District Attorney: Police Shooting of Armed Suicidal Man Was Justified
May 20, 2021, 6:55 PM | Updated: May 21, 2021, 7:43 am
SA LT LAKE CITY, Utah– The Salt Lake County district attorney declined to file criminal charges against a Unified Police officer who shot and killed an armed suicidal man last summer in Holladay, but said the case leaves him “troubled.”
On August 8, 2020, officers responded to a call at a parking lot at 6510 S. Millrock Drive after the wife of Matthew Hilbelink, 39, called police and said he had just bought a gun and was going to kill himself, District Attorney Sim Gill’s report said.
The report, which was released to the public on Thursday, said the facts support a finding that Officer Dave Jaroscak “reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to prevent his death” or the injury or death of his fellow officers.
Also on Thursday, Gill released body camera footage. For about 24 minutes, officers were heard trying to get Hilbelink to talk with them.
“Give us an opportunity to help you,” an officer said. “Set the gun down for the time being.”
NOW: @SimGillDA’s review of use of deadly force on Aug. 8, 2020 by Unified Police.
“We decline to file criminal charges” against the officer, concluding that the use of force was justified.
— Ladd Egan (@laddegan) May 20, 2021
Hilbelink was sitting in the empty parking lot holding a gun, according to the DA’s report.
“Talk to us about what’s upsetting you,” one officer said. “It helps to talk about it.”
Hilbelink never spoke, according to the report.
“You got kids, man?” an officer asked, noting Hilbelink’s minivan parked next to him. “How many kids you got?”
At the same time, the four officers huddled behind a police truck became more concerned about their safety, telling investigators that Hilbelink was pointing the gun in their direction.
“I don’t like this at all,” one of the officers can be heard on the body camera footage.
Hilbelink “kept the weapon in his right hand, often with his finger on the trigger, throughout the incident,” the report stated.
Officer Jaroscak said he fired the single, fatal round when Hilbelink began to raise the gun from his thigh.
“In essence, this is a shooting that did not need to happen, but it is a shooting that is protected by the law,” Gill said during a news conference to announce the findings.
Gill said police agencies need to adopt new policies and undergo new training because of a new law, House Bill 237, which allows police to stand down if a person is only a threat to themselves.
“You have a situation where a person who is threatening self-harm who has mental health issues who did not go into a church or go into a shopping mall,” Gill said about Hilbelink’s case. “He went to an isolated parking lot on a Saturday.”
One question that Gill said should be asked is whether officers needed to approach Hilbelink so closely—within about 20 feet.
“The officers were already aware (from multiple sources) that Mr. Hilbelink was armed—to what extent did the officers’ actions create an exigency upon which they later relied when they shot and killed a suicidal man,” the report states.
“If we don’t ask these questions then we’re going to continue to have these shootings,” Gil said.
Even though he called the shooting avoidable, Gill said he wanted to be clear about one thing.
“I am not critical of these officers at all,” he said. “I’m not critical of the officers who were making an effort, in their sincere effort, because I genuinely believe they were trying to save his life.”