Officer Jared Jensen, pictured in this 2016 photo, was driving in his patrol vehicle on Dec. 13, 2012, when a man he had never interacted with before fired eight rounds at him and his patrol car. He is calling for justice reform after the gunman is being released from prison after serving eight years of a five-years-to-life sentence. (KSL-TV)
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KAYSVILLE — In December of 2012, Sunset police officer Jared Jensen — who had been hired just four months earlier — was in his patrol car when a man he had had no prior interaction with, walked up to him.
“I noticed this individual on the north side of the road, kind of giving me an odd stare,” he recalled in a 2016 interview. “He lifted up his sweatshirt and pulled a handgun from his waistband and continued to fire eight rounds into my vehicle.”
Jensen again recounted his terrifying ordeal to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole in 2016. “I will never forget the sound of the rounds impacting my vehicle, especially those through the driver’s side door and window. I will never forget the feeling of bullets passing less than a few inches from my body, and the feeling of glass lacerating my skin as pieces followed the path of the bullets,” he said.
On Tuesday, the man who fired those shots, Zane Todd Openshaw, now 31, will walk out of the Utah State Prison on parole.
Openshaw was originally charged with aggravated attempted murder. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted murder and was sentenced to a term of at least five years and up to life in prison.
Jensen, now a sergeant with the Kaysville Police Department, believes that Openshaw is being released after eight years because he was not physically injured that night when Openshaw opened fire. But he said his fortunate outcome was not from a lack of trying on Openshaw’s part.
“He gave it his best and came up short,” Jensen said Monday of the shooting. “Still to this day I don’t understand how I was not injured or how I made it home that day.”
Jensen said Openshaw should be treated as someone who targeted a police officer with the intent of murdering him, and not someone who simply fired a gun and didn’t hurt anyone.
“The offender already received more consideration than he deserved when the court lessened his charge from attempted aggravated murder to simply attempted murder. Any person that attempted a crime such as murder with premeditation and careful planning does not deserve to be let loose into society to continue to victimize and harm the innocent,” Jensen told the board in 2016.
At the time of the hearing, the officer, with members of his family and fellow officers present for support, urged the board not to confuse the intent of Openshaw’s actions with the outcome.
Now, Jensen believes the justice system needs changing.
On Friday, the sergeant sent an open letter to Gov. Spencer Cox, asking that the justice system reshift its focus from the offender to the victim.
“As I stand here now, it brings me no joy to express my lack of faith in our justice system. We, the individuals that practice within the justice system, have lost sight of what justice really means and about those that deserve to see its hand,” he wrote in his letter.
Although Jensen said he was not hurt that day, he was injured.
“This is not a proud moment for me to openly admit something I have denied for years. Despite the difficulty in talking about something so personal, the decisions the offender made that day, laden with intent, changed me. From the moment I narrowly escaped those eight bullets fired directly at me, I became a different person. Due to this change in my being, I have nearly lost familial relationships, personal friendships workplace associates, etc. I have had to take painful and humble steps in seeking out professional treatment. I have been diagnosed with an acute stress disorder with significant post-traumatic stress injuries,” he said.
“Again, I know I was not a victim of a homicide, but I will continue to argue that was either by luck or the will of God because that was irrefutably the offender’s intent. Once a person goes outside basic human programming and chooses to try and kill another human being, what is that person no longer capable of in terms of morality and future victimization?” he continued.
During his parole hearing, Openshaw admitted he was suicidal that night and wanted to be killed in a shootout with police.
“What I did was reckless and disrespectful to everybody. And it just showed the lowest depravity that I could go to,” Openshaw, who has a history of battling depression and mental illness, said at the hearing.
But Jensen said it’s not normal for someone to go from having an argument with his girlfriend earlier in the day to deciding to shoot at a police officer.
“We’re not programmed mentally to take another human life. It’s not something were programmed to be OK with,” he said. “Once you’ve crossed that bridge in your mind, what are you not capable of?”
Jensen said statistically, violent offenders continue to commit violent offenses.
“Do your homework. Get on the Law Enforcement Memorial web page. Look at the people killing our police officers,” he said.
Jensen pointed to the deaths of Unified police officer Doug Barney and Provo police officer Joseph Shinners as examples of officers who were gunned down by offenders with violent criminal histories. Most recently, he noted the two police officers who were injured in a shootout with another man with a violent criminal past earlier this month in Taylorsville.
Unless changes are made in Utah’s justice system, Jensen said other incidents like these will happen again.
In the short term, Jensen is calling on Cox to appoint a police officer to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole so that he or she can add their perspective to the decision-making process. Longer term, Jensen said he would like to see the return of minimum-mandatory sentences for violent offenses so those are no longer subjective decisions for judges. Jensen also believes it would deter some of the activities of criminals if they knew they will face harsher sentences.
“I’m here to try and put the spotlight on where it needs to be. I’m not here to just complain,” Jensen said. “I want to help come up with solutions.
“This has become a problem that needs to be addressed at the legislative level.”
Monday afternoon, the Board of Pardons responded to Jensen’s letter.
“The board was made aware of Sgt. Jensen’s open letter over this past weekend. We appreciate Sergeant Jensen’s service, and the service of Utah’s law enforcement community. The Board actively participates on statewide, collaborative bodies established to consider issues similar to those raised in the letter. These bodies are best suited to address concerns raised, as they involve stakeholders and perspectives from across the justice system. Based on Utah’s sentencing guidelines, the offender in this case was incarcerated one year longer than the recommended sentence.”