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Salt Lake officer legally justified in using deadly force, D.A. rules

Police man the scene of an officer-involved shooting at the Sunrise Metro Apartment complex, 580 S. 500 West, in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 15, 2019. One person was shot and killed and a police officer was shot and injured.
Police man the scene of an officer-involved shooting at the Sunrise Metro Apartment complex, 580 S. 500 West, in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 15, 2019. One person was shot and killed and a police officer was shot and injured. The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office on Friday, April 17, 2020, determined the Salt Lake police officer who shot and killed a man who pointed a weapon at officers was justified in using deadly force.
Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake police officer was legally justified when he shot and killed a man who pointed a weapon at officers, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office said Friday.

On July 15, 2019, three Salt Lake police officers responded to the Sunrise Metro Apartment complex, 580 S. 500 West, on a report of a man possibly having a psychotic episode who was threatening staff members.

Officers tried to approach Michael Anthony Brand, 43, who has schizoaffective disorder and was “more out of control than usual,” according to police and District Attorney Sim Gill’s final report into the officer-involved shooting.

The three officers and a caseworker knocked on Brand’s door. He opened the door and immediately pointed a gun — later determined to be a paintball gun — at the group without warning. At least one civilian witness told investigators that police wouldn’t have been able to tell that the gun wasn’t real.

“Officer (Scott) Robinson believed Mr. Brand was about to shoot and kill detective (Mike) McKenna, so officer Robinson drew his firearm, pointed it at Mr. Brand and fired three times,” the report states.

When Robinson was later interviewed as part of the investigation, he said he didn't even have time to announce “police” before the door opened.

“Officer Robinson said the first thing he saw as the door opened was a gun extending out of the door,” according to the report. “Officer Robinson said he believed detective McKenna was going to be shot and killed by the gun. ... (He) said he believed he needed to use deadly force against Mr. Brand to save detective McKenna’s life.”

In firing shots at Brand, Robinson inadvertently struck McKenna, who was standing across from him, in the shoulder.

“I’ve been shot, guys. I’ve been hit,” McKenna can be heard saying on body camera video.

After Brand was on the ground, Robinson handcuffed him while the others attended to their wounded colleague.

“I’m sorry, he had it pointed it at your … head, dude,” Robinson is heard saying on body cam video. “I’m sorry.”

The officer who was shot was taken to a local hospital for treatment and was released the same day. McKenna, who was also reaching for his gun at the time he was shot, said he felt the pain in his arm when he was shot.

“Detective McKenna said he remembered being scared and thought to himself, ‘Oh crap, this is real,’” according to the report.

While the officers were attending to the two shooting victims, another man emerged from inside Brand’s apartment wearing a knife on his hip, the report states. Officers detained the man.

The apartment caseworker who was also with the officers at the time of the shooting was interviewed by the team investigating the incident. She told them that Brand had seemed distraught over the death of a friend a week earlier and “she thought Mr. Brand might have been attempting what she called a ‘murder-suicide’ with police,” the report states.

When asked whether this case was an obvious justified shooting because Brand pointed a weapon directly at officers and, if so, why it took nine months to reach a conclusion, Gill said Friday that his office uses the same process in every use-of-deadly-force investigation.

“Any time there is a loss of life, regardless of the underlying circumstance, it deserves a deliberate and cautious look,” he said. “We have a process that we use and whether it’s obvious or not obvious … or more complicated, we use the same process.”

Gill said any time there is a loss of life it is a sad event in the community. And all deaths deserve equal attention when investigating.

“This is a tragedy, because I have somebody that has mental health issues, who is not in his right mind at the time — and unfortunately this is the reality officers have to face,” Gill said.

The delay in reaching a decision was also due in part to the high number of officer-involved critical incidents during 2019, he said. Gill’s office has yet to rule on two other officer-involved shootings from last year.

The Salt Lake City Police Department released body camera video from the incident in July, per the mayor’s executive order that police video be released within 10 business days of when a critical incident occurs.

The Sunrise Metro Apartments opened in 2007 to help those who are chronically homeless, many of whom suffer from addiction or mental illness, get back on their feet and into housing.