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‘Let go of my gun!’: Video depicts 6 seconds of chaos before Utah officer fires fatal shot

Body camera video of the officer-involved shooting of Michael Chad Breinholt is played during a press briefing at West Valley City Hall on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. Breinholt was shot and killed in the DUI processing area of City Hall on Aug. 23, 2019.
Body camera video of the officer-involved shooting of Michael Chad Breinholt is played during a press briefing at West Valley City Hall on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. Breinholt was shot and killed in the DUI processing area of City Hall on Aug. 23, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — “He’s got my gun! He’s got my gun!” a West Valley police officer yells as he tries to get handcuffed prisoner Michael Chad Breinholt off of him.

Just six seconds later, Breinholt was shot and killed by another officer as he continued to struggle with police in the small 6-by-7 room in the basement of West Valley City Hall.

On Friday, West Valley police released body camera videos of the incident, shedding more light into the fatal Aug. 23 officer-involved shooting of the 31-year-old man.

That day, police were called to a business near 2900 S. Redwood Road where Brienholt had gone to visit a woman he had been dating. The woman was working at the business, and Breinholt started “causing problems,” according to police.

Chad Michael Breinholt
Chad Michael Breinholt
Salt Lake County Jail

“He appears to be either intoxicated or high on something. 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. And he’s not OK, he’s stumbling, he’s slurring,” a woman can be heard telling emergency dispatchers in a recording of her 911 call.

Officers arrested Breinholt and took him to the basement of West Valley City Hall, 3600 Constitution Blvd., where people are typically processed for DUI in a small room. Officers had Beinholt sit in a chair with his hands cuffed behind his back as they waited for a warrant to draw blood to be tested for drugs and alcohol.

Five officers were in the processing area or the hallway immediately outside the door. Four had their body cameras recording the entire time. A fifth officer, who was standing outside the room, turned his camera on after Breinholt was shot.

On Friday, West Valley police released unedited clips of the recordings, each about 90 seconds long, showing different angles of the confrontation.

In one video, while Breinholt is sitting in the room and waiting, he manages to take one of his shoes off while handcuffed. He then places the shoe behind his back and claims to the officers that he has a gun in his shoe.

Breinholt’s speech is slow and slurred as he talks. He stands up as he tells the officer about his shoe. An officer tells him a couple of times to remain seated.

“You don’t want to fight with me, you definitely don’t want to fight with this guy,” a large officer tells Beinholt while pointing to another officer in the room.

In the video, the officers do not seem overly concerned when Breinholt claims he has a gun in his shoe.

While West Valley Police Chief Collen Jacobs said she could not say whether Breinholt actually had a gun, as that will be part of the independent investigation conducted by Salt Lake police, she noted that it is protocol to check people for weapons at the time the are arrested. In the videos, there is no sign of an extra weapon.

West Valley City Police Chief Colleen Jacobs answers questions during a press briefing at City Hall where body camera video of an officer-involved shooting was released on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. Michael Chad Breinholt was shot and killed in the DUI processing area of City Hall on Aug. 23, 2019.
West Valley City Police Chief Colleen Jacobs answers questions during a press briefing at City Hall where body camera video of an officer-involved shooting was released on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. Michael Chad Breinholt was shot and killed in the DUI processing area of City Hall on Aug. 23, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Despite not being alarmed at the claim of having a gun, an officer decides to take Breinholt’s shoe.

“Give me your shoe,” he said.

“No,” Breinholt replies.

Two officers then have Breinholt stand up and reach behind him to get his shoe. But while one officer takes hold of the shoe, Breinholt stands up with his head bowed down, and starts positioning himself toward the other officer.

Suddenly, while Breinholt’s head and waist are bent over, he moves his cuffed hands to the left side of his body and grabs hold of the officer’s gun with his left hand.

“He's got me gun! He’s got my gun!” the officer exclaims.

Police say this screenshot from a West Valley police body camera shows that Michael Breinholt, while handcuffed, grabbed an officer’s gun seconds before an officer shot and killed him.
West Valley police

Two more officers try to go hands-on with Breinholt as the third officer keeps his hands on his gun, which did not come out of its holster.

“Let go of my gun,” the officer yells.

Just seconds later, an officer draws his weapon and fires at close range while the other officers still fought with Breinholt. He immediately dropped to the floor and a large pool of blood can be seen around his head.

One officer, believed to be the one who fired the shot, then states: “He’s dead.”

The other officers calls for medical assistance in the video but do not attempt to give aid to Breinholt who is not moving. They clear the room and wait for others to arrive.

At Friday’s press conference, Jacobs declined to speculate on any of the officer’s actions, or give her opinion on the incident until investigations by Salt Lake police and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office are complete.

“I have to reserve my judgment until I have all of the facts. This is just one piece of evidence when it comes to a large investigation,” she said. “Once I have all the facts, I’ll make my determination.”

However, the chief did say at one point, “From what I can see from the video, Mr. Breinholt has a firm grip on the grip of the gun.”

She also said that Breinholt was wearing a “standard-issue pair of handcuffs” during the incident.

“The mobility that any particular individual has (while cuffed) depends on their size and their level of flexibility,” she said.

Breinholt’s family said he was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds.

In an interview with the NBC affiliate in Chicago, Breinholt’s mother, who asked to be identified only by her first name of Susan, said her son had struggled with drug addiction since he was 17. Although he had always sought treatment, she said at the time of the shooting he had relapsed.

“He was seeking help the day of the incident,” she said.

As for what happened the night he was killed, Susan said she is still waiting for answers.

“I don’t know what happened that night. I’ve been given few details and the details that I have been given just lead to so many more questions that I have. It’s under investigation so I can’t comment on what I know. I need to wait for a thorough investigation, an honest investigation and wait for the outcome of that. And I may never know all the answers I may not know and have an understanding of why this happened. But I need to wait,” she said Friday.

Susan said she has struggled to make sense of what happened. But she is speaking out so Chad isn’t remembered simply as a drug-addict who was shot and killed by police.

Despite his struggles with addiction, “He was such a talented musician. And he was so spiritual. He was just good and kind hearted and he just wanted to do good. He wanted to be a good person. He would never harm anybody. He wouldn’t do that. He was a good person.

“This is a mental health issue. It touches so many families and if it doesn’t touch your family it touches somebody’s family that you know. 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,” she said.

Contributing: Kim Bojorquez