WARNING: GRAPHIC VIDEO SHOWS SHOOTING DEATH
District Attorney Still Conducting Legal Review Two Years Later
(UT) – In 2019, Michael Chad Breinholt’s girlfriend told police that Michael was intoxicated and had taken “eight or nine pills.” She said, “it seems like he just wants to commit suicide.” She also told the police officer “he just said that he took all those pills so he’ll die.” This information was captured by body camera and is video evidence that the police officer knew Breinholt was suicidal.
Police officers find Breinholt and take him to the police station for initial processing. Breinholt is obviously impaired. At one point he falls to the ground. EMTs from the fire department are called. They evaluate him and say he’s fine, but no one tells the EMTs that Breinholt is suicidal. We don’t even know from the video if they were told Breinholt had ingested several pills. The EMTs leave and the processing continues. When one of the police officers goes to take a shoe away from Breinholt, a struggle begins. Breinholt tries to take the officer’s gun out of its holster. Sergeant Tyler Longman rushes in and draws his weapon. He points his Glock, inches from Breinholt’s neck, and states “You’re about to die, my friend.” Sergeant Longman then shoots and kills Michael Breinholt.
A Tragedy of Errors
There is no doubt that Breinholt did grab an officer’s gun while it was holstered. But why was Breinholt taken to the police station in the first place? The police officer knew he was intoxicated and had taken pills. Why wasn’t Breinholt taken to the hospital?
Breinholt gets up several times and is pushed back down into the chair. The police officer repeatedly tells him to sit down. Breinholt is not thinking well enough to comply. They can see that. Officers see that he is ignoring their instructions. Why wasn’t he put in a hold cell?
A police officer places himself in a vulnerable position, leaving his weapon in close proximity to a man he knows to be suicidal. The highly inebriated, skinny little man, with his hands cuffed behind his back, gets one hand on the gun grip. Three large, trained officers wrestle with him with the most senior officer immediately resorting to deadly force instead of a lesser level of force.
The West Valley City Police Department’s policy manual (312.3.1 e) states ,
No one shall carry firearms into the jail section or any part thereof when securing or processing a prisoner, but shall place all firearms in a secured location.
They were not at the jail, but why do they think the jail doesn’t allow weapons around prisoners? This is yet another reason why Breinholt should have been placed in a holding cell.
Deadly Force was the Wrong Choice
I can’t find holster requirements in the police department’s policy manual. However, law enforcement tends to use various threat level holsters. What that means is that there are certain actions that have to be performed before you can remove the gun from the holster. A threat level three usually requires the cover to be flipped forward, and the gun to be pushed down and forward before it can be released. That is specifically so that a suspect can’t easily get an officer’s gun.
The police officer immediately clamped his hand over Breinholt’s hand to keep possession of his gun. That also means that Breinholt’s hand would have been trapped on the gun grip. The other two officers could have used pepper spray, a taser, or even used brute force. But the sergeant, the one who should have known better, resorted to deadly force.
Then there’s proximity. Two of the sergeant’s officers are right there. They all probably fit within a 4-foot diameter space. What if the bullet had gone through Breinholt and hit an officer? And look at the walls. Those are cinderblock walls. What if the bullet had gone through Breinholt and ricocheted off the wall and hit an officer? Sergeant Longman endangered everyone in that area.
The District Attorney Needs to Make a Decision
The Salt Lake County District Attorney has been stalling on this case for two years. I understand. It’s probably giving him nightmares. To trained individuals, there is obviously an excessive use of force. But the backlash for prosecuting Sergeant Longman will be rough. A lot of people will only want to see an officer in a fight for his life. And those people will get encouragement from groups like the Fraternal Order of Police.
To win a case against Sergeant Longman, the D.A. will have to show Longman’s disdain, from the beginning, for Breinholt. He’ll have to point out Longman’s snide comment about “felon-itis.” He’ll have to show Longman berating Breinholt for wasting the firefighters’ time and how he wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. The D.A. will have to point out that if it was such an emergency, why did Longman have time to say “You’re about to die, my friend.”? If the threat was imminent why didn’t Longman just pull his weapon and shoot? And the D.A. will have to show Longman berating Breinholt’s dead body yelling, “Don’t grab the gun!” That’s not going to win the district attorney any friends within police or the police union.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The family of Michael Breinholt is waiting to see what the Salt Lake County District Attorney is going to do. Regardless, they intend to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Personally, I think they have a pretty good case. I suspect the West Valley City Police Department feels the same way since they would not release the video until ordered to. This was a wrongful death. And it’s not going to look good that this is the third person Longman has killed even though he was cleared on the first two.