Holladay shooting justified, but prosecutor still “troubled”

May 20, 2021, 3:00 PM
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speaking to media on May 20, 2021. (PHOTO: Kristin Murp...
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speaking to media on May 20, 2021. (PHOTO: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
(PHOTO: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A police shooting in Holladay that killed an armed, suicidal man has been ruled justified by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, but he also wrote in his report that the outcome leaves him “troubled.”

The shooting took place Aug. 8, 2020. Members of the Unified Police Department initially responded to reports of a suicidal man, Gill said.

The Holladay shooting, deconstructed

According to Gill, the first call for help came from the wife of Matt Hilbelink, 39. She called 911 after receiving a text from Hilbelink, showing her a photo of the gun he said he’d just bought. In the text message, he indicated he planned to take his own life. 

Hilbelink’s wife used an app to track his phone, then relayed the information to dispatchers. Police found him sitting on the ground at a parking lot at 6510 S. Millrock Drive, holding a gun.

According to Gill’s final report, three officers established a position behind a police truck and worked for 24 minutes to try to get him to drop the weapon. 

“Instead, he kept the weapon in his right hand, often with his finger on the trigger, throughout the incident,” the report said. 

“Thousand-yard stare”

The report says Hilbelink continued to switch from pointing his gun at police, to putting the gun’s muzzle in his mouth, then placing it back in his lap. According to the report, the turning point came when the officers noted a changing expression on Hilbelink’s face: a “thousand-yard stare.” 

He raised the gun and pointed it at one of the officers again. In a written statement provided to the district attorney’s office conducting the investigation, Officer Dave Jaroscak said it appeared Hilbelink was aiming directly at another officer, whose upper body, face and head were exposed. 

“I believed that Hilbelink was about to shoot (him) if immediate action wasn’t taken,” Jaroscak wrote. 

On body camera video, Jaroscak’s voice relayed that concern. 

“It looks like he’s getting ready to pop one off,” Jaroscak said. “He’s gonna kill one of us first.” 

Jaroscak fired one round, killing Hilbelink. 

Holladay shooting justified, but “troubled” outcome

The report ruled the Holladay shooting justified, but according to Gill, also troubled. 

“At the end of the day, when we’re troubled with the outcome in which a suicidal man with a gun is shot and killed by police, we have to ask, ‘Could this have ended differently?'” Gill wrote in the report. 

A sergeant who responded to the call that day said in spite of efforts to communicate with Hilbelink, he never responded to police. 

“We’re making communication with him, constantly talking to him, trying to get him to talk to us. He won’t talk,” the sergeant told investigators, describing Hilbelink as “fidgeting with his gun.” 

They talked to him about hiking, based off information from dispatchers that he liked to hike. He did not respond. 

“He just wouldn’t take it. And he just kept looking at us like he was … kind of that zombie kind of look. There was no one home, it seemed like. Like a man totally lost,” a second sergeant said. 

Asking “the hard questions”

The report said officers considered using a less-lethal round in their exchange with Hilbelink, but worried he would shoot regardless of whether they used lethal force or not. 

After Jaroscak fired, police checked Hilbelink’s gun. They found it loaded, with a round in the chamber. 

Gill said he called the shooting troubling to help improve police response and start a conversation. 

“We take the time to reflect and invite discussion about how the police responded to the incident and why they did what they did, because having reviewed scores of police shootings resulting in the deaths of members of the community, we believe everyone … will be better for having asked the hard questions,” he said.

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Holladay shooting justified, but prosecutor still “troubled”