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SALT LAKE CITY – An unarmed man fatally shot during an attempted carjacking outside a Utah grocery store over the weekend had prior convictions for robbery and assault and was already being sought by police when a bystander shot him, police said Monday.
Police said 26-year-old Taulagi Matafeo of Springville was shot in the chest Saturday after he lunged for a gun pointed by a 31-year-old Orem man who intervened in the carjacking about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Officers and prosecutors are still investigating but do not expect charges to be filed against the shooter because he was acting in self-defense, said Orem police Lt. Craig Martinez.
Investigators said he intervened to help a woman screaming after Matafeo got inside her running car in Orem and struggled with her as she was half-outside of the vehicle. The shooter told Matafeo to get out of the car and put his hands up.
Martinez said it initially looked like Matafeo was going to comply but then he lunged for the gun. The shooter fired one round, hitting the Matafeo in the chest.
"We feel that this man did what he thought he had to do in order to save his life and that of the woman," Martinez said.
Martinez said for privacy reasons, police do not plan to release the shooter's name or the identity of the car owner. Police said the shooter, who had a concealed carry permit, had stopped at the store to buy food before going out for target shooting.
He called 9-1-1 and stayed to speak with police, Martinez said.
Police released a statement from Matafeo's family that said they're sorry he had caused pain and that he was not perfect and needed help.
Gun-control advocates questioned whether the death was necessary. Ladd Everitt with the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said the shooter could have pulled the woman to safety and reported the crime to police who were already searching for the unarmed man.
"This just seems like something that got escalated unnecessarily," he said. "We don't execute people in this country for stealing cars."
But a Utah gun lobbyist said the shooter did the right thing. State law allows the use of guns in self-defense and to prevent felonies such as a car theft, and Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian says situations like the attempted carjacking are the reason why.
"In this case it was a hard choice and it had to be made instantly," Aposhian said. "It could have gone much worse."
Since 2007, Matafeo has been convicted of robbery, theft, assault and drug possession, according to Utah court records. On Saturday morning, police say he had already assaulted a woman and stolen a pickup truck when he saw another woman's SUV running with the door open about 11 a.m., police said.
Martinez said the 56-year-old woman is Canadian but lives in Utah part-time.
Matafeo was also being sought by police on arrest warrants for felony robbery and burglary and some misdemeanor charges.
It wasn't the only self-defense shooting in Utah over the weekend. Five miles away in the town of Pleasant Grove, a homeowner shot and killed five a 24-year-old man who was trying to get inside his house early Sunday morning.
Both shooting cases will be reviewed by the Utah County attorney's office to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.
But Utah attorney Greg Skordas, a former prosecutor, says charges are unlikely in either case.
Utah law generally gives people latitude to defend themselves or others, especially in situations where someone is protecting their home or there's a crime in progress, he said.
Utah is one of the most gun-friendly states in the United States, and it is among more than a dozen states that issue concealed-carry permits to residents of other states. About two-thirds of the nearly 577,000 permits Utah has issued in the last two decades have gone to residents from other states.
The requirements are fairly simple: Anyone 21 or older who passes a criminal background check and takes a firearms course taught by an instructor certified by Utah can get the permit.