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Family Of Handcuffed Suspect Killed While Grabbing Cop’s Gun Vows To Sue Police

West Valley City, UT – The Salt Lake County district attorney has determined the West Valley City police sergeant who fatally shot a handcuffed suspect after the man grabbed an officer’s gun in the basement of city hall in 2019 was justified in using deadly force against him.

The family of 31-year-old Chad Michael Breinholt has expressed outrage that the officer who fired the fatal shot, West Valley City Police Sergeant Tyler Longman, had been involved in two fatal officer-involved shootings in the past, both of which were determined to be justified, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“Chad would still be here had something happened to that officer,” the suspect’s brother, Chase Breinholt, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “If he could have been put on some other duty or let go or if there was something put in place after taking the first person’s life. Definitely after [taking] a second person’s life. Why is he still carrying a gun?”

Chad Breinholt had a blood-alcohol content of more than three times Utah’s legal limit when he barged into his girlfriend’s workplace on Aug. 23, 2019, causing a disturbance inside the business, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The woman who called 911 said the suspect appeared to be “either intoxicated or high” and was arguing with his girlfriend and “causing problems,” according to the Deseret News.

“He appears to be either intoxicated or high on something,” the witness told the 911 operator, according to the Deseret News. “He drove here, which is concerning. And now he’s still here in the parking lot causing a ruckus and he’s trying to get keys from her. She took the keys away.”

“He’s not okay,” the witness reiterated. “He’s stumbling. He’s slurring.”

Police placed Breinholt under arrest and transported him to the DUI processing area in the basement of city hall, the Deseret News reported.

Breinholt, who was handcuffed behind his back, was taken to a small office and told to sit in a chair while officers waited to obtain a warrant to draw a blood sample from him for toxicology testing.

At one point, he slipped off his shoe and held it behind his back, then claimed to have a gun inside it, the Deseret News reported.

One of the officers repeatedly instructed Breinholt to remain seated, as he persisted in his claim about the alleged gun in his shoe, bodycam footage showed.

“Tell ya what – give me your shoe,” one officer finally told him.

“No,” the suspect immediately replied.

As the officer pulled the suspect towards him, a second officer pried the shoe out of Breinholt’s cuffed hands.

But in the process, the suspect managed to reach his hands around his left hip from behind his body, and grabbed onto the initial officer’s duty weapon, bodycam footage showed.

“F–k! He’s got my gun!” the officer yelled, as he struggled to retain his weapon and back away from Breinholt.

The second officer attempted to pull the suspect backwards in the confines of the small room as Sgt. Longman rushed in to help quell the brawl.

“You’re about to die, my friend,” the sergeant warned, just before he drew his duty pistol and fired a single round at point-blank range.

As the officers scrambled out of the office, Breinholt collapsed to the floor, bodycam footage showed.

A large pool of blood immediately spilled out around him.

“He’s dead,” one officer said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

According to police, Breinholt never managed to get the officer’s duty weapon out of its holster, the Deseret News reported.

Breinholt’s mother, Susan Neese, said that he had struggled with drug addiction since he was 17 years old, and that he had relapsed back into drug use shortly before his arrest.

“He was just good and kind-hearted and he just wanted to do good. He wanted to be a good person,” Neese told the Deseret News at the time. “He would never harm anybody. He wouldn’t do that. He was a good person.”

“This is a mental health issue,” she continued. “There needs to be awareness and support and help in this journey and this path for not only young men like Chad but for the families.”

On Thursday, nearly two years after the fatal shooting, Gill announced Sgt. Longman’s actions were justified, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

He concluded Sgt. Longman “was faced with a deadly force situation in which it appeared possible that, unless Mr. Breinholt was stopped, he would not stop grabbing Officer [Taylor] Atkin’s gun from his holster.”

Two law enforcement expert witnesses agreed that the brawl over the firearm made Sgt. Longman’s decision to fire his weapon “reasonable and necessary,” Gill said.

But the district attorney also noted that although Sgt. Longman’s actions complied with current law, he believes the law should be changed.

“I’ve done far too many of these things,” Gill said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We have to start learning from this. Do I think that, as a civilian, that this death could have been averted? Yeah. But the law is very clear.”

“If we want different outcomes, which is not unreasonable for us to ask, then we need to change the law,” he added. “Either that or we need to change the legislators that are not reflective of the values which the community is out there calling out.”

Gill further opined he felt it “reprehensible” that the sergeant warned Breinholt he was “about to die” before he shot him.

During an interview with the district attorney’s office, Sgt. Longman said he experienced tunnel vision after he realized the suspect’s hands were on his fellow officer’s gun, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

He said Breinholt was making a “jerking motion” as he tried to get the weapon out of the holster.

“He’s fighting for an officer’s gun. If that gun comes out, Officer Atkin is going to get shot, I could be shot, I have to end it now. I have to stop the threat,” the sergeant said, according to the district attorney’s report. “At that point, it was a training based reactionary response.”

The West Valley City incident review committee determined Sgt. Longman acted within policy and he was returned to duty while awaiting Gill’s decision, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Utah’s Fraternal Order of Police also backed the veteran officer.

Sgt. Longman joined the West Valley City Police Department (WVCPD) in 2006, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

He has no record of disciplinary action during his 15 years of service, but critics have accosted him for being involved in two prior justified shootings.

The first occurred on Aug. 22, 2007, after another officer saw a man sleeping in a car outside a convenience store, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The store employees said it was fine for him to be there, so the officer left.

But when he returned two hours later, the employees said they wanted the sleeping man removed because his vehicle was parked in a handicapped spot.

The officer called for backup, so Sgt. Longman responded.

At the time, the sergeant was an officer with just one year on the job, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

When the other officer went to wake up the sleeping man, he realized the suspect was holding a gun, police said.

The suspect pointed the weapon at the officer, who opened fire on him.

Sgt. Longman heard the gunfire and fired his weapon at the suspect from the passenger side of the suspect’s vehicle to help protect his fellow officer.

“It should also be noted that I briefly spoke to Officer Longman right after the shooting,” an officer who completed a report about the fatal shooting wrote, “and asked him if he was alright and he said, ‘No, I’m not alright, I just took a man’s life,’” The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The shooting was ruled as justified.

Just one year later, Sgt. Longman was dispatched to a report from a girl that her father was choking her mother, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

When he arrived, the suspect was dragging the woman out into the street while holding a knife to her neck.

Police tried to negotiate with the attacker, but he started counting backwards from 10, police said.

Sgt. Longman saw an opportunity to end the situation when the struggling victim arched herself away from the blade, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

He fired two rounds, killing the suspect.

That shooting was also ruled to be justified.

Colin King, the attorney representing Breinholt’s family, said they will file a lawsuit against the city within the next month.

“That use of force was utterly and completely unjustified,” King told The Salt Lake Tribune ahead of Gill’s determination. “If this isn’t excessive force, I don’t know what is.”

“Chad Breinholt was completely restrained and controlled the moment he was shot in the side of the forehead point-blank by Officer Longman,” he declared.

The attorney further argued that Sgt. Longman should have faced more consequences after the first two justified shootings he was involved in, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“Once you have a pattern established, which I think this is, after two shootings, at least there should have been some retraining,” King opined. “There should have been some serious investigation. There should have been some discipline. And he should not have been allowed to continue to carry a gun and interact with the public.”

He said he will sue the city on behalf of Breinholt’s family in the coming weeks.

“None of this should have happened,” King told The Salt Lake Tribune. “The conduct of the West Valley City Police Department was inadequate and inappropriate in that it failed to train Officer Longman and the other officers in the correct manner to deal with impaired, intoxicated, upset and mentally unbalanced persons whom they take into custody.”

Neese said Sgt. Longman should be held accountable for her son’s death.

“Chad needed help,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune. “You look at some of the body camera footage prior to the shooting, and they weren’t helpful to him. They contributed to his depression. And the fact that this was Officer Longman’s third killing — how is that possible, that an officer can remain on the force and carry a weapon?”

Sgt. Longman’s attorney, Jeremy Jones, said he is pleased with Gill’s decision, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“Unfortunately, when an individual chooses to put their hands on an officer’s firearm and try to draw that firearm, there just aren’t good options,” Jones said. “If an officer waits or allows the weapon to be drawn, odds are good that one of the officers isn’t going to go home.”

The WVCPD said Gill’s decision was the final component needed to bring the case to a close.

“This decision brings to a close a challenging chapter for all involved,” the agency told The Salt Lake Tribune in a statement. “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.”

You can see video of the incident below. Warning – Graphic Content:

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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