The district attorney for Salt Lake County declined to file criminal charges against a Utah police officer who said, "you're about to die, my friend" seconds before fatally shooting a man.
District Attorney Sim Gill announced his decision at a press conference on Thursday, saying West Valley City Sgt. Tyler Longman acted within the confines of the law when he shot and killed Michael Chad Breinholt in August 2019.
Gill said that under the current state law, Longman's use of force was justified but called video of the shooting "disturbing."
“If you’re asking me to take off my district attorney hat, I can take it off. And I can say that do I feel morally comfortable in the way this ended up here? That there were other ways that this could have been averted? Yes," Gill told reporters.
“If we want different outcomes, which is not unreasonable for us to ask, then we need to change the law.”
Breinholt's mother, Susan Neese, told KSL that she’s still haunted by what happened to her son.
"The mental distress he was in and to have those last words — 'you're about to die my friend' — when he was clearly not among friends or people who cared or were concerned, that haunts me and will haunt me forever," said.
Breinholt was killed in the city's police station after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. The incident began just before 7 p.m. when a worker at an assisted living facility called police to say Breinholt had arrived at the center intoxicated, Gill said at the press conference.
The worker told police that the center's security camera caught Breinholt erratically driving his girlfriend's car and almost crashing into other vehicles in the parking lot, according to Gill.
Two officers responded, one being West Valley City officer Taylor Atkin, Gill said. When police arrived, Breinholt was walking away from the facility. Gill said the officers conducted a DUI investigation, placed Breinholt under arrest, and took him to the police station for a blood test.
Breinholt, who was in handcuffs, was taken to a small room in the station's basement and ordered to sit in a chair. Gill said officers asked him to take a breathalyzer test but he refused.
The district attorney said that while officers tried to obtain a search warrant for a blood test, Longman arrived to help.
At one point, Breinholt complained about not feeling well and asked to be taken to Huntsman Mental Health Institute, Gill said, noting that medical personnel examined him and found nothing wrong.
According to the district attorney, Breinholt tried to get out of the chair and chewed "on the power cord to the intoxilyzer machine." Breinholt also told police that he had a gun in his shoe, but officers ignored him because they had already searched him.
Gill said that while handcuffed, Breinholt took off the shoe and picked it up. When an officer tried to take the shoe, Breinholt twisted in his seat and grabbed officer Atkin's holstered weapon, according to the district attorney.
The officer yelled, "Holy f—. He's got my gun. He's got my gun."
A struggle ensued involving several officers, including Longman. Gill said the officers were unable to remove Breinholt's hand from Atkin's weapon.
During the chaos, Longman hit Breinholt in the face and at one point is heard on video saying "you're about to die, my friend" before shooting Breinholt in the head. Gill said it was only seven-and-a-half seconds between Longman entering the room and firing his weapon.
"We believe that Sgt. Longman was faced with a deadly force situation in which it appeared possible unless Mr. Breinholt was stopped, he would not stop grabbing officer Atkin's gun from his holster," the district attorney said.
Longman told investigators he feared for his life and heard the "urgency" in Atkin's voice as he struggled with Breinholt.
The West Valley City Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday. An attorney for Longman also did not immediately return a request for comment.
A police spokesperson told NBC affiliate KSL of Salt Lake City the department was "pleased" with the district attorney's decision.
"This decision brings to a close a challenging chapter for all involved. We are grateful to our officers who diligently serve our community each day, and in the face of impossibly difficult decisions, consistently do their best," the spokesperson said.
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