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Investigation opened after woman's death in police custody ruled homicide by Utah Medical Examiner

Posted at 7:32 PM, Jul 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-31 00:06:31-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department has activated its "officer-involved critical incident (OICI) protocol" after a woman's death several months ago was recently ruled as a homicide by the medical examiner.

Megan Joyce Mohn, 40, was arrested on January 11 and passed away in the hospital 19 days later.

On Thursday, nearly six months after her death, the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner released the results of Mohn's autopsy. It declared her death as a homicide, and specifically determined the cause of her death as "anoxic brain injury” due to “cardiac arrest” due to “probable methamphetamine intoxication in the setting of an altercation involving physical restraint," according to a press release issued Saturday by SLCPD.

Details on how this conclusion was determined were not immediately available.

The department activated the OICI protocol on Friday after learning of the medical examiner's findings and after consulting with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office. This involves an investigation into the incident by members of outside police agencies in the county.

The Salt Lake County Law Enforcement Task Force defines an OICI as:
I) The use of a dangerous weapon by an officer against a person that causes injury to any person;
II) A fatal injury to any person except the officer, resulting from the use of a motor vehicle by an officer;
III) The death of a person who is in law enforcement custody, but not including deaths that are the result of disease, natural causes, or conditions that have been medically diagnosed prior to the person’s death; or
IV) A fatal injury to a person resulting from the efforts of an officer attempting to prevent a person’s escape from custody, make an arrest, or otherwise gain physical control of a person.

According to a statement from the police department, officers were called to the Marathon Petroleum refinery on the north side of Salt Lake City early in the morning of Jan. 11 because Mohn was causing a disturbance and attempting to trespass on private property.

Around 3:15 a.m., a security guard for Marathon told an SLCPD officer that a woman (later identified as Mohn) was “walking in circles carrying a piece of rebar" in the intersection of 400 West and 900 North.

The officer, who was working a "secondary employment shift" for Marathon at the time, learned that Mohn had tried to get into a secure area of the refinery through a truck exit gate. However, she was stopped by a truck driver and then ran off of the property and back into the intersection.

The officer approached Mohn around 3:30 a.m. and told her to drop the rebar, and she complied. A private security guard who was also at the scene told investigators that Mohn was "screaming incoherent language," resisting arrest and trying to run from the officer. The officer was able to get her into custody and seated on the grass about five minutes later and called for backup, according to the department's press release.

However, police say Mohn later began to resist officers and kicked one of them multiple times while "screaming randomly." Officers then moved her from a seated position onto her stomach, then applied leg restraints after she continued kicking. After doing so, officers said they noticed that she stopped yelling and resisting.

"The sudden change in behavior and lack of physical and verbal response from Ms. Mohn prompted an officer on scene to immediately recommend that Ms. Mohn be placed into the “recovery position,"" the statement from SLCPD read.

Police said she was breathing but unresponsive. Officers attempted to wake her and administered naloxone, which is a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses. She still did not react, so they removed the restraints and began CPR at about 3:50 a.m.

Salt Lake City Fire Department personnel responded and continued CPR, and Mohn was taken to Salt Lake Regional Hospital in critical condition.

At the hospital, officers were told by medical staff that the woman's condition was improving and that she was expected to recover. Several hours later, hospital staff confirmed that her condition was not life-threatening.

On Jan. 28, just over two weeks after her arrest, Mohn was moved to the intensive care unit. She died two days later.

However, SLCPD said they were not told that she was moved to the ICU or that she died until Feb. 9.

After learning about Mohn's death, the department consulted with the county attorney's office, which said the situation "did not qualify as an officer-involved-critical-incident at that time," so they waited for the results from the autopsy.

The medical examiner's office released the results Thursday, and (as written above) ruled Mohn's death as a homicide with the specific cause of her death being "anoxic brain injury” due to “cardiac arrest” due to “probable methamphetamine intoxication in the setting of an altercation involving physical restraint."

Police said that while Mohn was in the hospital, they found methamphetamine, spice and alcohol among her possessions.

“Police officers make incredibly important and difficult decisions at lightning speed and under incredible stress and volatility. These decisions are heavily scrutinized,” SLCPD Chief Mike Brown said in the written press release. “Our officers acted appropriately, quickly and professionally to save Ms. Mohn’s life. We welcome and respect the officer-involved-critical-incident protocol. We have confidence this will be a fair and judicious process guided by the rule of law and grounded in evidence.”

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says he welcomes the Chief's request for his office to investigate the matter.

“Is a desire to be transparent, to try to be above board, to sort of invoke the protocol because they were the responding agency," Gill said. “So we have to kind of look through to see, is it tied to the initial incident? Is it tied to subsequent care?...And that is what we are going to sift through…and that’s our process.”

Mohn was officially charged with five criminal counts on Feb. 2 — which was after she had died, but before police learned of her death. Her charges were dismissed later that month, according to court records.

The four officers involved in her arrest have been placed on administrative leave as per protocol, and SLCPD said body-worn camera footage from the incident will be released.

FOX 13 News discussed this case with Chris Bertram, a local retired deputy police chief who is now a private investigator and criminal justice professor.

“If this person had died from, for instance, a medical reason, then it's not going to be a homicide," Bertram said. "It's maybe circumstances that, you know, other health conditions, other health issues, and I think that may have been the complicating factor.”

He also said there's a chance the officers involved could be placed back on duty — partially because the incident in question happened months ago, as well as for workforce reasons.

“Salt Lake City has as a manpower issue," said Bertram. "And I know that four officers would put a strain, although that doesn't seem like a lot for a big department, it does. It causes a strain, especially in the summer months when you have more people out.”

Video below: Bertram speaks more on SLCPD opening OICI investigation into Mohn's death

Chris Bertram speaks on woman's death in police custody being ruled homicide