Eleven years ago, at 9:47 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2002, Craig Webb, at the time a Woods Cross Police detective, took a man’s life.
Even today, he says, “It’s just like it was yesterday.”
In his office, cluttered with boxes of ongoing investigations, Webb
talks quietly about that day, reliving in intense, compelling detail
the events that are so important to him that he terms Jan. 14 a second birthday.
Webb and a Davis County deputy had gone to an apartment in Woods Cross after someone had called 911 and left the line open. The deputy had seen a woman run into a second-story apartment while waving at him. When Webb knocked on the door, he was confronted by someone he knew: 33-year-old Rusty Stewart.
Stewart, recalls Webb, took part in “tough-guy competitions.” He was someone who would drink and then look for a fight. But Webb had talked him down from such belligerence before, asking him, “Can’t we just talk, Rusty?” before managing to calm him down.
“I like people,” says Webb, now a Davis County Attorney’s Office investigator, who displays an easygoing, almost gentle manner.
That bitterly cold night, Stewart appeared agitated, but he told Webb to come in. Unbeknownst to Webb and the deputy, Stewart had kidnapped the woman several hours before, shown her two rounds and told her, “One is for you, one for me.” Webb recalls that investigators would later determine Stewart was high on meth and had repeatedly stabbed himself and tried to slit his own throat.
While Webb searched the apartment, Stewart abruptly leapt off the balcony and ran toward the trees, the deputy chasing after him.
If the deputy tackled Stewart on his own, Webb thought to himself, “He’ll mop the earth with you.” He ran up a snowbank next to another apartment complex and saw some storage sheds that he suspected Stewart might have hidden behind. The deputy was ahead of Webb, a flashlight in one hand, gun in the other. As Webb walked toward him, he saw Stewart crouching, arms outstretched, about to pounce on the unsuspecting deputy.
“I yell and scream, I’m running at him to close the distance, he throws his jacket off and runs at me.” Webb reversed direction, running backward, but then fell hard on the ice, his gun still in his left hand, even as Stewart jumped on top of him, “grabbing at the gun. I had the gun tightly into my side, he’s pummeling me, he had a hold on my gun hand. I tried my best to fight with one hand but I had no traction, it was so slippery on the ice.” With his free hand, Webb chopped rapidly at Stewart’s arm, trying to numb the brachial nerve, “even as he’s whaling on me.”
Webb hit him with an uppercut. Stewart reared back up and, in that split second, when all Webb could see was his assailant’s distended nostrils as Stewart came back at him, Webb shot him. The impact of the round into Stewart’s chest—1,300 pounds per square inch—drove him back up above the fallen officer. For a second, Stewart looked down at Webb.
“I gave him the command to back up after I brought the gun up. He dropped to his knees. He said, ‘I wasn’t going hurt you, I just wanna die.’”
Webb is silent for a moment. “We hear about suicide-by-cop all the time. I had had other incidents prior to this,” but none that had gotten to the point of him having to pull the trigger. “I never, ever wanted to do that.”
Again, he is silent for several more beats before he resumes his story.
Stewart fell to the ground. Webb could see the entrance wound because of the pink foam that indicated he had hit a lung.
In shock, Webb himself collapsed. “It felt like a truck had parked on top of me. I felt like somebody had just smashed me.” He went down so suddenly, the deputy believed Stewart had shot him. “X10 down, shots fired,” the deputy shouted on his radio, irritating Webb, who bellowed at him to help Stewart.
Webb crawled over to Stewart, who was lying on his back, and tried to administer aid, even as he fought Webb’s efforts to help him. “Leave me alone, let me die,” Stewart said.
“I’m not going to let you die,” Webb said. Then, the chaos that Webb says comes with an officer-involved shooting began. A sergeant took his gun and put him in a squad car. Both he and the deputy had suffered injuries from their falls on the ice and were taken to the hospital.
“Knowing what I did was right to save my life and the people around me,” Webb says, “the only thing that went through my mind was, ‘Everybody’s got a mom.’”
Investigators from Davis County and Bountiful walked into his hospital room. One stood at the foot of his bed and said, “I want his blood, now.” The sergeant stayed next to Webb for the entirety of the night, “taking down everything I said.” Webb just wanted to go home to see his children as the realization of how close to death he had been dawned on him. But when he rang his chief to ask if he could go home, he says his chief replied, “I can’t help you, I’m an administrator,” and hung up.
Webb was ruled as justified in his use of force, but the way he was treated 10 years ago contrasts sharply with how shootings are investigated today. Looking back, the bedside note-taking and not being allowed to sleep for two sleep cycles—which is now afforded all officers post-shooting, because, Webb says, it helps bring clarity—would not be permitted today.
The shooting had a profound effect on Webb. “It made me really reflect on why I was doing this job. I like people. Having to kill one bothered me, regardless of this situation.”
He stayed with Woods Cross for five more years, then moved to Davis County as an investigator, using his experience with the shooting investigation to help shape the protocol for the deadly force investigations the county currently employs.
A key difference from Salt Lake County’s current model is that the law-enforcement agency that employs the shooter cannot be involved in the initial investigation by the county’s task force, which is assembled from multiple local agencies.
After the shooting, every time Webb held his children, he chastised himself for waiting too long to shoot “when Rusty had his own agenda,” of apparently ending his own life by Webb's hand.
As he looks back on those events 11 years ago, Webb says he felt like “everybody was stepping back from me. I’d just shot an unarmed man; on the surface that’s horrible.” But then he would remember statistics from officer-survival classes regarding how many cops die from their own weapon after it is taken from them. “I knew what I did was right.”