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SLCo district attorney rules shooting by West Valley City officer was justified

Posted at 11:48 AM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 19:40:06-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly two years after a West Valley City police officer shot and killed a handcuffed man, the Salt Lake County district attorney announced Thursday that the shooting was justified.

READ: Mural of man killed by West Valley City officer defaced

"In this process we reviewed a variety of material," said Salt Lake County district attorney Sim Gill as he began the walkthrough. "Everything from police reports, incident materials gathered by the task force, dispatch traffic, body worn camera footage, of which there was extensive, witness statements of civilians, medical reports of autopsy conducted by the medical examiner's office."

On Aug. 23, 2019, Michael Chad Breinholt was in custody following a DUI arrest when an altercation broke out inside the police station. Body cam video appeared to show Breinholt reaching for an officer's gun during the fight, leading to another officer, Sgt. Tyler Longman, shooting and killing the 31-year-old.

"When they arrived at city hall, officer Lane escorted Mr. Breinholt into a small room," Gill said. "This was a temporary, I believe, intoxilyzer the basement where West Vally City had set up the intoxilyzer machine."

Breinholt refused a breath test and officers had him sit and wait in the small intoxilyzer room while they obtained a warrant to draw blood.

"Seargent Longman responded to help the officers with that process," Gill added. "Longman was not part of the original arresting officers but came down there to assist."

Breinholt, who was visibly intoxicated and at one point asked for medical assistance, claimed multiple times he had a hidden gun in his shoe. Officers knew Breinhold was unarmed as they searched him before bringing him to city hall.

"Concerned that Mr. Breinholt would do something with his shoe, officer Atkin asked him to give it up," Gill said. "Mr. Breinholt refused."

Officers then tried to take the shoe from Breinholt. That's when he got up, and with his hands cuffed behind his back, he attempted to unholster one officer's gun.

"Officer Atkin yelled, 'holy f***, he's got my gun!" Gill added.

Three of the officers, including Longman, then scuffled with Breinholt for about seven seconds. Longman threw a punch, then said "you're about to die, my friend," before drawing his gun and shooting Breinholt once in the head, killing him instantly.

The shooting sparked criticism from the community and Gill acknowledged that from a citizen's perspective, he thinks things could've been handled differently.

"When our legal outcomes do not align with our moral expectations there's a sense of injustice there," Gill said. "So, I understand that. But I have to look at cold reality of what the law allows me to do and I cannot contradict the factual circumstances that are here."

The shooting was Longman's third during his time with the West Valley City Police Department.

Longman was originally placed on administrative leave following the shooting, but was returned to active duty in just a few months.

Although Longman was cleared by the West Valley City Police Department, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced his own determination and will not bring charges against the officer.

Breinholt was originally brought into custody for reportedly being intoxicated and causing problems outside a business on Redwood Road.

At times throughout the walkthrough, Gill was visibly skaken up and appeared to be frustrated at the outcome of the investigation. He added that there have been far too many police shootings lately and "we have to start learning from this." He suggested procedural and legislative changes to when and how police can use deadly force.

The West Valley City Police Department issued the following statement in reaction to district attorney office's decision:

"While we recognize the gravity of this incident, we are pleased that, after nearly two years of scrutiny, the District Attorney’s Office has found our officer justified in his actions.

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.”