Keilbaugh says most of the neighbors knew Barker, who’d lived in the Avenues for 17 years. But at about 3:30, someone called 9-1-1 to complain of a suspicious looking man knocking on doors, offering to shovel snow for money.  Police say moments after an officer arrived at the scene Barker hit him several times with the shovel and the officer drew his handgun and shot Barker.

Salt Lake City Police Detective Dennis McGowan says the officer, whose name has not yet been released, was wearing an activated body camera which became disabled during the attack. He says it’s unclear what state of mind Barker was in at the time.

“Naturally investigators are looking at that, trying to determine what the mental state was and what the motive perhaps was,” McGowan says.

The officer involved was released Thursday night with multiple bone fractures.  Simultaneous investigations are under way by the Salt Lake City Police Department, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and the Salt Lake City Police Citizen Review Board. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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