Salt Lake Co. DA Rules Officer Justified In Fatal Shooting Of Handcuffed Man In West Valley

Jul 22, 2021, 12:35 PM | Updated: Aug 23, 2021, 10:26 am
This still from body camera from Aug. 22, 2019, shows officers and Chad Breinholt stuggling in the ...
This still from body camera from Aug. 22, 2019, shows officers and Chad Breinholt stuggling in the processing room in the basement of West Valley City Hall. (WVCPD)

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has ruled West Valley City police were justified in shooting and killing a 31-year-old man who was handcuffed and in custody at West Valley City Hall.

Gill announced his finding at a press conference Thursday, which came at the conclusion of a nearly two-year investigation from the Salt Lake City Police Department into the shooting.

Police took Chad Breinholt, 31, into custody on Aug. 22, 2019, after they said he showed up intoxicated at his girlfriend’s job and was causing problems.

Breinholt was in the department’s small processing room in the basement of West Valley City Hall, when he reached for an officer’s gun.

West Valley City police released some body camera footage of the incident, which showed the chaotic six-second scuffle before Sgt. Tyler Longman shot Breinholt at point-blank range, killing him.

In the video, Longman said, “You’re about to die, my friend,” just before he shot Breinholt. Gill said upon further view, additional body camera footage showed Longman started saying those words before he entered the processing room, and Longman’s gun was holstered when he entered the room.

The DA said Longman also engaged in non-lethal methods by attempting to push Breinholt away with his hands.

Gill said footage from other WVCPD officers showed Breinholt was attempting to grip the gun before he was shot. Gill added officers testified Breinholt was applying a “tremendous” amount of force on the hoster.

West Valley City’s police spokesperson told KSL-TV in a statement that Sgt. Longman has returned to full duty. 

“While we recognize the gravity of this incident, we are pleased that, after nearly two years of scrutiny, the District Attorney’s Office has found our officer justified in his actions,” said a statement from West Valley City Police Department spokesperson Roxeanne Vainuku. “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.”  

Vainuku also said that inside the city’s new police building that officers have access to a secure area for processing those in custody and that they are required to place their weapons in lockers before entering.  

“These changes in facility and policy effectively prevent the disarming of a police officer from occurring under these circumstances in the future,” her statement said. 

Breinholt’s mother said she believes the shooting was not justified and her son wanted to overcome an addiction she fears may have cost him his life.

Breinholt’s family also expressed concerns over how long it took to determine whether his shooting was justified.

Gill said he understands the perspective of a feeling unjustified when the legal outcome doesn’t meet society’s moral standards.

He said the shooting “shouldn’t sit well with anyone,” but he has to consider the case under the state’s current laws. Gill said he cannot overcome the fact that Breinholt reached for the gun, it could have come out of the holster at any time and the officers consistently said they feared for their lives.

Gill added he does not consider the officer’s previous history, just as he doesn’t consider a suspect’s criminal history unless it is directly relevant to an investigation.

“We have to start learning from this,” Gill said, saying while Breinholt was intoxicated and acting irrationally, he thinks Breinholt’s death could have been averted.

“But the law is very clear,” Gill said, referring to the state’s current affirmative action law and his decision to not file charges against Longman.

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Salt Lake Co. DA Rules Officer Justified In Fatal Shooting Of Handcuffed Man In West Valley