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Prosecutor rules shooting of man in police custody was justified

Sim Gill announces the fatal shooting of Chad Breinholt, 31, by a West Valley police officer justified.

SALT LAKE CITY– Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled justified Thursday the fatal shooting of a man in West Valley Police custody. 

Watch the DA Gill announce the decision live below:

 

In 2019, Chad Breinholt, 31, was handcuffed, in police custody, when he was killed by Sgt. Tyler Longman while waiting to be transferred to the Salt Lake County Jail. 

When announcing the ruling, Gill said the DA believes Longman “was faced with a deadly situation,” and “Breinholt created a situation where the use of force was reasonable.”

Additionally, Gill said under H.B. 227 passed by the Utah Legislature in 2021, the DA’s office could not meet the burden of proof to criminally charge Sgt. Longman for the deadly shooting of Breinholt. 

A shooting in police custody

Nearly two years ago, on Aug. 23, 2019, Chad Breinholt was held in an intoxication room at the West Valley City Hall when Longman fatally shot him at close range, according to police body camera footage released. 

Before Breinholt died, body camera footage shows Breinholt scuffling with two officers, and grabbing one officer’s pistol. The gun was never removed from the officer’s holster, however, the officers involved stated the gun was close to coming out, and it took all their effort to prevent Breinholt from taking the weapon. 

(A portion of the body cam footage shown by Sim Gill. Breinholt, in white, was able to grab the gun in front of him after his handcuffs lids up his forearms.)

Shortly after, Longman came back into the room to help the officers struggling with Breinholt.  Gill says that’s when Longman said what he considers “infamous words.”

“Sergeant Longman then said, ‘You’re about to die, my friend,’ as he reached for his firearm and drew it from his holster,” Gill said.

Gill said Longman can be seen in the video hitting Breinholt in the face to try to make him release the officer’s gun, but none of their efforts worked.

He said, “To control the situation, they push Mr. Breinholt to the far corner of the room where some furniture was placed.  The officers were unable to remove Mr. Breinholt’s hands from officer Atkin’s gun.”

A few seconds later, the video shows Longman drew his weapon and shot Breinholt in the head.  One officer can also be heard saying “He’s dead” to others in the room after Breinholt falls to the floor.  

Gill said there were some reports circulating that Longman came into the room with his gun already drawn, ready to fire without seeing what was happening.

“That was not factually accurate.  Longman actually went in with his gun in his holster,” Gill said.

(Another picture from the body cam video, showing Longman’s arms hitting Breinholt in an attempt to make him release the gun. Gill says this proves Longman did not have his gun drawn when he entered the room, despite some claims from the public.)

Gill admits this was an especially tough case to review.  He requested the expert opinions of two expert witnesses from out of state, and they all came to the conclusion that Longman had reason to believe the officers were in danger when Breinholt grabbed the gun.

“I cannot prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that his belief was unreasonable given his statements, the statements of the other officers, the struggle that is clearly going on and the statements of two expert witnesses,” he said.