The district attorney for Salt Lake County declined to file criminal charges against a Utah police officer who said, “you’re about to die, my friend” seconds before fatally shooting a man.
District Attorney Sim Gill announced his decision at a press conference on Thursday, saying West Valley City Sgt. Tyler Longman acted within the confines of the law when he shot and killed Michael Chad Breinholt in August 2019.
Gill said that under the current state law, Longman’s use of force was justified but called video of the shooting “disturbing.”
“If you’re asking me to take off my district attorney hat, I can take it off. And I can say that do I feel morally comfortable in the way this ended up here? That there were other ways that this could have been averted? Yes,” Gill told reporters.
“If we want different outcomes, which is not unreasonable for us to ask, then we need to change the law.”
Breinholt’s mother, Susan Neese, told KSL that she’s still haunted by what happened to her son.
“The mental distress he was in and to have those last words — ‘you’re about to die my friend’ — when he was clearly not among friends or people who cared or were concerned, that haunts me and will haunt me forever,” said.
Breinholt was killed in the city’s police station after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. The incident began just before 7 p.m. when a worker at an assisted living facility called police to say Breinholt had arrived at the center intoxicated, Gill said at the press conference.
The worker told police that the center’s security camera caught Breinholt erratically driving his girlfriend’s car and almost crashing into other vehicles in the parking lot, according to Gill.
Two officers responded, one being West Valley City officer Taylor Atkin, Gill said. When police arrived, Breinholt was walking away from the facility. Gill said the officers conducted a DUI investigation, placed Breinholt under arrest, and took him to the police station for a blood test.
Breinholt, who was in handcuffs, was taken to a small room in the station’s basement and ordered to sit in a chair. Gill said officers asked him to take a breathalyzer test but he refused.
The district attorney said that while officers tried to obtain a search warrant for a blood test, Longman arrived to help.
At one point, Breinholt complained about not feeling well and asked to be taken to Huntsman Mental Health Institute, Gill said, noting that medical personnel examined him and found nothing wrong.
According to the district attorney, Breinholt tried to get out of the chair and chewed “on the power cord to the intoxilyzer machine.” Breinholt also told police that he had a gun in his shoe, but officers ignored him because they had already searched him.
Gill said that while handcuffed, Breinholt took off the shoe and picked it up. When an officer tried to take the shoe, Breinholt twisted in his seat and grabbed officer Atkin’s holstered weapon, according to the district attorney.
The officer yelled, “Holy f—. He’s got my gun. He’s got my gun.”
A struggle ensued involving several officers, including Longman. Gill said the officers were unable to remove Breinholt’s hand from Atkin’s weapon.
During the chaos, Longman hit Breinholt in the face and at one point is heard on video saying “you’re about to die, my friend” before shooting Breinholt in the head. Gill said it was only seven-and-a-half seconds between Longman entering the room and firing his weapon.
“We believe that Sgt. Longman was faced with a deadly force situation in which it appeared possible unless Mr. Breinholt was stopped, he would not stop grabbing officer Atkin’s gun from his holster,” the district attorney said.
Longman told investigators he feared for his life and heard the “urgency” in Atkin’s voice as he struggled with Breinholt.
The West Valley City Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday. An attorney for Longman also did not immediately return a request for comment.
A police spokesperson told NBC affiliate KSL of Salt Lake City the department was “pleased” with the district attorney’s decision.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather
A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.
The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.
“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.
The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.
In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.
Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.
“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”
The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.
“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”
Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.
More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.
Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.
Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.
The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.
So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.
Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.
“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”
Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park
A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.
The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.
He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.
The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.
The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.
“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”
Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.
The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.
House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight
House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.
The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.
The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.
The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.
Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.
“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”
It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.
The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.
However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.
Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.
Haley Talbot contributed.
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