Deputy survives close call in shotgun blast to the chest

His Vest Takes Brunt of Shooting; His Bullet Glances Off Suspect''s Head

By Matt Canham 
The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake County sheriff''s Deputy Brett Miller saw the shotgun barrel peek through the driver-side window. He took a few hurried steps back, drew his handgun and heard the blast.

A shootout at close range during a traffic stop injured both Miller and a protective-order-violation suspect early Monday, but thanks to a little luck -- and Miller''s bulletproof vest -- neither was seriously hurt, Sheriff Aaron Kennard said.

"I am just so thankful that I don''t have a fatality here," Kennard said. "It could have been very ugly."

The Sheriff''s Office got a call at 4 a.m. from the wife of James Israel Torres, 30; she had filed a protective order in August and is in the process of filing for divorce.

She told dispatchers that Torres had broken into her parents'' home and was driving away in a full-size, light-color van, possibly armed with a knife or other weapon, said Ken Nielson, the woman''s father.

Miller spotted Torres'' van about a block away from the woman''s house and pulled it over at 4450 S. Jarrah St. (1265 West).

The deputy approached cautiously, his backup still on the way, Kennard said. Miller and Torres didn''t exchange a word before the shooting started.

Miller''s chest took the brunt of the shotgun blast, but about four pellets struck his head and one hit his left wrist. He returned fire. A bullet glanced off of Torres'' skull, and ran the length of his head, leaving a large gash, sheriff''s spokeswoman Peggy Faulkner said.

Miller retreated to his police cruiser when Torres allegedly threw his van in reverse and tried to hit him, Faulkner said. Torres tried to drive away, but his van had become entangled with the police cruiser.

Both men were taken to nearby hospitals, where they spent much of the morning. Torres was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail at 1 p.m. on suspicion of attempted murder and violation of a protective order. He was booked also on three previous warrants for violations of a protective order and on three warrants for Weber County traffic violations.

Doctors were able to remove some lead pellets from Miller''s face, none of which had penetrated the skull, but others were left to work their way out naturally, Kennard said. He visited Miller in the hospital and said his deputy was in good spirits, talkative and surrounded by family. Miller went home Monday afternoon. His physician gave him medication to ward off lead poisoning.

"Traffic stop and domestic violence calls are two of the most violent stops deputies have," Kennard said. "And here we had a combination of both."

Nielson said his 24-year-old daughter filed the protective order after Torres threatened to slit her throat.

"She is afraid of him," Nielson said. "He has threatened too many times to hurt her."

Nielson''s brother confronted Torres when he entered the home early Monday. Torres'' wife heard the commotion and came out of her room.

When he saw her he fled. Nielson said his family has called police more than "two dozen times" to report possible protective order violations, including phone calls, visits to her home and work, and driving past her parents'' home.

"There wasn''t much more she could do to protect herself," Faulkner said. "He wouldn''t go away."

Kennard did not know why Torres allegedly shot his deputy. "I guess he decided not to go to jail again. He has been in my jail numerous times."

Faulkner said the Sheriff''s Office has had extensive contact with Torres. He most recently was booked in November for allegedly receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle, possession of stolen property and carrying a concealed weapon. Formal charges on that case have not been filed.

Miller has patrolled Taylorsville since Kennard hired him in December 2002. He has been placed on routine paid administrative leave, pending the completion of an in-house investigation and an examination of the shooting by the District Attorney''s Office.

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